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Qatar - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

INTRODUCTION OF QATAR

Qatar

Qatar, nation occupying the Qatar Peninsula, which extends northward from the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia shares Qatar’s southern border, and the island nation of Bahrain lies off its western shores. Like most of Arabia, the Qatar Peninsula is a hot and dry desert land with no surface water and few native plants and animals. Most of the people live in cities, particularly Doha, the national capital. The country is rich in oil and natural gas, and the exploitation of these resources dominates its prosperous economy. The al-Thani clan has ruled Qatar as an emirate (a monarchy with an emir as head of state) since the late 19th century. Like several of its neighbors, Qatar came under British protection in the early 20th century. It became fully independent in 1971. The emirate was a relatively poor state until the mid-20th century, when its vast petroleum reserves were discovered and exploited. Qatar is now one of the world’s wealthiest countries per capita.

LAND AND RESOURCES OF QATAR

Qatar covers a land area of 11,427 sq km (4,412 sq mi). Its greatest length, north to south, is about 180 km (about 110 mi) and its widest east-west extent is about 80 km (about 50 mi). Numerous small islands and reefs lie close to Qatar’s shores. The largest of these, the Ḩawār Islands off the western coast, belong to Bahrain.

Qatar’s terrain largely consists of flat, gravelly desert with a few rocky ridges. The highest point, Qurayn Aba al-Bawl, reaches only 83 m (272 ft) above sea level. There are no rivers, lakes, or springs in Qatar.

Plant and Animal Life in Qatar

Natural vegetation is extremely sparse in Qatar. Various species of birds, including bustards, and small mammals such as sand cats make up most of the indigenous wildlife on land. Offshore, plentiful marine life includes dugongs, shrimp, oysters, and various species of food fish.

Natural Resources of Qatar

Oil and natural gas are Qatar’s only significant natural resources. The country has 15.2 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and even larger reserves—25.8 trillion cubic meters (910.5 trillion cu ft)—of natural gas. These gas reserves, representing about 15 percent of the world’s total, are larger than those of any country except Russia and Iran. Most of the gas reserves are contained in the vast North Field, the largest gas field in the world. In contrast to most other gas fields in the gulf area, the North Field contains no oil, only gas. Therefore, gas production is not tied to oil production, which is advantageous because world demand for each rises and falls separately.

Climate in Qatar

From May to October the Qatari climate is extremely hot, commonly reaching as high as 50°C (120°F), with high humidity near the coastline. In the other months the weather is generally moderate and pleasant, with daily temperatures averaging 17°C (63°F). Rainfall, which occurs only in the winter, is very slight: Qatar’s average annual rainfall is less than 130 mm (5 in). Qatar experiences strong northerly winds, known locally as the shimal, in June and July, and southerly winds called the gaws in other months. These winds can create sandstorms and dangerous marine conditions.

Environmental Issues in Qatar

The Qatari government is taking steps to protect endangered species of plants and animals and to set and enforce clean air and water standards. Qatar’s very limited underground water sources are becoming increasingly saline and are rapidly depleting. Oil spills during the 1991 Persian Gulf War damaged Qatar’s marine habitats.

POPULATION OF QATAR

In 2009 Qatar’s population was estimated at 833,290, giving a population density of 73 persons per sq km (189 persons per sq mi). About 92 percent (2003) of the population is urban. About half of the population lives in Doha, the capital and commercial center of the country, located on the eastern coast. The next largest cities are Ar Rayyān and Al Wakrah, both located close to Doha. Mesaieed, south of Doha, is the site of Qatar’s oil terminal and a major industrial center.

