Facts About Qatar

Background: Ruled by the Al Thani family since the mid-1800s, Qatar transformed itself from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for pearling into an independent state with significant oil and natural gas revenues. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Qatari economy was crippled by a continuous siphoning off of petroleum revenues by the amir who had ruled the country since 1972. He was overthrown by his son, the current Amir HAMAD bin Khalifa Al Thani, in a bloodless coup in 1995. In 2001, Qatar resolved its longstanding border disputes with both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Oil and natural gas revenues enable Qatar to have a per capita income not far below the leading industrial countries of Western Europe.
Government type: traditional monarchy
Capital: Doha
Currency: 1 Qatari rial (QAR) = 100 dirhams

Geography of Qatar

Location: Middle East, peninsula bordering the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia
Geographic coordinates: 25 30 N, 51 15 E
total: 11,437 sq km
land: 11,437 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Land boundaries:
total: 60 km
border countries: Saudi Arabia 60 km
Coastline: 563 km
Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: as determined by bilateral agreements, or the median line
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: desert; hot, dry; humid and sultry in summer
Terrain: mostly flat and barren desert covered with loose sand and gravel
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Persian Gulf 0 m
highest point: Qurayn Abu al Bawl 103 m
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, fish
Land use:
arable land: 1%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 5%
forests and woodland: 0%
other: 94% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 80 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: haze, dust storms, sandstorms common
Environment – current issues: limited natural fresh water resources are increasing dependence on large-scale desalination facilities.
Environment – international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection
signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea
Geography – note: strategic location in central Persian Gulf near major petroleum deposits

People of Qatar

Natives of the Arabian Peninsula, most Qataris are descended from a number of migratory tribes that came to Qatar in the 18th century to escape the harsh conditions of the neighboring areas of Nejd and Al-Hasa. Some are descended from Omani tribes. Qatar has more than 750,000 people, the majority of whom live in Doha, the capital. Foreign workers with temporary residence status make up about four-fifths of the population. Most of them are South Asians, Egyptians, Palestinians, Jordanians, and Iranians. About 6,000 U.S. citizens resided there as of 2001.

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.

Population: 863,051 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years:  25.77%
15-64 years:  71.75%
65 years and over:  2.48% 
Population growth rate: 3.18% 
Birth rate: 15.91 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 4.26 deaths/1,000 population 
Net migration rate: 20.12 migrant(s)/1,000 population 
Infant mortality rate: 21.44 deaths/1,000 live births 
Life expectancy at birth:
total population:  72.62 years
male:  70.16 years
female:  75.21 years 
Total fertility rate: 3.17 children born/woman 
noun: Qatari(s)
adjective: Qatari
Ethnic groups: Arab 40%, Pakistani 18%, Indian 18%, Iranian 10%, other 14%
Religions: Muslim 95%
Languages: Arabic (official), English commonly used as a second language
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 79.4%
male: 79.2%
female: 79.9% (1995 est.)

History of Qatar

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have assumed added prominence as a result of Operation Desert Shield in 1990 and the Persian Gulf War in 1991. These states share certain characteristics while simultaneously differing from one another in various respects. Islam has played a major role in each of the Persian Gulf states, although Kuwait and Bahrain reflect a greater secular influence than the other three. Moreover, the puritanical Wahhabi Sunni sect prevails in Qatar; Bahrain has a majority population of Shia, a denomination of the faith that constitutes a minority in Islam as a whole; and the people of Oman represent primarily a minor sect within Shia Islam, the Ibadi.

The beduin heritage also exerts a significant influence in all of the Persian Gulf states. In the latter half of the twentieth century, however, a sense of national identity increasingly has superseded tribal allegiance. The ruling families in the Persian Gulf states represent shaykhs of tribes that originally settled particular areas; however, governmental institutions steadily have taken over spheres that previously fell under the purview of tribal councils.

Historically, Britain exercised a protectorate at least briefly over each of the Persian Gulf states. This connection has resulted in the presence of governmental institutions established by Britain as well as strong commercial and military ties with it. Sources of military matériel and training in the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, were being provided by other countries in addition to Britain.

Because of the extensive coastlines of the Persian Gulf states, trade, fishing, shipbuilding, and, in the past, pearling have represented substantial sources of income. In the early 1990s, trade and, to a lesser extent, fishing, continued to contribute major amounts to the gross domestic product of these states.

Of the five states, Oman has the least coastal area on the Persian Gulf because its access to that waterway occurs only at the western tip of the Musandam Peninsula, separated from the remainder of Oman by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Partly as a result of this limited contact with the gulf and partly because of the mountains that cut off the interior from the coast, Oman has the most distinctive culture of the five states.

In general, the gulf has served as a major facilitator of trade and culture. The ancient civilization of Dilmun, for example, in present-day Bahrain existed as early as the fourth millennium B.C.

The Persian Gulf, however, also constitutes a ready channel for foreign conquerors. In addition to Britain, over the centuries the gulf states have known such rulers as the Greeks, Parthians, Sassanians, Iranians, and Portuguese. When England’s influence first came to the area in 1622, the Safavid shah of Iran sought England’s aid in driving the Portuguese out of the gulf.

Britain did not play a major role, however, until the early nineteenth century. At that time, attacks on British shipping by the Al Qasimi of the present-day UAE became so serious that Britain asked the assistance of the ruler of Oman in ending the attacks. In consequence, Britain in 1820 initiated treaties or truces with the various rulers of the area, giving rise to the term Trucial Coast.

