Opinion

Qatar must restore Al-Ghufran citizenship

Qatar must restore Al-Ghufran citizenship

Author

At a UN meeting on statelessness in Geneva on Oct. 7, Qatar must pledge to restore the citizenship of all members of the Al-Ghufran community whose nationality was stripped in 2004. Since Doha is intent on showing the world that it aspires to world standards — including by ratifying, with notable reservations, the UN’s Bill of Rights — this is its only option.
In October 2004, Qatar’s Ministry of Interior issued an administrative decree revoking the citizenship of at least 5,266 members of the Al-Ghufran clan, about 5 percent of the population at the time. There were no exceptions for the infirm, children or widows.
The government said that in contravention to nationality laws, the Al-Ghufran possessed another citizenship, but it did not allow a legal challenge to this assertion, which was arbitrary and not subject to any independent review.
Some have suggested that the act was political, removing voters expected to support opponents of the-then emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, in scheduled local elections. Or that it was retribution for support that members of the clan had given to a failed counter-coup in 1996, following the 1995 seizure of power by Sheikh Hamad from his father. Sheikh Hamad, who ruled after the 1995 coup, handed power to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, in 2013.
At the end of 2004 and the first half of 2005, the government acted on the decree and an unknown number of the Al-Ghufran community faced deportation proceedings. Despite assurances regarding jobs and remaining in Qatar, throughout 2005 thousands reportedly sought refuge with relatives in nearby areas of Saudi Arabia.
Deprived of their citizenship, those affected could no longer hold state employment, property or bank accounts, and were denied access to social services or state education. Some were harassed and detained under flawed legislation. Promises on jobs and living standards were forgotten. In some cases, the government cut electricity and water supplies to communities and to specific homes, ignoring whether there were vulnerable people who might need these services.
In 2006, the government reportedly changed its policy and restored citizenship to many members of the community.

Al-Ghufran members who returned have been denied access to specific forms of employment and access to government services that are available to Qatari nationals

Drewery Dyke

The head of Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), himself a member of the Al-Murra tribe, claimed in August 2008 that 95 percent of the clan had had citizenship restored. He told me that the matter had become insignificant and that most had been reintegrated into Qatari society, with full rights.
Such assertions were difficult to measure and the truth appears more complicated: Some family members — arguably a small portion of the community — have told me that on their return to Qatar the government restored citizenship on a selective basis only.
The government has been opaque about this issue and many others still remain in Saudi Arabia, where their fate appears clearer and safer, and where many appear to have taken citizenship. Nevertheless, it appears that many Al-Ghufran once again live in Qatar. And stark discrimination remains.
Members of the community who returned in 2006-2017 have been, or continue to be, denied access to specific forms of employment as well as to health, social and other government services that are available to Qatari nationals.
Amid the unfolding dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, midway through 2017, Abdulhadi Al-Ghufran Al-Marri, 26, returned to Qatar with his brother Fahad, now 17, and other members of his large family.
For over a week, the Qatari authorities held the family, including young children, at the border before granting them entry. These two brothers remain without citizenship, even if they are back in Qatar.
They are not allowed to hold bank accounts or a driver’s license, while another brother, Mohammed, cannot go to university. The two brothers worked training falcons for basic pay. A charity supports the entire family, including four sisters, to help them get by. The sisters are unable to marry.
One of their relatives, Saleh Mohammed Al-Kohlah, 34, expelled during the wave of citizenship revocations, returned in 2011 on a Saudi passport and filed a claim with the NHRC to restore his nationality, but the NHRC appears not to have acted on his case.
This conduct flies in the face of international human rights standards.
In September 2017, Qatar stripped the citizenship of Sheikh Talib bin Mohammed bin Lahoum bin Sherim Al-Murra, the head of the tribe in Qatar, along with 54 members of his family. They left for Saudi Arabia. He is reported to have said: “My citizenship will return, for me and my family whether the emir of Qatar likes it or not, for both me and the Al-Ghufran (tribe) who also had their citizenships revoked.” In October 2017, the government revoked the nationality of a well-known poet, Mohammed Al-Marri.
The June 2017 diplomatic crisis among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, combined with Qatari women’s inability to confer nationality on children and spouses on an equal basis with Qatari men, resulted in threats to family unity and other hardships.
Children and spouses of Qatari women who are denied access to Qatari citizenship and who hold the nationality of other GCC countries feared expulsion from Qatar or an inability to return to the country. One Qatari woman married to a Bahraini man reported that her family could not visit her husband’s relatives, stating: “We are afraid to try to go to Bahrain because my husband and children might be banned from coming back to Qatar.”
While new policies have addressed this situation in terms of mixed nationality families, it appears to remain the case that the children and spouses of Qatari women continue to be denied access to a range of rights and privileges as a result of Qatari women’s inability to confer nationality on an equal basis with men.
Reports about the Al-Ghufran started filtering out in 2005. International human rights organizations have published information on the fate of the clan, notably in 2017. In October 2018 three NGOs, including the Rights Realization Center, raised the issue. The same year, Al-Ghufran clan members raised their case with UN officials. In 2019, Human Rights Watch campaigned on the issue.
We are not going away. In September 2019, nine NGOs spoke out about Qatar’s human rights record, expressing “concerned that certain groups such as the Bidoon and others remain stateless, and that under the nationality law, individuals may be stripped of their citizenship.”

