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 "Wahhabi" Muslims. Islam is the official religion, and Islamic jurisprudence is the basis of Qatar,s legal system. Arabic is the official language and English is the lingua franca. Education is compulsory and free for all Arab residents 6-16 years old. Qatar has an increasingly high literacy rate.
When the Turks 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 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. Exploitation was delayed by World War II, and oil exports did not begin until 1949.
During the 1950s and 1960s gradually increasing oil reserves 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, however, the nine still had not agreed on terms of union, and the termination date (end of 1971) of the British treaty relationship was approaching. Accordingly, Qatar sought independence as a separate entity and became the fully independent State of Qatar on September 3, 1971.
The influx of expatriate Arabs has introduced ideas that call into question the tenets of Qatar,s traditional society, but there has been no serious challenge to Al Thani rule.
In February 1972, the Deputy Ruler and Prime Minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad, deposed his cousin, Emir Ahmad, and assumed power. This move was supported by the key members of Al Thani and took place without violence or signs of political unrest.
On June 27, 1995, the Deputy Ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, deposed his father Emir Khalifa in a bloodless coup. Emir Hamad and his father reconciled in 1996.
Qatar maintains an embassy in the United States at 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20016 (tel. 202-274-1600) and expects to open a consulate in Houston in November 1997. Qatar,s Permanent Mission to the United Nations is at 747 Third Ave., 22nd floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-486-9335).
Qatar,s economy was in a downturn from 1982 to 1989. OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) quotas on crude oil production, the lower price for oil, and the generally unpromising outlook on international markets reduced oil earnings. In turn, the Qatari Government,s spending plans had to be cut to match lower income. The resulting recessionary local business climate caused many firms to lay off expatriate staff. With the economy recovering in the 1990s, expatriate populations, particularly from Egypt and South Asia, have grown again.
Oil production will not long return to peak levels of 500,000 barrels per day (b/d), as oil fields are projected to be mostly depleted by 2023. Fortunately, large natural gas reserves have been located off Qatar,s northeast coast. Qatar,s proved reserves of gas are the third-largest in the world, exceeding 7 trillion cubic meters. The economy was boosted in 1991 by completion of the $1.5-billion Phase I of North Field gas development. In 1996, the Qatargas project began exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Japan. Further phases of North Field gas development costing billions of dollars are in various stages of planning and development.
Qatar,s heavy industrial projects, all based in Umm Said, include a refinery with a 50,000 b/d capacity, a fertilizer plant for urea and ammonia, a steel plant, and a petrochemical plant. All these industries use gas for fuel. Most are joint ventures between European and Japanese firms and the state-owned Qatar General Petroleum Corporation (QGPC). The U.S. is the major equipment supplier for Qatar,s oil and gas industry, and U.S. companies are playing a major role in North Field gas development.
Qatar pursues a vigorous program of "Qatarization," under which all joint venture industries and government departments strive to move Qatari nationals into positions of greater authority. Growing numbers of foreign-educated Qataris, including many educated in the U.S., are returning home to assume key positions formerly occupied by expatriates. In order to control the influx of expatriate workers, Qatar has tightened the administration of its foreign manpower programs over the past several years. Security is the principal basis for Qatar,s strict entry and immigration rules and regulations.
In September 1992 tensions arose with Saudi Arabia when a Qatari border post was allegedly attacked by Saudi forces resulting in two deaths. Relations have since improved and a joint commission has been set up to demarcate the border as agreed between the two governments.
Qatar and Bahrain dispute ownership of the Hawar islands. The case is before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, while Saudi-led mediation efforts continue.
The U.S. Embassy in Qatar is located in Doha at 149 Ahmed bin Ali Street, Fariq bin Omran. Mailing address: P.O. Box 2399, Doha. Telephone: 974-864701/2/3; fax 861669. The embassy is open Saturday through Wednesday (Qatar,s workweek), closed for U.S. and Qatari holidays.