Friday, May 3, 2013

Life in Prison for a Poem?

A poet named, Mohammed al-Ajami (picture to the left), previously a student at the Cairo University, was sentenced to life in prison in a private hearing last October on the grounds that he recited a poem that criticized Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani's monarchistic rule in Qatar. A video was released of him privately reciting this poem, and was discovered by Qatar authorities.

His sentence was recently reduced to 15 years and this was by in large due to the fact that his initial arrest was meant to show other possibly dissident activists against the Qatar monarchy would be punished severely. As our class has studied in a monarchy, there is very little room for criticism, especially if this monarch does not collect taxes and provides many public goods. Qatar is the epitome of a well run rentier state. According to the CIA World Factbook, Qatar's government revenues are composed of primarily oil and gas revenues (over 70%). With Qatar owning 13% of the worlds oil reserves, it should be able to rely on this resource wealth for almost 60 years. Because of this wealth, the government has been able to achieve unemployment rates of 0.5%. It is seemingly impossible to be unhappy with the monarchy of Qatar, as they have done an incredible job at making sure everyone is working and provided for.
One hugely important factor that they need to keep a close watch on, is the fact that they also have the largest migrant population as percentage of their population in the world. The giant pull factor of having higher pay and many available public goods has enticed these workers to flock to Qatar, but because they make up such a giant population of this oil rich monarchy, they can actually cause serious trouble for the monarchy. International light is being spread more and more heavily on the lack of human rights regulations for these migrant workers partially due to their winning of a bid for a 2022 FIFA World Cup. Organizations (like HWR) and individuals have started to speak up about problems within the government, and it will be interesting to see how Qatar is able to deal with these outbursts with the international community now paying close attention. Will Qatar be able to increase its rentier effects out to this migrant population and give in to pressures from the international community? It's initially hard to tell, but Ajami did not even speak out publicly and he was initially sentenced to life in prison. Based on this event and others similar to it, it seems that Qatar will have very little patience for any of its citizens that speak out against their regime.

Further Reading/Works Cited:

Burch, Michael. Lecture 4/8/13.

Alsop, Harry. Qatari Poet Has Sentence Reduced, Telegraph. UK. 2013.

Human Rights Watch Organization. Qatar: Promises Little Action on Migrant Workers Rights, HWR. 2013.



  1. What else does the monarch do in order to maintain some stability in the country? Are these pressures from the human rights perspective something that can lead to protests and a revolution? It seems that though Qatar is struggling to satisfy it's migrant population, it is doing something right amongst its monarchy to avoid a massive protest from coming about. Also, it may not be in their interest to fully integrate themselves and fall under the pressures to the international community, but it would be smart to compromise and open the country up economically.

  2. The Kafala system is pretty terrible for workers and sets up a situation where employers can abuse workers with little-to-no legal repercussions. The system has reached international attention lately because of Zahir Belounis, a French Algerian footballer who has not been paid in the last two years and has not been allowed to leave Qatar.

    The 2022 World Cup is still almost a decade away, but it will be interesting to see what happens in Qatar as more and more people turn their eyes on the tiny nation. In addition to the 2022 World Cup, Qatar has been making moves within international soccer (buying PSG) that put it more on the world stage. Thus far however, there has not been significant international backlash outside of the soccer community.

    Kafala System: (
    Story on Soccer and Qatar: