When Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani became ruler of Qatar in 1995 in a bloodless coup, his first steps were to consolidate his power - at the expense of the oldest tribe in the country, the al-Ghufran tribe, whose human rights were repeatedly violated under his leadership.
After deposing his father Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani and sending him into exile, Sheikh Hamad enlisted the help of his right-hand man Hamad bin Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani to prepare the right environment for his new reign.
Hamad bin Jassim directed the arrest of 36 people close to the deposed emir and went after more than 100 people involved in a counter-coup attempt against the new emir.
The majority of those targeted were affiliated with the police and army. However, many of those who had opposed Sheikh Hamad taking power from his father were from the al-Ghufran tribe or al-Thani family members who were affiliated with the tribe.
Members of the al-Ghufran tribe were fired from their jobs and their children were banned from receiving education and medical care.
Within 10 years, more than 6,000 Qatari nationals of the al-Ghufran tribe had their citizenship revoked. They were expelled from their homeland as part of the largest displacement operation in the Gulf region.
In order to legitimize the retaliation against the entire al-Ghufran tribe, the Qatari government said the reason for revoking their citizenships was that they held dual-citizenship . However, many other Qatari dual-citizens who were not part of the al-Ghufran tribe, were able to keep their status, according to a human rights report released by the US State Department in 2005.
In response to this persecution, members of the tribe began mobilizing internationally in order to pressure the Qatari government.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was their first destination. Their goal was to achieve justice and protection from the racial discrimination they were facing from Sheikh Hamad’s regime .
However, al-Ghufran tribe members continue to face challenges in Qatar. On top of being deprived of citizenship, they tend to live in areas that lack electricity and water, according to Sheikh Saud bin Jassim al-Thani, a member of the royal family.
“The government disconnected all services in the area,” said al-Thani.
Al-Thani warned that “what happened to the al-Ghufran tribe may happen tomorrow to any Qatari citizen.”
Some of the tribe members remain in Doha prisons while others left without being able to express their hardships.
The campaign against members of the al-Ghufran tribe is detailed in a new Al Arabiya documentary, set to air soon.