Qatar’s population has skyrocketed since the discovery of oil: The population is more than 50 times as large today as it was in 1949. This extraordinary growth is largely due to the immigration of great numbers of foreign workers needed in Qatar’s oil fields, factories, and infrastructural developments. The country’s massive and rapid economic development since the mid-20th century has been made possible only with the skills and labor brought in from abroad. These foreign workers and their dependents now greatly outnumber Qatari citizens, who account for only about 20 percent of the country’s population. Other Arab groups—mostly Palestinians, Lebanese, Omanis, Syrians, and Egyptians—account for another 20 percent, Pakistanis and Indians each represent 18 percent, Iranians 10 percent, and Europeans and others make up the balance. The country contains a small community of East Africans, who were brought to Qatar as slaves until slavery was abolished in Qatar in 1952. A small number of Bedouin nomads inhabit Qatar, typically making seasonal visits from across the Saudi Arabian border.

Language and Religion in Qatar

Arabic is the official language of Qatar. English, Urdu, and Farsi are also widely spoken. About 85 percent of the people are Muslims, the majority of the Sunni branch. The non-Muslim minority includes Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists. Qatar’s Sunni Muslims follow the same strict interpretation of Islam as do Sunnis in Saudi Arabia, but its application is somewhat less austere in Qatar. For example, in contrast to Saudi Arabia, women are permitted to drive and non-Muslims may be served alcohol. This strict form of Islam is known to Westerners as Wahhabism (see Wahhabis), but its adherents object to that term and refer to themselves as muwahhidun (unitarians, from al-muwahhid, Arabic for “those who proclaim the unity of God”).

Education in Qatar

In 1956, the year that a public education system was introduced in Qatar, there were only four schools for boys and one for girls. Now, virtually all primary school-age children and94 percent (2002–2003) of secondary school-age children are enrolled in schools. Education is free at all levels for Qatari citizens, and it is compulsory for nine years. A number of private schools serve the children of foreign residents. About 90 percent (2007) of the population age 15 years old and older is literate. This figure has increased dramatically in recent years as education became available to everyone. The University of Qatar (founded in 1977) provides higher education for thousands of people. Others pursue university studies abroad, mostly in other Arab countries, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Way of Life in Qatar

Traditional values tend to shape the average Qatari person’s social and cultural life, which remains strongly centered on the family. The father has the dominant role in the family. The place of women is still overwhelmingly the home, but with the government’s active encouragement, women are increasingly entering government and private business employment. Unlike in neighboring Saudi Arabia, gender segregation in the workplace is not strictly enforced in Qatar.

Qataris have used their oil-derived incomes to build new houses with modern amenities, purchase automobiles, and travel overseas. Dress remains largely traditional. In the hot season men wear a loose-fitting cotton cloak called a dishdasha, over which, in cooler weather, they don a bisht, or woolen cloak. Qatari women wear a loose, concealing garment called an abaya, and are frequently seen veiled or wearing a beak-like leather mask called a burka over the face. The Qatari diet features lamb, rice, and local fish. Coffee is not merely a beverage but an important focus of ceremonial and social life as well. Most social recreation is in the home, although increasingly Qataris enjoy eating out and driving in the desert interior. South Asians and other expatriates maintain their own distinctive lifestyles. There are no major tensions between ethnic groups, nor between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The crime rate in Qatar is extremely low and poverty is almost unknown.

Culture of Qatar

Qatari craftspeople are traditionally known for their jewelry, embroidered clothing, and camel saddles. Graceful Arabian sailboats called dhows are perhaps the best local example of artistic beauty combined with practical purpose. Qatari men perform traditional Bedouin dances on special occasions, such as weddings, and in exhibitions. The country’s theaters and television stations present dramas and other productions. Qatari authors write on themes of local interest, such as the clash of tradition and modernization, and are also known for political and social satires.

The Qatar National Museum (founded in 1975), housed in the palace of a former emir at the eastern end of Doha, presents exhibits on the peninsula’s geology and archaeology and displays of artifacts that illustrate the traditional Qatari lifestyle. Also in Doha, an ethnographic museum in the restored Wind Tower House (built in 1935) demonstrates how traditional Qatari houses were ventilated and cooled before electricity and provides a view of life before the oil era.

