DUBAI (Reuters) - The Emir of Gulf Arab state Qatar said on Tuesday elections to an advisory council would be held in the second half of 2013, the state news agency reported.
“From the podium of this council, I declare that we have decided that the Advisory Council elections would be held in the second half of 2013,” Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said in a speech to the body.
“We know that all these steps are necessary to build the modern state of Qatar and the Qatari citizen who is capable of dealing with the challenges of the time and building the country. We are confident that you would be capable of shouldering the responsibility.”
He did not say if the council, which currently has no legislative powers, would be given more weight.
Qatar has been a major supporter of the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, backing Libyan rebels who brought down Muammar Gaddafi.
A close U.S. ally, the small island state is viewed as one of the countries least vulnerable to the regional unrest, with natural gas riches allowing its tiny population of about 350,000 nationals to enjoy the world’s highest per capita income.
Sheikh Hamad seized power from his father in a bloodless coup in 1995 and in 2003 declared his son Tamim heir apparent.
“Qatar played a major role supporting democracy in countries like Libya, so this decision helps build the narrative of Qatar as a pro-democracy force,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Doha Centre.
“One criticism was that it wasn’t meeting expectations on domestic reform. That is now addressed as it makes greater representation for citizens at home.”
Qatar, which owns leading Arabic broadcaster Al Jazeera, won the rights this year to host the 2022 World Cup.
“The world is turning its eyes towards Qatar, so Qatar has to be concerned about how others are seeing it,” Hamid said.
Reporting by Nour Merza; editing by Andrew Roche