Despite few domestic demands for democratic reform and virtually no visible opposition, the Qatari leadership took the initiative before anyone thought to ask
Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani / AP
In a surprise move, Qatar announced that it would hold elections for its legislative authority -- the Shura Council -- in 2013. Elections for the body were originally supposed to be held in 2008 but were postponed. What is interesting about the Emir's announcement isn't so much that it happened, but that it was done in the absence of any real provocation or unrest. Unlike most Arab countries, Qatar has not seen even tiny protests or Saudi or United Arab Emirates-style petition campaigns. This likely has to do with three realities: Qatar's GDP per capita, the highest in the world; a relatively small population (at around 250,000 citizens); and a popular, effective monarch who has succeeded in putting Qatar on the map. If you like, call it "Qatari exceptionalism."
Well before the Arab spring, Qatar had pioneered a creative, if odd, foreign policy of developing nimble alliances, maintaining strategic independence, and supporting regional mediation to resolve conflicts in Lebanon, Darfur, and Palestine. Qatar managed to host the largest U.S pre-positioning military base in the world while, at the same time, holding joint exercises with Iranian frontier guards. Perhaps more surprisingly, it all -- somehow -- worked, often to the great irritation of its neighbors.