Al Maha Al Majid, a candidate in Qatar's Shura Council election, poses for a photo next to an election poster in Doha in a file photo. Image Credit: REUTERS

DOHA: Women voters voiced disappointment on Sunday after none were elected in Qatar’s first legislative polls with all eyes on whether the emir will use his powers to appoint 15 lawmakers to boost representation.

Thirty men were elected to Qatar’s Shura Council at Saturday’s polls despite more than two dozen women standing for the body which is seen as a nod to democracy rather than a fully-fledged parliament.

“The (emir’s) quota is the lifeline to ensure women’s representation in the next assembly,” said defeated candidate Aisha Jassim Al Kuwari who ran in a constituency alongside four other women against 14 male contenders.

“We hope to appoint four to five women because the presence of women is very important.

“Some of the female candidates were disappointed, of course, because they presented strong programmes - but we should not forget that some female voters chose men and this is the will of the people.”

It is not known when the emir’s appointments will be announced or when the council will meet.

“I’m not happy because all of them [winners] are men - some of them are old. To be honest, I was surprised. It’s not fair,” said voter Shamma who declined to give her full name.

“We are really sad.”

Dania Thafer, director of the Gulf International Forum, tweeted: “I foresee a strong likelihood of women being appointed by the emir”.

Of the 284 hopefuls who went into the race for the 30 available council seats, just 28 were women although the final proportion after a number of eleventh-hour candidate withdrawals has not been published.

“To have all men is not the vision of Qatar,” said Aisha Hamam Al Jassem, 59, a nursing manager who ran in Doha’s Markhiya district. She urged Qatari women to start “voicing what they believe in” and vote for strong women candidates in future.

“For the first time in Qatar, this is the opportunity to take part in the political,” she said.

Jassem, like fellow female candidates, said she had encountered some men who thought women should not run.

Highlighting her administrative skills, she focused on policy priorities like health, youth employment and retirement.

“I just say: I’m strong, I’m capable. I see myself as fit as a man ... If you want to see me as weak, that’s up to you, but I am not weak,” she said in the polling station where men and women had separate entrances.

Al Maha Al Majid, a 34-year-old industrial engineer stood for election, alongside her policies, to change mindsets.

“To convince the males (to vote for women), yes, we may have to put in work or extra effort ... I’m willing to take this extra effort in order to be in and to convince this society that the women can do so,” she said.

Equal opportunities

As well as counting no women amongst their number, the 30 victorious candidates were older men mostly from prominent families, many of whom had backgrounds in business or government.

“You lost the battle of victory, but you won the war of participation!” popular Qatari author Ebtesam Al Saad wrote on Twitter.

“We still hesitate to accept women... voters still feel that their communication with men is more free and flexible than their dealings with women.”

If as expected by many analysts the emir does directly appoint women to improve the gender balance it would follow what happened in Bahrain’s legislative election.

Official sources had confirmed to AFP this was a likely outcome in the event no women succeeded at the ballot box in Qatar.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights said that Qatar’s election laws would “need to be fully amended” to give women candidates a chance at future polls.

The final voter turnout was 63.5 per cent according to official data.

Qatar touts the level of representation enjoyed by its women with the health ministry led by a woman and the foreign ministry represented by a spokeswoman.

Women also hold prominent roles in the World Cup organising committee as well as philanthropy and the arts, medicine, law and business.

But in March, Human Rights Watch accused Qatar of restricting the lives of its female population through unclear “guardianship” rules requiring adult women to obtain male approval for everyday activities.

The constitution of Qatar provides for “equal opportunities for all citizens”.

The Shura will be allowed to propose legislation, approve the budget and recall ministers, but the all-powerful emir will wield a veto.