Qatar can — and must — do better.

Drewery Dyke is a researcher specializing in international advocacy relating to human rights in GCC countries.

The Unforgiven
How thousands of members of Qatar’s Al-Ghufran tribe are still paying the price for a failed coup in which they played no part.
Enter
keywords

 

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

“The Unforgiven”: Qatar’s Al-Ghufran tribe fights for justice — and right to citizenship

Updated 08 October 2019

“The Unforgiven”: Qatar’s Al-Ghufran tribe fights for justice — and right to citizenship

  • The persecution of Al-Ghufran dates back to 1995 when Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa deposed his father
  • Clan members were arrested, stripped of citizenship and deported after a failed counter-coup in 1996

JEDDAH: In June, 1995, Qatar’s then Crown Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani deposed his father, Sheikh Khalifa Al-Thani, the ruling emir, in a bloodless coup.

Sheikh Khalifa was outside the country when the overthrow took place, and the crown prince quickly gained the allegiance of other Al-Thani family leaders and key tribes in order to secure his position.

However, in February the following year, supporters of the emir joined a counter-coup in a bid to reinstall the deposed leader. It failed because the emir was unable to return to Doha airport in the agreed time.


ALSO READThe Unforgiven


Immediately afterward, the government arrested scores of Qataris, who were held in isolation before being stripped of their citizenship and deported.

That is also what happened with 6,000 members of the Al-Ghufran tribe, who have been forced from their homeland, and accused of masterminding the coup and attempting to assassinate Sheikh Hamad.

The Al-Ghufran tribe is a branch of the semi-nomadic Al-Murra group, one of the largest tribes in Qatar with more than 10,000 members, according to unofficial estimates. Most live in Qatar, and in the east and south of Saudi Arabia. It consists of several branches, including Al-Buhaih, Al-Fuhaidah, Al-Jaber and Al-Zaidan.

According to several members of the Al-Ghufran, the Qatari authorities’ persecution of the tribe dates back to June 25, 1995, when Sheikh Hamad deposed his father in a bloodless coup. The Qatari people were shocked at TV news of the overthrow, which took place when Sheikh Khalifa was on a trip abroad.


TIMELINE

Qatar Chronology: 

  • June 27, 1995 - Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani deposes his father
  • Feb. 14, 1996 - Sheikh Khalifa stages counter-coup. Members of more than 17 Qatari tribes join the failed coup; more than 300 suspects arrested
  • 1997 - Trial of 121 accused, including 21 members of the Al-Ghufran tribe, begins
  • 2001 - Trial ends
  • 2004 - Withdrawal of Al-Ghufran citizenship begins
  • 2010 - Saudi King Abdullah intervenes to free 21 of those involved in the coup

After less than seven months, Qatari authorities announced they had foiled a counter-coup against Sheikh Hamad led by his father who had tried to return to Qatar. An arrest warrant was subsequently issued against Sheikh Khalifa through Interpol.

Rashed Al-Amrah, an Al-Ghufran tribe member and former Qatari police officer, was stripped of his citizenship by the Qatari government after the failed 1996 counter-coup.

“Some of us did not believe what happened, especially that the son perpetrated the coup against father since the father has great stature in the Islamic religion and, specifically, in Gulf communities,” he told Arab News.

“We have seen a number of citizens and a number of the Al-Thani family members pledge allegiance to the new sheikh as emir of Qatar.

“There was hearsay and statements made by Sheikh Khalifa that he will return to Qatar and reinstall the deposed emir. People were confused: Do they support Sheikh Hamad or stand with their former legitimate ruler? Many Qataris protested against the coup, asserting that Sheikh Khalifa is the rightful ruler of Qatar.”

