Misnad, Mawza Bint Nasir al- (c. 1956–)

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Misnad, Mawza Bint Nasir al-
(c. 1956–)

Mawza bint Nasir al-Misnad was born in Doha, Qatar, in the mid-1950s into a prominent merchant family. She married hamad bin khalifa al thani, now emir of Qatar, in 1976. After her husband became emir in 1995, Shaykha Mawza devoted herself to serving and promoting social and educational causes in Qatar. She heads several institutions in Qatar to promote these causes. She travels abroad with her husband on official visits and is the nearest thing in the Gulf states to a Western-style "first lady."


Mawza's exact birthdate is not known, but she is believed to have been born in the mid-1950s. Her father, Nasir al-Misnad, attended high school in Doha with the current emir of Qatar, Shaykh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The two men bonded at school. Both were jailed in the 1960s during some student unrest over the policies of the emir of the time, Shaykh Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani. Misnad took his family to Egypt where they stayed for several years before he reconciled with the Qatari government. Following his return, Misnad worked as a high-level official in the Ministry of Education and later became a businessman in construction and trade.

The young Mawza went to local schools while her family was in Egypt. She was married to Hamad around 1976. She was his second wife. His first was his cousin, Mariam bint Hamad Al Thani, with whom he had his eldest son, Mishail (born 1973). Hamad married a third wife in 1989, Nura bint Khalid Al Thani. (The ruling family does not usually marry outside the Al Thani clan with the exception of certain important families, such as the Attiyah and Misnad families.) Shaykha Mawza now lives in a compound in Doha with the emir's other wives.

After she was married, Mawza returned to college and obtained a B.A. in sociology from the University of Qatar in 1986. She remained out of the public eye until some time after Hamad became emir. During this time she raised her seven children. Her eldest son, Jasim, born in 1978, was nominated by his father in 1996 to be crown prince. Jasim was replaced as crown prince in August 2003 by another of Mawza's sons, Tamim, born in 1980. The reason given was that Shaykh Jasim wanted to follow other pursuits. Mawza's two daughters, al-Mayassa, born in 1982, and Hind, born in 1984, are both graduates of Duke University with B.A. degrees in political science. Al-Mayassa, like her mother, has shown an interest in public affairs.

Mawza's position changed once her husband became emir, an event which occured rather dramatically on 27 June 1995, when her husband, then crown prince, ousted his father in a bloodless coup while the latter was in Europe. The reason given for the coup was the slow pace of economic development in Qatar. Since Hamad has become emir, Qatar, a country rich in oil and gas, has seen fundamental changes in almost every aspect of life, transforming it into a developed country integrated into the global economy.

While Hamad was still crown prince, his wife had no public role. However, it is reported that even then she was closely following education issues in the Middle East and neighboring countries. Shortly after her husband assumed power, she began to get involved publicly in issues concerning women, social development, and education. Traditionally, the wives of rulers in the oil-rich countries of the Gulf (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman) have no public roles. They are almost never seen in public, their pictures are never published in the press, they do not accompany their husbands on state visits, nor do they mix with men. None has signed contracts or agreements with foreign countries. These are all things Mawza has done, and other Gulf rulers' wives are following in her footsteps, particularly Sabika bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, wife of King hamad bin isa al khalifa of Bahrain.


Name: Mawza bint Nasir al-Misnad Mawza

Birth: c. 1956, Doha, Qatar

Family: Husband, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, emir of Qatar; five sons, Jasim, Tamim (crown prince), Muhammad, Khalifa, Ju'an; two daughters, al-Mayassa, Hind

Nationality: Qatari

Education: B.A., sociology, University of Qatar, 1986


  • 1995–present: Head, Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development
  • 2002–present: Vice president, Supreme Council for Family Affairs
  • 2003–present: UN special envoy for basic and higher education

The emir and his wife are said to be very close. Mawza is, to all intents and purposes, the "first lady" of Qatar. She travels abroad with the emir and sometimes addresses public audiences, as was the case, for example, on 29 September 2004, when both she and Hamad were guests of the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., where she addressed a gathering in excellent English while her husband listened in the audience. In that speech, she talked about the need for social justice in the world, how exchanges between people and goods are transforming our world, and the need for a democratic sociopolitical environment. In another visit on 3 August 2003, she and her husband were interviewed together on the U.S. TV show, 60 Minutes, by Mike Wallace. This was unprecedented for the wife of a Gulf ruler. The emir and his wife receive and entertain foreign dignitaries, both Arabs and non-Arabs. Sometimes, while visiting foreign countries, the shaykh and his wife mingle, without their entourage, with people in the streets, visiting shops and restaurants.


