|Map of Qatar. (Grolier Interactive Inc.)|
FACTS AT A GLANCE
State of Qatar is the official name of the country.
Location: Arabian Peninsula in Southwest Asia.
Area: 4,247 sq mi (11,000 km2).
Population: 2,000,000 (estimate).
Capital and Largest City: Doha.
Major Language(s): Arabic (official).
Major Religious Group(s): Muslim.
Head of state and government emir.
Agricultural—Petroleum, natural gas, petrochemicals, wheat, vegetables, fruits.
Monetary Unit: Qatar riyal (1 riyal = 100 dirhams).
Qatar is a small Arab nation located in Southwest Asia, in a part of the region known as the Middle East. It is situated on the Arabian Peninsula, on the coast of the Persian Gulf. Qatar shares land borders with the nations of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The island nation of Bahrain lies to the northwest.
Qatar is mostly desert country. For centuries its people earned their livelihood herding camels and other livestock, fishing, and diving for pearls in the Persian Gulf. The discovery of large deposits of oil under its barren land, however, transformed Qatar from a poor nation into a very prosperous one.
Less than a quarter of the people living in Qatar are native Qataris. The great majority of the population is made up of foreign residents who work in Qatar’s oil industry. Most of the foreign workers come from other Arab countries and from Pakistan, India, and Iran. Some Europeans and Americans are also employed as technicians in the oil industry.
Language and Religion. Arabic is the official language of the country, although English is also used, especially in business. Most of the people are Muslims, and Islam is the official religion of the country.
Cities. About 75 percent of the population lives in or near Doha, the capital and largest city. Situated on Qatar’s eastern coast, Doha was at one time a small fishing village. It grew rapidly following the discovery of oil. Two other towns also developed as a result of the oil industry. Dukhan is located at the site where the first oil deposits were discovered. Umm Said is a port on the eastern coast, linked to the Dukhan oil fields by pipeline.
Social Welfare. The income from oil enables the government of Qatar to provide its people with a number of social welfare benefits. These include free health services and housing paid for partly by the government. Education is free, and school children receive free meals, transportation, and clothing as well. Scholarships are available to qualified students for study abroad or at the University of Qatar.
The territory of Qatar includes the Qatar Peninsula and a number of small islands in the Persian Gulf. The peninsula is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) long and about 55 miles (90 kilometers) wide. Except for some low hills on the western coast, the landscape is mostly flat and sandy. Qatar’s only useful mineral resources are its deposits of oil and natural gas.
Climate. Summers are extremely hot, with temperatures averaging 108°F (42°C). Winter temperatures are considerably cooler, averaging 59°F (15°C). There is little rainfall.
Qatar’s economy is dominated by oil. Crude oil accounts for about 95 percent of the country’s export income, and the oil industry employs a majority of the workforce. Some Qataris in the interior still follow their traditional occupation as nomadic herders of camels, sheep, and goats. But this way of life is rapidly disappearing.
Some wheat, vegetables, and fruits are grown. However, agriculture is severely limited by the scanty rainfall and lack of fertile soil. The fishing industry processes fish and shellfish harvested in the Persian Gulf.
The chief manufactured products include various chemicals derived from petroleum, fertilizers, liquefied natural gas, wheat flour, and cement.
History and Government
Qatar was long governed by the rulers of neighboring Bahrain. In 1872 it came under the domination of the Ottoman Turks, who controlled the peninsula until they were expelled by the British during World War I. In 1916, Britain signed a treaty with the Qataris. The treaty brought the territory under British protection and recognized the al-Thani family as hereditary rulers of Qatar.
Oil was first discovered in Qatar in 1940. But large-scale oil exports did not begin until the early 1950’s. The economic growth of the country began at this time. Britain voluntarily ended the treaty agreements, and Qatar gained full independence in 1971. Sheikh Khalifa ibn Hamad al-Thani, who ruled from 1972 to 1995, gradually nationalized, or brought under government control, Qatar’s oil industry. Qatar is also a member of the Gulf Co-operation Council, whose aim is to improve economic co-operation among the nations of the Persian Gulf. In 1995, Sheikh Khalifa was deposed by his son, Crown Prince Hamad, who became emir.
Qatar is an absolute monarchy ruled by an emir (prince) of the al-Thani family. A provisional constitution provides for a council of ministers and an advisory council appointed by the emir.
Reviewed by Majid Khadduri
Director, Center for Middle East Studies
John Hopkins University