The State of Qatar (Arabic:دولة قطر Dawlat Qatar) is an emirate on a peninsula on the west coast of the Persian Gulf, with a population of over 900,000, although one quarter of that population are foreign workers and their family. The official language is Arabic and the capital is Doha. English is a commonly used second language.
Government and Political Conditions
The ruling Al Thani family continued to hold power following the declaration of independence in 1971. The head of state is the Amir, and the right to rule Qatar is passed on within the Al Thani family. Politically, Qatar is evolving from a traditional society to one based on more formal and democratic institutions to meet the requirements of social and economic progress. The country's constitution formalizes the hereditary rule of the Al Thani family, but it also establishes an elected legislative body and makes government ministers accountable to the legislature. In current practice, the Amir's role is influenced by continuing traditions of consultation, rule by consensus, and the citizen's right to appeal personally to the Amir. The Amir, while directly accountable to no one, cannot violate the Sharia (Islamic law) and, in practice, must consider the opinions of leading families and the religious establishment.
The opinions of the people are institutionalized in the Advisory Council, an appointed body that assists the Amir in formulating policy. However, it is possible that the first elections for this body will occur in 2008. Elections in 1999, in which both men and women participated, resulted in the formation of a municipal council. One woman candidate was elected to the municipal council in 2003. Municipal elections were held for the third time in April 2007.
There has been no serious challenge to Al Thani rule. As the most visible sign of the move toward openness, the Al Jazeera satellite television station based in Qatar is considered the most free and unfettered broadcast source in the Arab world. In practice, however, Al Jazeera rarely criticizes the ruling Al Thani family.
Natives of the Arabian Peninsula, many Qataris are descended from a number of migratory tribes that came to Qatar in the 18th century from the neighboring areas of Nejd and Al-Hasa. Some came from neighboring Gulf emirates and others are descended from Persian merchants. Most of Qatar's 907,229 inhabitants live in Doha, the capital. Foreigners with temporary residence status make up about three-fourths of the population. Foreign workers comprise 52% of the total population and make up about 89% of the total labor force. Most are South and Southeast Asians, Egyptians, Palestinians, Jordanians, and Iranians. About 8,000 U.S. citizens reside in Qatar.
For centuries, the main sources of wealth were pearling, fishing, and trade. At one time, Qataris owned nearly one-third of the Persian Gulf fishing fleet. With the Great Depression and the introduction of Japan's cultured-pearl industry, pearling in Qatar declined drastically.
The Qataris are mainly Sunni Muslims. Islam is the official religion, and Islamic jurisprudence is the basis of Qatar's legal system, although civil courts have jurisdiction over commercial law. Arabic is the official language, and English is widely spoken. Education is compulsory and free for all Arab residents 6-16 years old. Qatar has an increasingly high literacy rate.
Qatar has been inhabited for millennia. The Al Khalifa family of Bahrain dominated the area until 1868 when, at the request of Qatari nobles, the British negotiated the termination of the Bahraini claim, except for the payment of tribute. The tribute ended when the Ottoman Empire occupied Qatar in 1872.
When the Ottomans left at the beginning of World War I, the British recognized Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani as ruler. The Al Thani family had lived in Qatar for 200 years. The 1916 treaty between the United Kingdom and Sheikh Abdullah was similar to those entered into by the British with other Gulf principalities. Under it, the ruler agreed not to dispose of any of his territory except to the U.K. and not to enter into relationships with any other foreign government without British consent. In return, the British promised to protect Qatar from all aggression by sea and to lend their good offices in case of a land attack. A 1934 treaty granted more extensive British protection.
In 1935, a 75-year oil concession was granted to the Qatar Petroleum Company, a subsidiary of the Iraq Petroleum Company, which was owned by Anglo-Dutch, French, and U.S. interests. High-quality oil was discovered in 1940 at Dukhan, on the western side of the Qatari peninsula. However, the start of WWII delayed exploitation of Qatar's oil resources, and oil exports did not begin until 1949.
During the 1950s and 1960s gradually increasing oil revenues brought prosperity, rapid immigration, substantial social progress, and the beginnings of Qatar's modern history. When the U.K. announced a policy in 1968 (reaffirmed in March 1971) of ending the treaty relationships with the Gulf sheikdoms, Qatar joined the other eight states then under British protection (the seven trucial sheikdoms--the present United Arab Emirates--and Bahrain) in a plan to form a union of Arab emirates. By mid-1971, as the termination date of the British treaty relationship (end of 1971) approached, the nine still had not agreed on terms of union. Accordingly, Qatar declared independence as a separate entity and became the fully independent State of Qatar on September 3, 1971.
In February 1972, the Heir Apparent, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad, deposed his cousin, Amir Ahmad, and assumed power. Key members of the Al Thani family supported this move, which took place without violence or signs of political unrest.
On June 27, 1995, the Deputy Amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, deposed his father Amir Khalifa in a bloodless coup. An unsuccessful counter-coup was staged in 1996. The Amir and his father are now reconciled, though some supporters of the counter-coup remain in prison. The Amir announced his intention for Qatar to move toward democracy and has permitted a freer and more open press and municipal elections as a precursor to expected parliamentary elections. Qatari citizens approved a new constitution via public referendum in April 2003, which came into force in June 2005.
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