It is not clear exactly what influences have shaped Mawza's interests and her capacity to forge a new role for women in the Gulf, but her education and her stay in the cosmopolitan environment of Egypt in critical years of her youth probably played a part. It is also likely that her father's position in shaping Qatar's education system when she was growing up gave her an interest in and knowledge about the field with which she is so closely associated.

Even more important is her close and collaborative association with her husband and his own pioneering role in modernizing Qatar. Almost immediately after becoming ruler, the emir took steps to modernize the country. He established the now well-known al-Jazeera satellite TV station, which began broadcasting in 1996. Al-Jazeera was the first uncensored, uncontrolled Arab TV station. It offers a variety of daring and open programs, reports and debates, of a kind unseen in the Arab world before. In 1998 Hamad abolished the Ministry of Information, which then controlled the media, making Qatar the first Arab country to do so. In November 1996 the emir surprised everybody by announcing his intention to hold general elections to elect members of a central municipal council in Doha, the first elected council of its kind in any of the Gulf states. That announcement left ambiguous whether women would be allowed to participate in the elections, but slowly and cautiously the emir came forward to announce that women would be allowed not only to vote but also to be candidates. This announcement was met with resistance from conservative Islamic circles, and some who opposed giving women the right to vote were jailed by the emir. Despite this, the elections took place in March 1999 and Qatari women participated for the first time. The emir also replaced the 1972 temporary constitution with a new permanent constitution that went into effect on 9 June 2005. Qatar is waiting for general elections for a Majlis al-Shura (parliament) where men and women will both participate.

Mawza was active in encouraging Qatari women to participate in the elections for municipal council. In the months before the election, she attended lectures and seminars designed to explain what general elections meant, the meaning of civil rights and the importance of female participation. She was assisted in this campaign by Shaykha A'isha, the emir's sister, who was nominated to head the Women's Information Committee, an organization designed to teach women the virtues of democracy.


We are passing through a period of change where the urgency of global dialogue is evident. Channels of communication between the Arab world and the West, in particular, need to be fostered. Especially, since the tragic events of September 11th, it is imperative that we nurture genuine dialogue. We must not be deafened by echoes from the discourse of intolerance.

It is sometimes hard to believe that an entire civilization can be judged by the deeds of an erratic few. Yet for some time, this is exactly what has happened. It seemed that the clash of civilizations would possibly become a dismal reality of the 21st century. But luckily, rational voices from political and intellectual circles, both in the Arab East and in the West, are beginning to reshape this discourse and take it in the right direction.

In Qatar, we are committed to objectives of citizen empowerment and positive change. We are working diligently to build a culture of personal responsibility and empowerment. For too long, states in our region have played the role of guardian for their citizens. In doing so, we have deprived them of their individuality and capacity to think and act critically. It is time for educated citizens to be effective participants in the management of their society. They must not be content to play the role of spectators. Qatar is a country with great natural resources, and we are seeking to extend material prosperity to prosperity of mind and habit.


But Mawza has not merely been an important associate of her husband. She has made contributions to Qatar—and the Gulf—in her own right, particularly in education, family affairs, and above all the role of women. In the last, Mawza soon became a groundbreaker. One of her first appearances in public, aside from women-only gatherings, was in December 1998 when she led a two-hour women's march in the streets of Doha in support of a local charity, the first event of its kind in the region. Later that same month, Mawza traveled (without her husband) to the United States and visited several cultural and educational institutions, including Yale University and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. At the latter she attended an official dinner arranged in her honor by the president of the university and the board of trustees and gave a speech appropriate to the occasion. She also signed an agreement of cooperation with the university. As far as is known, this is the first time the wife of any Gulf state ruler has undertaken such activities.