Jaber Al-Kahla, an Al-Ghufran tribe member, was serving in the Emiri Guard on the night of the counter-coup. “I was 23 when my citizenship was revoked and working as a special agent of the guard of Crown Prince Sheikh Hamad,” he told Arab News.




Al-Ghufran members appeal to the UN in Geneva. (WAM photo)

“The night of the so-called coup, I was summoned to the service to carry out my military and national duty. A few days later, the commander of the tank, unit, Hazzaa bin Khalil, who is now the guard commander, summoned me and asked me: ‘Are you member of the Al-Ghufran tribe?’ I said yes. He listed some names of the same unit, who were my relatives and asked me if they also belonged to the tribe? I told him yes. He then said that we were suspended from work until further notice.”

It was a confusing time for many, as Al-Amrah recalls. “The Qatari people lived under the rule of the new emir, Sheikh Hamad, and I was an officer in the Qatari police,” he told Arab News.

“On Feb. 14, 1996, Sheikh Khalifa had told a number of his close relatives and supporters at home that he decided to return to Qatar via Doha military airport on the 27th of Ramadan, asking his supporters to receive him at the military airport.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“Everyone was ready for the return of the legitimate ruler, but the Qataris, including a number of the sons of Sheikh Khalifa, such as Sheikh Jassem bin Khalifa, the-then chief of staff Sheikh Mubarak bin Abdulrahman, and a number of Qatari tribes, including Al-Ghufran, did not know how Sheikh Hamad would react.

“In the event, Sheikh Khalifa could not return because his aircraft was prevented from taking off in France,” he said.

“Sheikh Khalifa then went to the UAE, specifically to Abu Dhabi, in the hospitality of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan.

“At the time, I had traveled to Saudi Arabia for the Eid holidays and to visit relatives,” Al-Amrah said.

“After the failed coup, the Qatari authorities began to investigate and search for those who were supporting Sheikh Khalifa, a large number of whom were Qatari tribesmen and dignitaries belonging to the Al-Ghufran, Al-Kaabi, Al-Suwaidi, Bani Hajjar, Al-Abdullah, Al-Mouhannadi, Al-Kuwari and Al-Thani clans.




Leaders of the Al-Ghufran clan talk with the media to explain their plight. (WAM photo)​​​​

“Many members of the Al-Ghufran tribe who were in the security or armed forces were arrested and imprisoned, including Brig. Bakhit Marzooq Al-Abdullah, who was alleged to be the leader of the so-called coup,” he said.

“After Eid, we knew that there were orders to arrest and imprison all members of the Al-Ghufran clan attempting to return to Qatar. I was afraid for myself and my family, so I decided not to return until things were cleared up.

“We also knew that any Qatari outside Qatar who could not return to his country for fear of what would happen could go to Sheikh Khalifa in Abu Dhabi where he would be welcomed.

“Indeed, I headed to Abu Dhabi, where we were housed at the InterContinental Hotel and received a salary from Sheikh Khalifa. I stayed in Abu Dhabi for four years,” Al-Amrah said.

Qatari authorities charged a total of 121 people over the failed counter-coup. Trials (some in absentia) were held between November 1997 and May 2001.

Charges issued by the prosecutor general’s office included “attempting to depose Qatar’s emir by force,” “holding arms against the state of Qatar,” “disclosing military secrets” and “cooperating and conspiring with foreign countries.”

Hamad bin Jassem bin Jaber Al-Thani, then Qatar’s foreign minister, and Abdullah bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the prime minister, attended the trials as witnesses. At the end of the hearings, 19 alleged perpetrators were sentenced to death and 20 to life in prison, while 28 were acquitted.

None of those sentenced to death was executed.

Saleh Jaber Al-Humran, an Al-Ghufran tribe member, said: “I worked as a guard with Sheikh Khalifa’s guard unit. Before the events, I was absent from work for two consecutive months, so I was put in detention for a whole month.

“Once my detention ended, I wanted to visit my sick mother. On the same day I got out, the so-called coup took place and I was accused of taking part in it. My name was put on checkpoints without any guilt by my part, as I did not know what was going on outside my workplace.”




Al-Ghufran clan members attend a press conference to explain their plight. (WAM photo)

“This is what confuses us the most,” said Al-Kahla, who served in the Emiri Guard. “The Qatari government is still refusing to tell us the reasons behind revoking our citizenship, although it is its duty to justify such a decision.

