Women’s role in Qatar has changed for the better, and the features of such a change become clear when we review the history of woman’s involvement in the workforce in Qatar and compare it with its present. In the past, Qatari women used to suffer from limited professional and educational opportunities because of the nature of the conservative society amongst other reasons. However, through the perseverance and diligence of Qatari women, they were able to break this barrier and change the situation for the better. Today, we find Qatari women in various fields of work, and many of them have completed their studies in the most prestigious universities around the world. One of the fields that have transformed over the years, and has started to include more skilled Qatari women, is the field of law. Several years ago, there were no Qatari female lawyers practicing advocacy and litigation, but the diligence and persistence of Qatari women enabled them to enter the field of law and preform equally to their fellow male counterparts. Mrs. Mona Yousef Al-Muttawa is one of those women who contributed to the field of law, as she entered the world of law at a time where Qatari women were mostly absent from it. With her persistence and perseverance, she was able to introduce herself as a Qatari lawyer with experience in the legal field. Through her participation in local and international conferences and workshops, she developed her skills to represented a positive image of Qatar. So, Who is Mona Al-Muttawa?
I am a Qatari lawyer. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in law from Beirut Arab University in Lebanon in 1999/2000. As soon as I graduated from university, I applied directly to obtain a license to work as a lawyer. At that time, I chose the office of Dr. Khaled Bin Mohammad Al-Attiyah to complete the training period required by law. After I completed the two-year training period, I continued to work at the Al-Attiyah office for three more years, as my main goal was to gain more experience and knowledge in all branches of law. During my training period and work at Al-Attiyah office, I acquired many skills at the legal and humanitarian levels. The most important thing that I learned from Dr. Khaled Al-Attiyah, whom I benefited greatly from his experience, was that being a lawyer carries a sublime humanitarian message and is a noble profession if those involved take professionalism, honesty, and ethics into account.
What attracted you to study law?
I did not study law immediately after I graduated from high school, because I wanted to get to know the field of work before completing my university studies. I worked for the British Bank for seven years, and during my time there I decided to complete my law studies in 1996. The main reason I decided to study law is because many of my family members work in the legal field, and I was also driven by my love and passion for the subject. But at that time, the field of law was not open to Qatari women, and there was no Qatari female lawyer yet, which made me set a clear goal, to become one of the first Qatari female lawyers. I studied law at Beirut Arab University, and during my studies, I was a very passionate and diligent student. I read many different references, books, and laws from which I benefited greatly later on. To be fair, the practical side of the law, as a career, is completely different from the academic one. After I graduated from university, I entered the field of legal work as a lawyer, from which I gained a lot of experience along with my work in banks, which is still useful to me in my field, especially in banking cases. In the field of advocacy, a lawyer learns something new every day, whether it is through what they read, the cases given to them, their daily follow-ups, or the attendance of various types of cases in different courts, as each case may differ from the other, so the lawyer gains new experiences. The daily practice in the corridors of the courts and meeting clients in the office gives the lawyers sufficient experience, it teaches them patience, and gives them a comprehensive view of life. Being a lawyer, in itself, refines the personality of those that dabble in the profession and gives them confidence, boldness, strength, and courage in dealing with judges and various types of cases before the courts.
What encouraged you to open your own office?
My family, close friends, and colleagues encouraged and supported me. Every lawyer usually dreams of having their own office, being independent and creative in it, as if they reap the fruits of their effort after the academic study and training phase to start applying your practices as an independent entity. In the beginning, when I opened my own office, I was introduced to a new challenge which is self-realization and gaining clients’ trust, especially men. It has been sometimes difficult to persuade a male client to give his case to a female lawyer, but thanks to persistence and perseverance, I was able to gain the trust of my clients, change this view and excel in my work. A diligent lawyer can excel and build their name through diligence at work, continuous search for knowledge, attending, and taking on the various cases from A to Z by themselves. A lawyer’s success is a sign of having a lot of experience in the field, skills, and a good reputation.
Are you specialized in a specific field of law?
I am passionate about criminal cases and, over years, I have had sufficient experience in various types of cases. I did not specialize in a specific field, although it is usually encouraged to specialize in one field only as it gives the lawyer the opportunity to innovate and excel in their specialization as well. I do not think that specialization is appropriate with the limited number of law firms in Qatar in comparison to neighboring countries. What I mean here is that larger countries usually have a large number of lawyers, which gives the greatest opportunity to provide specialized lawyers, while in Qatar the number of lawyers is very limited (about 200 or less), which makes it rare for a Qatari lawyer to specialize in a specific field or type of cases. For this reason, we find that most of the Qatari law firms provide various services in all types of cases, from family cases to criminal ones and others. Many of the offices of fellow male and female lawyers have excelled in that, and there are offices that compete with international offices.
