Qatar, independent state occupying the Qatar Peninsula, jutting into
the Persian Gulf from the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. On its
southern side it is bordered by Saudi Arabia. Qatar has an area of 11,427
sq km (4,412 sq mi).
II. Land and Population
The land is stony and largely barren. An extremely hot, arid climate prevails. Humidity is high during the summer (May to October), but the average annual rainfall is less than 127 mm (less than 5 in). Petroleum and natural gas are the natural resources.
The population of Qatar (1998 estimate) is 697,126. This figure includes
a large number of migrant laborers from neighboring states. The official
language is Arabic, although English is widely used in government and commerce.
Most native Qataris belong to the Islamic Wahhabi sect, an orthodox branch
of Sunni Muslims. The capital and leading port is Doha, with a population
(1986) of 217,294.
III. Economy and Government
In 1995 Qatar's gross domestic product, which measures the value of all goods and services produced, was $7.6 billion, or $11,620 per capita. Petroleum is the dominant source of income and, along with natural gas, accounted for 75 percent of exports in 1994. Oil production in 1997 totaled 237 million barrels; the output of natural gas was 18 billion cu m (632 billion cu ft). Manufactures include cement, fertilizer, and petroleum products. Although some fruits and vegetables are grown, herding is the principal agricultural occupation. In 1998 the country had 172,071 goats, 199,682 sheep, 47,000 camels, and 13,800 cattle. The fish catch totaled 4,740 metric tons in 1996. The unit of currency is the Qatar riyal (3.64 riyal equal U.S.$1; 1997 average). Revenue from oil concessions is being used for a development program; a road network, hospitals, and desalination plants have been built, and the country has a welfare plan that includes free medical care and education.
Qatar is a monarchy. Under the terms of a 1970 provisional constitution,
executive power rests with the Council of Ministers (cabinet). The council
is appointed by the head of state, the emir, who is also the prime minister.
Qatar has no legislative body, although the constitution guarantees to
all citizens the basic democratic rights. In 1997 Qatar's well-equipped
armed forces included an 8,500-member army, a navy of 1,800, and an air
force of 1,500.
Qatar has been settled since the Stone Age, the first known inhabitants being Canaanite tribes. The country was later subject to various rulers, including Sargon of Akkad, who reigned about 2335 to 2279 BC, and it was most likely connected with the federation of Dilmun in the 1st millennium BC. Islam swept the peninsula in the 7th century AD, and Qatar then became a part, successively, of the Arab caliphate and the Ottoman Empire. Iranians long held sway in the country, but in the late 18th century Wahhabis from what is now Saudi Arabia took control. They were replaced in the early 19th century by the Thani dynasty, although its rule after the middle of the century was at the sufferance of the Ottoman Turks. In 1916 Qatar became a British protectorate but continued to be ruled as an absolute monarchy by the Thanis.
Qatar was proclaimed independent when the British left the gulf area in 1971, and it then joined the United Nations. In 1972 the reigning emir, Ahmad bin Ali al-Thani, was deposed by his cousin Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, who attempted to modernize the country by introducing new industries such as steel and fertilizers. In foreign affairs Qatar has tended to lean close to Saudi Arabia, and it contributed substantially to the Arab struggle against Israel. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Qatar's troops and air force were part of the 28-nation allied forces and were especially noted for their contributions in the air and on the ground, particularly during the retaking of Khafji.
In June 1995 Emir Khalifa was ousted by his son, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in a bloodless palace coup. Hamad was recognized as Qatar's leader by other countries on the Persian Gulf and several additional governments soon after taking power.