ECONOMY OF QATAR

Although foreign investment is encouraged and many small businesses exist, the Qatari government dominates the economy. Like most of its neighbors, Qatar used its oil wealth to fuel rapid growth and development, relying overwhelmingly on imported labor and expertise. However, with its small oil reserves and vast natural gas deposits, Qatar began to emphasize gas extraction and processing, as well as other industrial ventures, starting in the late 1980s. The increased industrialization helped Qatar weather periodic downturns in world oil prices. In 2005 Qatar’s gross domestic product (GDP) totaled $42.5 billion and its GDP per capita was $52,239.70.

More than 90 percent of Qatar’s labor force is of foreign origin, reflecting the lack of indigenous skills and training necessary for the operation of the country’s economy. The government promotes the placement of more Qatari citizens in the workforce, but the economy remains heavily dependent on foreign workers.

Industry in Qatar

The industrial sector—including mining, manufacturing, construction, and power generation—produces about half of Qatar’s GDP and employs 41 percent of the country’s labor force. Petroleum accounts for much of industry’s share of GDP, but the government has encouraged diversification of the sector. Consequently, numerous new enterprises were established in the late 20th century, including a petrochemical plant, a fertilizer factory, steel and aluminum smelters, a flour mill, and a cement plant. Qatar’s gas and oil reserves power thermal generators that produce enough electricity to meet all of the country’s needs.

Services and Agriculture of Qatar

Services—including government employment, trade, finance, and tourism—make up about half of the GDP and employ 56 percent of the workforce. The government promotes tourism in Qatar, and several luxury hotels have been constructed since the 1990s. In 2007, 964,000 tourists visited the country. Qatar opened an official stock exchange in 1997.

Qatari farmers cultivate dates, cereals, and vegetables and raise livestock, including camels, goats, and sheep. Agriculture contributes little to the country’s GDP, but the government has subsidized farms and greenhouses in an ambitious goal of making Qatar self-sufficient in food production. While that goal has yet to be accomplished, most of the vegetables, fish, and milk consumed in Qatar are produced domestically.

Transportation in Qatar

Qatar has a well-developed transportation network. An international airport is located in Doha, and the national carrier, Qatar Airways, serves numerous international destinations. The country’s major ports are at Doha and the industrial center of Mesaieed. In 1995 a new industrial port was completed at Ra’s Laffān to serve the North Field gas project. Qatar has 1,230 km (764 mi) of highways, 90 percent of which are paved. Taxis and automobiles are the principal means of transportation.

Communications in Qatar

Qatar is home to the Al-Jazeera satellite television channel, which is an important source of news and other programming in the country and across the Middle East. Several AM and FM radio stations also broadcast. A range of Arabic- and English-language daily newspapers and weekly or monthly magazines cover political, social, and economic issues. The Qatari press enjoys greater freedom from government censorship than many countries in the region.

Trade and Currency in Qatar

In 2007 Qatar’s exports totaled $37.9 billion and its imports $22 billion. Its principal exports are oil, natural gas, and products derived from oil or natural gas. Major imports include machinery, transport equipment, and basic manufactures. The country’s main trading partners are Japan, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Membership in OPEC and OAPEC helps Qatar coordinate policies with other oil exporters, and the GCC promotes economic cooperation among countries in the Persian Gulf. Qatar’s currency is the Qatari riyal, divided into 100 dirhams (3.60 riyal equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). It is issued by the Qatar Central Bank.

GOVERNMENT OF QATAR

Qatar is a constitutional monarchy. The head of state is an emir, who must be a member of the al-Thani clan. The emir exercises nearly absolute power, but he must obey the Sharia (Islamic law), respect the opinions of the religious establishment, and maintain the support of key people within the ruling al-Thani clan. The emir appoints a cabinet of ministers to assist him.