Could you tell us about your experience as a female lawyer?
As I mentioned, in the early nineties, there were no women working in the field of law, as the FIRST license granted to a female Qatari lawyer was in 1999/2000 for the distinguished lawyer Ms. Haifa Al-Baker, who was the first to fight to obtain the first legal license as a Qatari woman. Despite being refused a license to practice law for many years, she did not give up trying until she obtained it. After that, Ms. Fawzia Al-Obaidli applied to obtain the license, which made her the second Qatari female lawyer, and two other women applied for the license, but they did not practice. Thus, I am considered the third Qatari lawyer working in the field of law in the State of Qatar. Even with the small number of women at that time, I did not find any refusal from my fellow lawyers and judges. On the contrary, everyone welcomed me and helped me learn. I still remember my first day at court, specifically in the criminal court, when Dr. Khaled told me on the first day of my training at his office that I would attend a criminal case the next day. The case was of a client who was in pre-trial detention, and the court wanted to renew his detention and I had to give oral pleading to persuade the judge to release him. I was filled with dread and fear because it would be the first time for me to stand before a judge and demand the rights of another human being. When Dr. Haider Daf’Allah (may Allah have mercy on him), the judge for that case, saw me for the first time, he was very happy for me as a female lawyer. He welcomed me and spoke with me before the session was held in order to break the barrier of fear and dread that was evident on my face. Thus, he gave me confidence and courage, and I was strong enough to stand before him pleading to demand the release of my client. On that day, my client was released and that was my first real success in work. Since then, I did not skip the court sessions and attended all of them on a daily basis for nearly nineteen years. Throughout those years, I was able to build a strong reputation for my name as a lawyer.
Did you face any challenges?
Most of the challenges that I encountered were negligible and not considered a real challenge. What I really considered a challenge was during my academic studies, as I was working and studying at the same time. It was not easy at all, and I found it difficult to balance between the two because the nature of banking work requires all the employee’s attention, and studying the law required me to make a greater effort than studying and reading all the time. I tried as much as possible to rely on myself in my studies, where I self-funded my education. In addition, Lebanon was going through political instability at that time, which forced me to sit for exams in Egypt, and I got married in the second year of my studies, which added to my new responsibilities. Despite this, I was able to successfully pass all these challenges, thanks to Allah, my personal effort, and the continuous support of my family and close friends.
Is there a moment of your career that stands out to you?
I always sought to attend and participate in international seminars and conferences related to law. Therefore, I joined a legal association (Arab Legal Network) that includes female jurists from sixteen Arab countries based in Jordan and I was the only Qatari lawyer in this association. In the beginning, the association used to conduct legal seminars and conferences to share legal experiences and spread education and legal awareness among women and society in the Arab countries. I tried as much as possible to attend all their meetings. Due to my continuous interaction in this association, I became a member of the Board of Directors, and my duties included managing various activities in several Arab countries. Through this association, I became acquainted with brilliant female lawyers and judges from the Arab world, and with their help, I was able to reach out to a broader audience outside Qatar as a Qatari lawyer who represents my country. The American Bar Association supported our association, and because of such support, I was able to enroll in a training course in 2007 at the American Bar Association in Chicago to learn more about the Bar management and its functions. Thus, I have several relationships with lawyers and legal practitioners in the United States as well as other countries. After that, I joined several Non-Governmental Organizations management courses and gained some experience in this field, after which I also ran for legal studies at Syracuse University in New York. Today I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Qatari Bar Association.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
In recent years, we have had a new, different generation of young people, especially girls, who have a desire and a strong passion to study law and learn the origins of that profession. Thanks to Allah, all professional fields in law have become available to them, and there is tremendous support from the state of Qatar that has provided many real opportunities in the field of law. The biggest example of this is the modernization of the attorney law, especially in the matter of attorney training. In the past, the trainee lawyer was responsible for finding an office that would accept them as a trainee, and no training center or support was provided for them. Now, the law has paid more attention to the trainee lawyer, by making it compulsory for the trainees to undergo a theoretical and practical training period at the Institute of Legal Studies for a period of six months before obtaining a license to practice the profession in addition to the financial support provided by the state during the training period. Moreover, the state provided a wonderfully comprehensive law program through Qatar University, whose effectiveness is confirmed by the graduates themselves who are among the best lawyers in the country.
- Interview written by Al Anoud Al Kuwari.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.