The boundaries of the Persian Gulf states were considered relatively unimportant until the discovery of oil in Bahrain in 1932 caused other gulf countries to define their geographic limits. Britain’s 1968 announcement that in 1971 it would abandon its protectorate commitments east of the Suez Canal accelerated the independence of the states. Oman had maintained its independence in principle since 1650. Kuwait, with the most advanced institutions–primarily because of its oil wealth–had declared its independence in 1961. Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE followed suit in 1971. In the face of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, all of the Persian Gulf states experienced fears for their security. These apprehensions led to their formation, together with Saudi Arabia, of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in May 1981.

In preparation for independence, Qatar enacted a provisional constitution in 1970 that created an Advisory Council, partly elected. Twenty members are selected by the ruler from nominees voted in each of ten electoral districts; fifteen members are appointed directly by the ruler. In January 1992, fifty leading Qataris petitioned the ruler for an elected council “with legislative powers” and “a permanent constitution capable of guaranteeing democracy and determining political, social, and economic structures”; as of early 1994, no action had been taken on these requests. Governmental control has clearly remained in Al Thani hands; in January 1994, ten of eighteen members of the Council of Ministers belonged to the family.

Exploitation of the oil discovered in Qatar in 1939 was delayed until after World War II. The petroleum industry has grown steadily, and in 1991 the North Field natural gas project was inaugurated; the North Field, a 6,000-square-kilometer offshore field considered to be the world’s largest, extends slightly into Iranian territorial waters. The Qatari government, however, has sought to encourage diversification and investment in such industries as steel, fertilizers, and petrochemicals. The work force is predominantly foreign; in 1992 Qataris were estimated to represent only 20 percent of the approximately 484,000 total population.

In part because most Qataris belong to the Wahhabi sect that originated in the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar historically has enjoyed close relations with Saudi Arabia, with which it settled its 1992 border dispute in 1993. Although Qatar supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, it subsequently improved its relations with Iran, undoubtedly in part because of its shared gas field. As a GCC member, Qatar sent forces against Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War but continued to maintain a diplomatic link with Iraq. Qatar’s relations with the United States improved following Operation Desert Storm, and the two countries signed a defense cooperation agreement in June 1992 that includes a provision for the pre-positioning of supplies.

The Persian Gulf War brought with it the realization that the GCC was inadequate to provide the gulf states with the defense they required. As a result, most of the states sought defense agreements with the United States, Britain, France, and Russia, more or less in that order. Concurrently, the gulf countries have endeavored to improve the caliber and training of their armed forces and the interoperability of military equipment through joint military exercises both within the GCC framework and with Western powers. The United States has sought to complement GCC collective security efforts and has stated that it does not intend to station forces permanently in the region.

At a November 1993 meeting, GCC defense ministers made plans to expand the Saudi-based Peninsula Shield forces, a rapid deployment force, to 25,000. The force is to have units from each GCC state, a unified command, and a rotating chairmanship. The ministers also agreed to spend up to US$5 billion to purchase three or four more AWACS aircraft to supplement the five the Saudi air force already has and to create a headquarters in Saudi Arabia for GCC defense purposes. The UAE reportedly considered the proposed force increase insufficient; furthermore, Oman sought a force of 100,000 members.

In addition to these efforts, directed at the military aspects of national security, declining oil revenues for many of the states and internal sectarian divisions also have led the gulf countries to institute domestic efforts to strengthen their national security. Such efforts entail measures to increase the role of citizens in an advisory governmental capacity, to allow greater freedom of the press, to promote economic development through diversification and incentives for foreign investment, and to develop infrastructure projects that will increase the standard of living for more sectors of the population, thereby eliminating sources of discord. The ruling families hope that such steps will promote stability, counter the possible appeal of radical Islam, and ultimately strengthen the position of the ruling families in some form of limited constitutional monarchy.

Qatar Economy

Oil formed the cornerstone of Qatar’s economy well into the 1990s and still accounts for more than 70% of total government revenue. In 1973, oil production and revenues increased sizably, moving Qatar out of the ranks of the world’s poorest countries and providing it with one of the highest per capita incomes. Despite a marked decline in levels of oil production and prices since 1990, Qatar remains a wealthy country, thanks largely to burgeoning gas exports.

Qatar’s economy was in a downturn from in the mid-1990s. The 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 late 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. However, 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 Qatar gas 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, and agreements have been concluded in 2000 and 2001 with U.A.E., Bahrain, and Kuwait to expand gas via pipelines and to Korea, India, and China via ship.

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 and related energy and water infrastructure 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.

GDP: purchasing power parity – $15.1 billion (2000 est.)
GDP – real growth rate: 4% (2000 est.)
GDP – per capita: purchasing power parity – $20,300 (2000 est.)
GDP – composition by sector:
agriculture: 1%
industry: 49%
services: 50% (1996 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 2.5% (2000)
Labor force: 233,000 (1993 est.)
revenues:  $3.9 billion
expenditures:  $4 billion (1999 est.)
Industries: crude oil production and refining, fertilizers, petrochemicals, steel reinforcing bars, cement
Electricity – production: 9 billion kWh (1999)
Electricity – production by source:
fossil fuel: 100%
hydro: 0%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (1999)
Electricity – consumption: 8.37 billion kWh (1999)
Agriculture – products: fruits, vegetables; poultry, dairy products, beef; fish
Exports: $9.8 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Exports – commodities: petroleum products 80%, fertilizers, steel
Exports – partners: Japan 52%, Singapore 9%, South Korea 8%, US, UAE (1998)
Imports: $3.8 billion (f.o.b., 2000 est.)
Imports – commodities: machinery and transport equipment, food, chemicals
Imports – partners: UK 10%, Japan 8%, Germany 6%, US 6%, Italy 6% (1998)
Debt – external: $13.1 billion (2000 est.)
Currency: Qatari rial (QAR)

Map of Qatar