Rapid economic growth over the past decade has thrust Qatar onto the world stage. In 2012 it became the world’s richest country per capita, with its huge natural gas resources the driving force behind one of the globe’s fastest-growing economies.
As important as hydrocarbons are to the state, they are merely one aspect of the country’s ambitious long-term development plan. Projects under way include diversification through industrial investment, a huge programme of infrastructure development in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as well as an expansive rail network.
Qatar National Vision 2030 sets out a strategy for the country, which currently enjoys some of the best standards of education and health care in the region. Qatar is also an increasingly confident and important player on the international stage, as well as a regional centre for media, culture and sports. The long-term development plan aims to realise the state’s full potential, with a focus on diversification.
Population & People
The state’s total population – including both Qataris and expatriates – was recorded at 2.22m at the end of January 2015, according to the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics (MDPS). Of this, 1.75m were male and 584,427 were female, reflecting the predominantly male expatriate workforce in the country. Nearly 90% of the country’s resident population are expatriates with temporary residency permits.
The total labour force was 1.7m as of end-2014, with a labour force participation rate of 87.6% (of those aged 15 and above).
According to 2013 figures from the MDPS, Indians are by some margin the largest national group in Qatar, accounting for 24% of the entire population, followed by Nepalis (17%), Filipinos (9%), Bangladeshis (8%) and Egyptians (7%). Sri Lankans and Pakistanis account for 4% each.
More than half the population live in Doha, the capital and financial centre. Other important population hubs include Al Rayyan, Al Wakrah, Umm Salal, Al Khor, Dukhan, Al Shamal, Ras Laffan and Mesaieed.
While Qatar is a relatively young state, its history of human habitation goes back at least 50 millennia, according to archaeological finds. Hunter-gatherers have been identified as living on the coast, and ceramics have been found in the Qatari peninsula linking it to the Ubaid civilisation, which flourished in Mesopotamia between the 7th and 4th millennia BCE. There is also evidence of trade with south-west Arabia.
Later the peninsula came under the influence of the Dilmun civilisation of the northern Gulf in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BCE, during which period the people of the region developed pearl diving and trade in date palms.
The region then came under the influence of two of the great world civilisations of the era – the Babylonians and the Assyrians. A major town existed at Al Wusail around 2500 years ago.
Alexander the Great of Macedon ordered a survey of the Gulf in the late 4th century BCE. What is now modern-day Qatar, as well as much of the rest of the region, at least had contact with the Seleucid Empire, one of the successors to Alexander’s transcontinental empire.
Following the Seleucid decline around 250 BCE, the Persians established control of the Gulf, and the peninsula became a trading base, producing pearls and purple dye, and harbours for shipping vessels on trade routes developed.
Persian control lasted until the early years of the rise of Islam. Eastern Arabia was one of the first areas to adopt the religion, the Prophet Mohammed having sent an envoy in 628 CE.
In the early centuries of Islam, the peninsula became known for breeding horses and camels, as well as its traditional activities as a pearl production and trading centre. A number of Islamic dynasties established a presence over the medieval period.
The Portuguese and Ottomans vied for control of the Northern Gulf in the 16th and 17th centuries, with the former particularly interested in the trade potential of the region’s major products. The Ottomans had a minimal presence, and were replaced by the Bani Khalid Arab tribal federation in 1670. Al Zubarah on the north-west coast became established as an important commercial sector, attracting merchants from further north and Mesopotamia, including some displaced by conflict.
Doha was founded in 1825 as Al Bidda, at a time when the British were starting to increase their influence in the Gulf. The British saw the region as strategically important as it lay between India and Europe. A British survey of the peninsula found several coastal settlements, largely near pearl sources.
In 1893 Sheikh Mohammed’s son, Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, defeated an Ottoman force at the fort of Al Wajbah with a Qatari army of several thousand men. This resulted in Qatar’s autonomy, though it officially remained part of the Ottoman Empire, and is seen as one of the key moments in the foundation of Qatar as an independent state.
