Qatar: A Desert Kingdom on an Oil-Rich Peninsula, Qatar Is a Progressive Arab State Made Prosperous by the Export of Fossil Fuels. with Unparalleled Natural Wonders, a Dazzling Modern Capital and Unique Heritage, This Multicultural Country at the Heart of the Gulf Is Set to Make a Big Impact in the 21st Century

By Bourne, Jo | Geographical, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Qatar: A Desert Kingdom on an Oil-Rich Peninsula, Qatar Is a Progressive Arab State Made Prosperous by the Export of Fossil Fuels. with Unparalleled Natural Wonders, a Dazzling Modern Capital and Unique Heritage, This Multicultural Country at the Heart of the Gulf Is Set to Make a Big Impact in the 21st Century


Bourne, Jo, Geographical


Qatar at a glance

A snapshot of modern Qatar, its people and its geography

In less than a century, the State of Qatar, a tiny peninsula in the heart of the Arabian Gulf, has metamorphosed from an impoverished British protectorate into an independent state that can lay claim to the title of richest country in the world on a per head of population basis. Oil, discovered in 1939, and now gas, are responsible for this reversal of fortune. With reserves of 4.4 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic metres of gas, Qatar's economy is set to flourish well into the 23rd century.

With an arid climate and little or no water for agriculture, Qataris traditionally sought their living from the sea. Pottery found in archaeological excavations shows that from the earliest days of the Mesopotamian city states, Qatar was part of a thriving trade network in the Gulf that, over thousands of years, weathered regional warfare, invasions, changes in rule and the spread of Islam.

In the mid-18th century, the Al-Thani family moved to Qatar from Najd in today's Saudi Arabia, adopting pearling and fishing as its trades. Within a decade, they were followed by the Al-Khalifa family from Kuwait. The Al-Khalifas settled at Zubara in the north and assumed control of the developing pearling industry, maintaining tense relations with the Al-Thani, who had established their capital at Al-Bida (which later became Doha).

More than 100 years of skirmishes were to follow. Then, in 1867, Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani Al-Thani signed a treaty with the British, who had long been concerned that the area's instability could disrupt their trade with India. This treaty established Sheikh Al-Thani as the recognised ruler and brought peace to the country.

That same year, the sheikh was succeeded by his son Qasim, who spent his 46-year rule treading skilfully between British and Ottoman interests. But it wasn't until the 20th century that the situation was fully clarified. Qasim's successor, Sheikh Abdullah, saw the withdrawal of the Turks, who'd been garrisoned in Qatar since 1872. In 1916, facing an increasing threat from Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, future founder of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah signed a treaty with the British, who guaranteed protection from land and sea attack in return for Qatar's neutrality during the First World War. This agreement also granted the British a monopoly on trade.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, fishing and pearling remained the Qatari people's principal forms of income. But in the 1930s, recession in the West caused a dramatic fall in demand and, in 1933, the arrival of the cheaper Japanese cultured pearl sounded the death knell for this traditional Qatari way of life.

In 1935, against a backdrop of serious economic and social hardship, the Emir granted concessions to the US, French and British-owned Petroleum Development Qatar to search for oil. Four years later, the company met with success, but the start of the Second World War meant production didn't begin for another decade.

The income generated from the oil initially served to establish such modern basics as a school (in 1952) and a hospital (in 1959). In the decades that followed, the revenue resulted in rapid development, with Qatar establishing an impressive infrastructure and one of the world's best welfare systems.

In 1971, the UK withdrew from the region, and independence was declared on 1 September. Three years later, the government formed the Qatar General Petroleum Corporation in order to bring extraction under full national control.

Today, under the leadership of Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the country continues to develop in the fields of education, arts, culture and sport. And with its warm climate and spectacular leisure facilities, it's also establishing itself as an attractive tourist destination.

Al Jazeera--Qatar's progressive window on the world

On 1 November 1996, the State of Qatar launched a small satellite-television station with the aim of providing news, talk shows and documentaries for viewers in the Arab world. …

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Qatar: A Desert Kingdom on an Oil-Rich Peninsula, Qatar Is a Progressive Arab State Made Prosperous by the Export of Fossil Fuels. with Unparalleled Natural Wonders, a Dazzling Modern Capital and Unique Heritage, This Multicultural Country at the Heart of the Gulf Is Set to Make a Big Impact in the 21st Century
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