Qatar’s first permanent constitution was approved by public referendum in 2003 and came into force in 2005. This constitution calls for the creation of a Consultative Council, a single-chamber legislative body. Two-thirds of the 45 members of this council will be directly elected, and the emir will appoint the remainder. All members will serve four-year terms. Elections and appointments to the Consultative Council are expected before the end of 2007. Voting is universal for all Qatari citizens, male and female, aged 18 or older.

Judiciary and Local Government of Qatar

The constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary. The Sharia court decides cases concerning the personal affairs of Muslims. Non-Muslims are tried in one of five courts, including a court of appeal, which operate on the basis of codified laws drawn from various sources. For administrative purposes, the country is divided into 10 municipalities.

Political Expression in Qatar

Prior to the discovery of oil the large merchant families controlled much of Qatar’s wealth, giving them considerable political influence with the emir. Oil revenues have since given the emir financial independence and essentially unchallenged political power. There is little serious opposition to the ruling al-Thani clan. Within the large clan of several thousand members, however, there is often infighting. Rulers have periodically been displaced by rivals, most recently in 1995, when Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani overthrew his father, Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani. Under Emir Hamad, the government began allowing Qatar’s professional and business people greater voice in political affairs. The 2005 constitution guarantees Qatari citizens full freedom of political expression and association.

Defense in Qatar

Qatar has a modest defense force of 12,400 military personnel, with 8,500 in the army, 1,800 in the naval forces, and 2,100 in the air force. Military service is compulsory for Qatari males who do not complete secondary school. Qatar played a significant role in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and served as a central command center for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Qatar signed a security pact with the United States in 1992, and it depends largely on this ally for protection against major external threats. In the early 21st century the United States shifted its major air operations headquarters for the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base.

International Organizations in Qatar

On independence in 1971 Qatar joined the United Nations, the Arab League, the Nonaligned Movement, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It established the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981 with five other Persian Gulf Arab states.

HISTORY OF QATAR

Traces of Stone Age habitation dating back 50,000 years have been found in Qatar. By 4000 BC the ancient trading culture of Dilmun, based in Bahrain, had spread to the Qatar Peninsula. Dilmun’s power peaked in about 2000 BC, and the state’s far-flung trade connections linked Qatar to the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia and India. Dilmun faded in the 1st millennium BC, and control over Qatar and the gulf region passed to the Babylonians and, later, the Seleucids.

From the 3rd to the 7th centuries AD the Sassanids of Persia (now Iran) ruled Qatar and adjacent parts of the Arabian mainland. In the mid-7th century Qatari sailors played a significant role in carrying Muslim troops across the gulf to conquer Persia as the new religion of Islam expanded out of Arabia (see Spread of Islam). Subsequently, Qatar came under the sway of the Islamic dynasties of the Umayyads, based in Damascus (in present-day Syria), and the Abbasids, whose capital was Baghdād (now in Iraq). In 1517 the Portuguese captured Qatar, but they were expelled in 1540 by the Ottoman Empire, which intermittently exercised authority over Qatar and the northern Persian Gulf until World War I (1914-1918).

Rival Clans in Qatar

From ancient times until the 18th century there were few permanent settlements in Qatar and virtually none in the interior because of its hostile climate. In the 1760s the al-Khalifa and al-Jalahimah clans—both members of the ‘Utub tribe of central Arabia—migrated from Kuwait to Qatar. The al-Khalifa clan established its rule in Az Zubārah in the northwestern part of the Qatar Peninsula. In 1783, with assistance from the other clans of the ‘Utub, the al-Khalifas captured Bahrain. For much of the 19th century the al-Khalifas continued to control at least part of Qatar, but were increasingly challenged by the al-Thani clan.

The al-Thani clan had immigrated to Qatar from the Najd region of central Arabia at some point before the arrival of the al-Khalifas. The al-Thanis and other emigrants from Najd brought with them the strict interpretation of Islam often known as Wahhabism (see Wahhabis). Over the course of the early and mid-19th century, the remaining al-Khalifas gradually emigrated to Bahrain and the al-Thanis established authority over the Qatar Peninsula. Under the al-Thanis, Qatar developed a modest economy based on pearl diving, fishing, and trade. When the al-Khalifas attacked in 1867 to try to recapture the peninsula, the British intervened to prevent instability in the area. The British supported the al-Thanis’ authority over Qatar, recognizing the dominant position of their leader, Muhammad bin Thani.