“From 1996 and until 2019, the government failed to state the true reasons behind revoking our citizenship. The only answer we were given was that Al-Ghufran clan members have dual nationality.

“When I took part in the Human Rights Council in Geneva a few months ago, a media report broadcast about me said that my father took part in the coup. However, the government did not declare this,” Al-Kahla said.

“This is the real reason: We are accused of participating in the coup. My conclusion is that the revocation of citizenship was a reaction to the participation of 21 members of Al-Ghufran tribe in the attempted coup which was perpetrated by as many as 121 individuals, representing 17 Qatari tribes.

“There is nothing surprising in this, even if the justice system was not fair. Some of the accused were released several years later after announcing their innocence, but 6,000 innocent people were targeted without any accusation by the government,” Al-Kahla said.

In 2010, Saudi King Abdullah intervened to get 21 Al-Ghufran tribe members freed from prison, sending Prince Mutaib to secure their release.

Prince Mutaib flew the tribe members, who were still clad in prison outfits, to Jeddah, where they received new clothes and shoes before meeting the king.

The Unforgiven
How thousands of members of Qatar’s Al-Ghufran tribe are still paying the price for a failed coup in which they played no part.

Enter


keywords

 


London’s Lebanese sympathize with protests, struggle to send money

Updated 23 October 2019

London’s Lebanese sympathize with protests, struggle to send money

  • Lebanese nationals overseas have an outsize influence on their native country’s fortunes
  • Britain is among the top ten countries of origin for remittances to Lebanon

LONDON: In common with millions of other Lebanese living abroad, London restaurateur Moufid Shamms is unable to send cash back to support his family — in his case daughters studying at school.
Banks back home have remained shut for five working days as hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to protest against Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri’s government.
That is a problem for Shamms, who usually makes transfers via Western Union, and also for Lebanon’s small economy. Remittances are a lifeline for families and important source of financing for the economy, funding almost half the trade deficit.
“I have my two eldest daughters living in Lebanon and now I can’t send them money,” the 49-year-old, says sitting outside his restaurant in Edgware Road, a bustling Arab heartland in the British capital.
Lebanese nationals overseas have an outsize influence on their native country’s fortunes.
After many fled from civil war between 1975-1990, estimates now put Lebanon’s diaspora as high as 14 million — more than twice the size of its domestic population.
Britain is among the top ten countries of origin for remittances to Lebanon. A 2011 census recorded more than 15,000 Lebanese living in Britain.
Having left in 1989, sick of the violence and corruption back then, 49-year-old Shamms sees ongoing graft as a prominent issue in the latest upheaval.
“The corruption in Lebanon is why I left,” he says, puffing on a shisha. “Everyone has a right to protest and all Lebanese agree with what they’re asking but we all know nothing is going to be changed because you know Lebanon.”
Globally, flows to Lebanon have faltered recently.
One reason for that is concern from some expatriates about the risk of a looming economic collapse back home, say economists. Another is the Gulf, where hundreds of thousands of Lebanese work, but softening oil prices have hurt the job market.
Having peaked at $9.6 billion in 2014, remittances from the diaspora fell to $7.7 billion in 2018 and may dip to $6.5 billion next year, estimates Institute of International Finance’s Garbis Iradian.
S&P Global warned last month that waning inflows from non-residents were contributing to an accelerated drawdown of foreign currency reserves that would test Lebanon’s ability to maintain its currency peg to the US dollar.
While the closure of banks has provided a practical barrier to sending money, some expatriates also voiced worry about the impact a potential devaluation of the Lebanese currency and further financial instability could have on their savings and investments.
“The first income in Lebanon is from people outside. If they stop sending money then that’s the end of the country,” says Ali Sahir, 50, who sends money to support his wife in Lebanon’s south.
London-based public relations professional Roni Sinno has family in Canada, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Belgium — all sending money back to relatives.
“There is no work in Lebanon,” she says. “My nieces and nephews finished universities and couldn’t work. One stayed in Lebanon five years unemployed until he found work in Qatar. Meanwhile, the children of the politicians are living luxury lives in London and Paris.”
One driver of the demonstrations has been the large sums of money, they say, siphoned out of Lebanon’s economy through corruption.
“Lots of money has been stolen from the government for the last 30 years,” says Ali Abbas, 35, who moved to London in 2007 after graduating and now works in a shop. “The main thing that will help the country will be bringing this money back to the country.”