Civil Society and Democratization in Qatar

An article in Foreign Policy discusses the reasons for Qatar’s apparent immunity to the Arab uprisings. While democracy promotion efforts in the Arab world have heavily emphasized strengthening civil society, the Qatar World Values Survey (QWVS) from December 2010 showed that “civic participation in Qatar is actually associated not only with reduced support for democracy itself, but also with a disproportionate lack of the values and behaviors thought to be essential to it, including confidence in government institutions and social tolerance.” In fact, “it is precisely those who least value democracy that tend to be most actively engaged.”

The authors argue that the institutional character of Qatar and other Gulf states can explain this inverse relationship; in countries where democracy is nonexistent, private associations often function in support of the regime. So in Qatar, civic organizations provide avenues for those with special interests rather than democratic aspirations to participate. The authors conclude, “civic participation on its own will not lead Qataris toward more democratic orientations such as political trust, social tolerance or support for a democratic political system.”