As the Ottoman Empire crumbled in the early 20th century, Qatar, like many of its neighbours, became a British protectorate. The first oil well was drilled in 1938 at Dukhan as international interest in the region’s resource potential grew.
However, as is common, it took some time for a commercial oil and gas sector to grow. Government administration and public services were established, as were a variety of economic enterprises.
In 1971 the much-anticipated British withdrawal was finalised and Qatar became independent on September 3. In the decades since, Qatar’s economy has grown at a stellar rate, in recent years among the highest rates in the world.
In June 1995 Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became emir, with a new constitution approved by referendum in 2003 and entering into force in 2005. A range of social reforms has taken place since, and the role of women has greatly increased.
On June 25, 2013, Sheikh Hamad then handed over power to his son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar’s current emir and the youngest ruler of any current Gulf state.
Qatar’s land area is 11,437 sq km. The state covers the Qatari Peninsula, a 100-km-long spur from the eastern seaboard of the Arabian Peninsula. It is located around midway down the western coast of the Gulf. Its only land border is with Saudi Arabia, a 60-km stretch in the south. It has maritime borders with Bahrain to the north-west and the UAE to the south-east, and the UAE’s westernmost point is not far from the Saudi-Qatari border. Qatar’s coastline is 550 km and thus the country is almost completely surrounded by sea.
The state is almost entirely flat desert, with limestone outcrops in the west and north, and salt flats on the coast. The highest point, Qurayn Abu Al Bawl, is just 103 metres above sea level. One of Qatar’s most interesting geographical features is the Khor Al Udayd, or “inland sea”, an area of sand dunes on the south-east coast surrounding an inlet that is now a nature reserve. The area attracts local visitors and tourists alike, often for weekend excursions to its so-called “singing sand dunes”.
Qatar’s climate is dry and hot, and temperatures average highs of 41°C in the summer. In the winter, temperatures average a more tolerable 22-23°C. Rainfall averages just 71 mm a year, with February generally the rainiest month. However, in common with the rest of the Gulf, humidity in the summer months is high, reaching up to 95%.
Language & Religion
Arabic is the official language of Qatar, but English is very widely spoken and is in effect the country’s second language, partly as it eases communication between the varied nationalities living in the country.
Most business people and workers in the service industry speak English. Other languages spoken include Hindi, Urdu, Tagolog, Bengali and Malayalam: in fact, the state publishes more newspapers in Malayalam, the primary language of the Indian state of Kerala, than in Arabic or English.
Qatar has been a Muslim country since the early years of Islam, and Islam is the official religion. The constitution guarantees freedom of religion within the boundaries of public order and morality. The state is home to tens of thousands of Christians, and in 2005 the first churches were opened.
Qatari culture shares many similarities with those of the other Arab countries of the Gulf – due to the nomadic nature of earlier societies, as well as a shared religion and language, and similarities in geography and historical development.
Qatari cuisine is very similar to that of the rest of the Gulf, with an emphasis on seafood and dates, which have traditionally been sources of nutrition in maritime desert societies. One of the Gulf’s most prominent dishes is kabsa, a dish of rice and spiced meat or seafood (or both), served on a communal platter. Arabic coffee is another staple, often offered to house guests and business visitors at meetings as an essential part of local hospitality.
The range and number of foreign restaurants in Qatar has proliferated over the past decade, catering to expatriates and locals alike. Indian, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, French and many other Western and Asian cuisines are available.
Traditional Qatari music includes Khaliji (from the Arabic word for Gulf), a form based on Bedouin poetry, song and dance, and with influences from the regions surrounding the Gulf.
The Qatari Gulf Folklore Centre in Doha includes a facility dedicated to folk music. Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, meanwhile, has one of the world’s finest collections of its kind, from the region and beyond, underlining Qatar’s role as an ambassador for the Arab and Muslim world, and a pioneer in the preservation and promotion of its culture. The Qatar Foundation, for its part, is well known for its sponsorship and support of educational initiatives, as well as science and research programmes.
