President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign policy will be anchored in the traditional pursuit of America’s international role and interests. Biden has had a lengthy career in the Senate, where he served as the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He also served as vice president under Barack Obama for eight years. Biden’s many speeches and comments indicate he supports democratic values in this country and around the world.
The best expression of Biden’s beliefs can be found in his speech at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit on June 22, 2018. He argued that “democracy can be messy and inefficient” but, “when everyone gets a say” and “when citizens are empowered to hold their leaders to account,” then “innovation and creativity and new ideas succeed.” As per Biden, this is “why democracies outperform autocracies” and that, as “citizens, it is our duty to defend our democratic values and freedoms.” He concluded his speech with a stirring call: “If we do not stand up for our democratic values, and our democratic future — no one else will.”
Getting Qatar’s Tourism Sector Back on Track After COVID-19
It seems that Joe Biden’s commitment to democracy has been noticed elsewhere. On November 3, the day Biden appeared to be set to become the 46th US president, Qatar announced a major move toward democratization. In his address to the opening session of the Shura Council, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani proclaimed that the Gulf state would hold elections for its advisory body in October 2021. The Emir declared: “This is an important step towards strengthening Qatari advisory traditions and developing the legislative process with wider citizen participation.”
This move is important not only for Qatar and the region, but also the United States and the rest of the world. Qatar hosts the Al Udeid Air Base, which is the largest American military base in the Middle East. It serves as a logistics, command and basing hub for US operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the region. Doha wields tremendous soft power around the world, especially in Arab and Muslim countries, because of the Al Jazeera news network. The country’s democratization could act as an exemplar to other states and would be good news for the US.
Currently, all 45 members of the Shura Council are selected by Qatari rulers. By October 2021, 30 of the 45 members of the council will be elected by the public. After the elections, the council’s power is expected to be expanded in accordance with the constitution. Among other things, it would have the power to dismiss ministers, approve the national budget and propose legislation.
The emir’s speech generated intense interest among Qataris and others in the Gulf region. It provoked a lively debate on the meaning of democracy and its processes. Many noted that the elections are likely to receive great international attention because they will take place shortly before Qatar hosts the 2022 World Cup. The elections will change the political life of the country. They may also impact other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, especially if they are tempted to follow Qatar’s lead.
At first glance, the emir’s comments appeared to be relatively spontaneous. In reality, the elections have been planned for nearly two decades. Qatar’s 2004 constitution provided for elections as well as greater power for the Shura Council. Since Sheikh Tamim came to power in 2013, Qatar has undergone several reforms, from improved workers’ rights to greater representation of women. Last year, Sheikh Tamim set the wheels in motion by creating a committee to organize the election process.
Qatar is now all set for its first national elections. In the past, Qataris have cast ballots on constitutional reforms and voted for municipal councils. The announcement of elections to the Shura Council is a great step forward for democracy not only in the country, but also the region.
The announcement has won international praise. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has welcomed the new “inclusive, participatory measures.” At a time when worries about the health of democracy abound, Qatar offers hope. The move toward elections in 2021 will increase citizen public participation, include women in political positions and give greater powers to elected leaders.
Importantly, Sheikh Tamim has put his country in the good books of the incoming Biden administration. In geopolitical terms, the emir is valuable because he strongly supports international counterterrorism efforts. He also promotes free speech in the region through Al Jazeera, which has won much respect for its high-quality coverage. Now, Qatar has embraced a democratic future and become more of a natural American ally as a president who champions democratic values enters the White House.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.