With a population of about a million people and an area smaller than Connecticut, the 11,500 sq. km of Qatar are home to Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular television network; the U.S. military’s Central Command; the Doha Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations; and the world’s finest museum of Islamic arts. This small peninsula, jutting out into the Persian Gulf from the land mass of Saudi Arabia, has a free press and women’s political rights, and dabbles in partial democracy.
With a long early history as a trading and fishing outpost, by the third century c.e., the peninsula witnessed active exchange of copper, spices, sandalwood, and teak from the east for purple dye, clothing, pearls, dates, gold, and silver from the Gulf region and elsewhere. By 628, Islam arrived via the Bahrain ruler who controlled the region, and fine textile crafts flourished. During the late 18th century, the Al Khalifa branch of the Utub tribe in Kuwait emigrated to Qatar. Accomplished sailors and skilled traders, Al Khalifa became the mainstay of commercial development in this region.
The Ottoman and British Empires had contesting imperial interests in the region. The British found the peninsula ideal for shipping routes to their colonies in India. Following World War II and India’s independence in 1947, pressure for British withdrawal increased. Britain announced a political withdrawal from the Gulf region in 1968, resulting in Qatar’s joining seven other Trucial States in a federation. Regional disputes ensued, and Qatar ultimately became an independent sovereign nation on September 3, 1971. In a bloodless 1995 coup, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa AlThani deposed his father to become the ruler of Qatar and ushered in a period of liberalization.
Only 40 percent of the residents of Qatar are of Arab descent, and international expatriates are crucial to the economy. Pakistanis and Indians contribute 18 percent each to Qatar’s population. Qatar has the world’s ninth-highest per capita income. It has the highest per capita gross domestic product in the Arab world, at $75,900. Its citizens pay no income tax, and Qatar is the second-least-taxed sovereign state in the world, after Bahrain. The economy has experienced a robust 7.8 percent growth per year. The country’s primary export is liquefied natural gas, with enough reserves to supply global demand for more than a century. Oil is the second-largest export, with 1.9 percent of the world’s reserves in Qatar.
To diversify away from fossil fuels, the Qatari government is investing heavily in tourism development. To create a cultural magnet for foreigners, the Pearl—a $2.5 billion, 4 million-sq.-meter artificial island—is under construction. With five-star hotels, 2 million sq. meters of high-end shopping, and more than 15,000 residences, the Pearl is expected to attract 1 million visitors per year upon completion in 2010. The real estate industry has benefited from these immense projects. The Lusail City project, just north of Doha, will eventually house more than 200,000 people. Large-scale construction projects such as the Dubai Towers and the Aspire Tower in Doha’s Sports City are expected to attract tourists and sports fans.
In 1995 the Qatar Foundation, headed by First Lady Sheikha Al-Missend, was established to fund education, science, and community development. Qatar is building an Education City in the capital, Doha. Six American and two Canadian universities already operate there, and the race is on to catch up to Dubai’s huge Academic City.
- Habiba Anwar, Qatar’s Business Environment (GMB Publishing Limited, 2008);
- Association of British Chambers of Commerce, Qatar: Market Brief (Ten Alps, 2007);
- Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Steven M. Wright, Reform in the Middle East Oil Monarchies (Ithaca Press, 2008);
- William Evans and Daniel J. Harris, Politics and Economics of the Middle East (Nova Science Publishers, 2008);
- Gabriella C. Gonzalez et al., Facing Human Capital Challenges of the 21st Century: Education and Labor Market Initiatives in Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates: Executive Summary (RAND, 2008);
- International Business Publications, Qatar Banking & Financial Market Handbook (International Business Publications, USA, 2007);
- Augusto Lopez-Claros and Klaus Schwab, The Arab World Competitiveness Report 2005 (World Economic Forum, 2005);
- Lisa McCoy, Qatar (Mason Crest, 2004); Marcus Noland and Howard Pack, The Arab Economies in a Changing World (Pearson Institute for International Economics, 2007);
- Rosemarie Said Zahlan, The Making of the Modern Gulf States: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman (Ithaca Press, 1998).
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