Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Misnad (b. 1959) is the mother of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and the second wife and consort of the former emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. A decidedly visible presence during her husband’s reign, she served in various high profile positions both domestically and abroad.
Sheikha Mozah is the daughter of Nasser bin Abdullah al-Misnad. Al-Misnad was critical of the former monarch, and made public appeals for a more equitable distribution of wealth amongst the Qatari citizenry, leading to his arrest and imprisonment. Many of her family members fled to Kuwait. Sheikha Mozah met her husband while studying at Qatar University; they married in 1977 in what appears to have been a love match.
The Sheikha’s many roles include chair of the Qatar Foundation (since 1996), chair of the Arab Democracy Foundation, chair of the Sidra Medical and Research Center, president of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, member of the Weill Cornell Medical College Board of Overseers, and UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education. Named one of Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women, she is credited as the driving force behind Education City and the Al Jazeera Children’s Channel. She is also credited with spearheading a comprehensive reform of Qatar’s education system; opening the region’s first battered women’s shelter; creating a culture of public debate through Doha Debates, a monthly, public town-hall meeting modeled after England's Oxford Union broadcast over the BBC; facilitating the construction and opening of Qatar’s first Catholic church to serve the country’s many foreign workers; and launching the Qatar Business Women Awards.
Sheikha Mozah serves as a symbol of Qatar’s efforts to overcome stereotypes of the role of women in a Muslim society, which are not without controversy. Supporters of an attempted coup in 2011 specifically condemned the Sheikha’s public appearances in the media, which they considered shocking and contrary to Qatari tradition. In interviews and public appearances Sheikha Mozah is quick to disclaim any attempt to westernize women’s roles. In a keynote address at the 2006 Carnegie-Mellon University graduation exercises, she clarified the harmony between Islamic principles and women’s rights. Using examples of important women in Arab and Islamic history, she concluded:
“Islam has always guaranteed the full rights of women and women have always occupied a central role in Islamic civilizations. … It is important to remember that these women were consulted in forming legislative order in Islamic societies and they heavily influenced policies that were to govern social, political, economic and military issues. These same policies are the matrix of our life today.” (Dye, 2006: 747).
Dye, Michael B. “Qatar: The Pearl of the Middle East and Its Role in the Advancement of Women's Rights.” U. Det. Mercy L. Rev. 84 (2006).
ENP Newswire. “Commercialbank Supports Empowerment of Women at the Qatar Business Women Awards 2010/2011.” December 22, 2011. Accessed May 27, 2014.
Felder, Dell, and Mirka Vuollo. “Qatari Women in the Workforce.” RAND-Qatar Policy Institute Working Paper Series WR-612-QATAR, August 2008.
Harman, Danna. “Backstory: Qatar Reformed by a Modern Marriage.” The Christian Science Monitor, March 6, 2007. Accessed May 29, 2014.
Sakr, Naomi. "Seen and Starting To Be Heard: Women and the Arab Media in a Decade of Change." Social Research: An International Quarterly 69 (2002): 821-850.