British Protection

Muhammad bin Thani’s son Qasim bin Muhammad al-Thani ruled from 1878 to 1913 and is considered the founder of the emirate of Qatar. He steered a careful diplomatic path between Britain and the Ottoman Empire, the two dominant powers in the region, acknowledging the formal sovereignty of the Ottomans over Qatar. In the Anglo-Turkish Convention of 1913 (never ratified because of the arrival of World War I) the Ottoman Empire gave up its claim to Qatar. In 1916 the British consolidated their position in Qatar through an agreement with the emir, Abdullah bin Qasim al-Thani. This agreement conferred British protection upon Qatar, established British control over Qatar’s foreign relations, and provided special rights for Britain and British subjects.

Like the other Persian Gulf states, Qatar lost almost all of its pearling industry in the 1930s with the worldwide economic depression and the introduction of Japanese cultured pearls. In 1939, however, a subsidiary of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later the British Petroleum Company) struck oil in Qatar. Oil was first produced in commercial quantities in 1949, and Qatar began the transition from one of the poorest states in the world to one of the wealthiest. Although the emir at first retained the bulk of the wealth, a Qatari social welfare state soon took shape, and the emir’s rudimentary governmental administration gave way to the more complex structure needed to oversee rapid economic and social development.

In 1968 the British government announced that by the end of 1971 it would withdraw its military forces from the Persian Gulf region as an economizing measure. This meant that British protection of Qatar, Bahrain, and the Trucial States (now the United Arab Emirates) would come to an end. Qatar proposed that those other states join with it in a federation and drew up a constitution for that purpose. Agreement on union could not be reached, however, and Qatar declared its independence in September 1971. The federal constitution was adopted on a provisional basis for the new state’s government, and the al-Thanis were confirmed as the ruling clan of Qatar.

Independent Qatar

The emir at independence was Ahmad bin Ali al-Thani, whose hoarding of oil income and extravagant expenditures led to a bloodless coup by his cousin and prime minister, Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani. Emir Khalifa implemented far-sighted social welfare policies to provide all Qataris with a share of the country’s wealth, but he did little to reform the country’s authoritarian form of government. He pursued low-profile foreign policies, generally closely aligning Qatar with Saudi Arabia.

In 1992 Khalifa rejected a petition by a group of 50 leading Qataris calling for an assembly with legislative powers as well as for reforms in the economy and the education system. However, the same year, Khalifa turned over much of his day-to-day authority to his son and prime minister, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who shared many of these reformist ideas. As prime minister, Hamad initiated policies at odds with his father’s more cautious leadership, including attempts to normalize relations with Iran and Iraq, establish close economic ties with Israel, and lessen the influence of Saudi Arabia on Qatar. In June 1995, when Khalifa was out of the country, Hamad seized power.

Hamad’s Rule

After becoming emir, Hamad oversaw several reforms to the Qatari political system. To select new municipal officers in 1999, Qatar held its first popular elections ever. Both men and women were allowed to vote and to run for office. In 2002 a constitutional commission produced a draft constitution that called for the creation of a partially elected legislative body and guaranteed all Qatari citizens the right to vote as well as freedom of expression and religion. The new constitution was approved by public referendum in April 2003 and came into force in June 2005. While Hamad’s reforms are a source of anxiety for the more conservative rulers of several other Persian Gulf states, many observers believe that he is a model for a future generation of rulers in that region.

Hamad also cultivated relations with the United States and encouraged the U.S. military to use Qatari bases. In 2002 the United States began transferring many military facilities from Saudi Arabia to Qatar. Qatar served as a critical command center for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.