However, the main contribution of Mawza in modernizing Qatar is in education, in which she has shown a keen interest. In the 1990s, while her husband was still crown prince, she was telling Western visitors about her vision for the future of education in Qatar. When she discovered how difficult it would be to reform the existing system, she turned to the idea of creating a second, parallel, system. The core of this idea was to open branches of Western universities in Qatar and to reform elementary and secondary education. By 2006 several American universities operated branches in Doha. The revision of the whole K-12 education system in the country is also underway.

The hub of this education program is the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, which Mawza heads. A private nonprofit organization established by the emir in 1995, it oversees higher education and research, including the establishment of branches of foreign universities. In fall 2003, the Qatar Foundation officially inaugurated Education City, a kind of umbrella university campus shared by the foreign universities, including, currently, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell Medical College, Texas A&M University, and Georgetown University, as well as the Rand-Qatar Policy Institute. Education City also houses a science and technology park, and operates a leading K-12 institution, the Qatar Academy, which helps prepare students for these institutions. The medical college enrolls Qatari and non-Qatari students. Most of the faculty and staff in these university branches are westerners.

Mawza is also concerned with secondary education. In November 2002 she was appointed vice president of the Supreme Education Council, a government institution that oversees reform efforts in the K-12 system. These reforms are already affecting Qatari schools' teaching methods, curricula, and degree of independence from the Ministry of Education. On the advice of Rand, schools are encouraging innovation, and, at the same time, higher academic standards. They concentrate on four subjects—Arabic, English, math, and science. Students in all public and private schools will eventually be evaluated in these subjects by international standards. All indications are that women will play a major role in this system.

Mawza is also president of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, a government-sponsored institution established in 1998 with the objective of strengthening the role of the family in society. The council is active in studying family issues and organizing meetings and conferences on children's rights and support for families. It runs high-quality training programs to enable families to be independent and productive members of society.

Mawza is also attempting to be a role model for Qatari women, and they are stepping out in the public domain, although carefully. Women are now employed in the public sector in more jobs with greater responsibility, and their numbers are also increasing in the work force generally. Mawza's activities are clearly understood by young women as an example for them. She attends each year's graduation ceremony for the women's branch of Qatar University and gives an appropriate speech. In 2003 she was behind her husband's move to promote a woman, Dr. Shaykha al-Mahmud, to minister of education. Mahmud was the first female minister in any Gulf state; others followed suit. Mawza's aunt, Dr. Shaykha Abdullah al-Misnad, a university professor of education, has assisted Mawza in her efforts to improve the social and educational situation for women. Al-Misnad, formerly a professor and vice president of the University of Qatar, has been the university's president since August 2003—the first woman to hold that office.


Mawza has stepped onto the international stage with her educational and social projects and for the most part gained favorable attention for the role she is playing. When the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 toppled the Ba'th regime, she showed interest in helping the Iraqi people, and in particular their universities. A special committee was formed by the Qatari government, and with the help of Mawza, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) set up a special fund to revitalize the higher education system in Iraq. Qatar donated $15 million to the fund. UNESCO then appointed Mawza as a special envoy for basic and higher education. In this capacity she actively promotes various international projects to improve the quality and accessibility of education. In 2005, she was selected as a member of a high-level United Nations (UN) group, the Alliance of Civilizations, established by the UN secretary general. This group is responsible for developing creative mechanisms for fighting terrorism. In a climate of rising conservative Islamic opinion in the Middle East, however, she must exercise this role with some caution, lest it backfire at home. Thus far, she has done so.


Shaykha Mawza is the first wife of any Arab ruler in the Persian Gulf to enter public life, and engage in social and educational activities in an open fashion, thus opening avenues for women in the future. She has also been an important force behind the policies of her husband, the emir, in opening up the Qatari political system to women, allowing them to vote and to run in elections for the first time in any Arab Gulf country. The fact that she travels frequently with her husband and sometimes alone, that she gives public speeches, and conducts business abroad has made her a pioneer and a role model in her society. She will be remembered as the first "first lady" in any Arab Gulf country.


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                                               Louay Bahry