Until the last decade, Qatar had a dual judicial system, with one pillar based on sharia (Islamic) law, and the other on the principles of British common law, co-existing independently of one another. However, in 2003 the Judiciary Powers Law unified the two systems into a single structure. The new constitution, introduced in 2005, establishes in its first article that sharia law is the main source of all the state’s legislation.
The new system is topped by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which rules on all matters regarding the constitution sent to it by the other courts, and the Court of Cassation, the final and highest level for appeals. Beneath that is the second instance Court of Appeal, and then the Court of First Instance.
The Qatar Financial Centre (QFC), a centre for the financial industry that provides the business environment for a variety of services companies to operate, has its own civil and commercial court. This court operates under the 2005 QFC legislation and its subsequent amendments.
The independence of the judicial system is guaranteed by the country’s constitution, and judicial authority is applied by courts; the principle of innocent until proven guilty is applied.
Qatar is a constitutional monarchy, in which the emir is the head of state. Emirs have come from the Al Thani family since well before independence was declared. The right to rule is conferred by the traditional hereditary system, with the emir appointing a son heir apparent.
Sheikh Tamim has been the emir since June 25, 2013, after succeeding his father, Sheikh Hamad. Sheikh Hamad oversaw an important era in Qatari history, with rapid economic development and diversification, as well as political reforms including the introduction of the new constitution, which guarantees all citizens equality before the law, and also outlaws all discrimination on the grounds of race, language, religion and gender.
The constitution also defines Qatar’s political system and the separation of powers. The emir has executive authority, assisted by his Cabinet and six supreme councils. Legislative powers reside with the Shura Council, or Consultative Assembly, which has 45 appointed members, though the constitution provides for 30 of the seats to be elected. Elections were slated for 2013 but have been postponed due to new leadership and figures at various levels.
The constituent specifies that emirs will come from the male line of the Al Thani family. The emir appoints the Cabinet (also known as the Council of Ministers), who are the heads of government ministries plus the prime minister and deputy prime minister, who are also emiri appointees.
The current prime minister and and minister of interior is Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, a distant relative of the emir, who is constitutionally the second-most powerful figure in the country.
The emir’s six supreme councils have special responsibility for areas of public life including education, health, the environment, family affairs and justice.
The emir is also supported by his Amiri Diwan, which manages his affairs including foreign visits, protocol, briefing the emir on current affairs and communicating emiri decrees. The departments under its management include those handing political business, economics, the media and legal affairs.
The Shura Council scrutinises laws drafted by the Cabinet, and can also propose laws that are then sent to a committee for consideration, before being passed back to the council for further deliberation. From there, a draft law passes to the Cabinet for review, and to the emir for approval. All laws must be approved by the emir, though the possibility exists for the council to return a law to him that was previously rejected, on a two-thirds majority vote.
In May 2015 Qatar will hold its fifth round of elections for the Central Municipal Council (CMC). The CMC is responsible for advising and monitoring local government issues, in which role it works closely with the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning. It is, however, independent of the central government. The 29 members are elected for four-year terms by universal suffrage of all Qataris aged 18 and over, to represent 29 different constituencies.
Qatar is an active member of the international community, and in recent years has taken a more prominent role on the diplomatic stage by hosting multilateral and bilateral meetings and negotiations on a range of matters including diplomatic challenges facing the region and the world. It is a member of the GCC, UN, IMF, World Trade Organisation, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Gas Exporting Countries Forum and the Arab League, among others.
Qatar recognises education as the most essential factor in ensuring its long-term economic and social development, particularly in the context of diversification away from dependence on hydrocarbons. The leadership acknowledges that developing the skills base will support economic growth and help find fulfilling, high-skilled jobs for the growing Qatari population.
Qatar’s education system guarantees 10 years of compulsory education, from ages six to 16. The development of education over the past decades has led to a literacy rate of 97.5% as of 2013, according to the MDPS, in line with most developed nations.
For some years, with the aim of securing a knowledge-based economy, Qatar has been building on this sound basic education system and encouraging the development of institutions of global excellence. This has included attracting a number of prestigious universities to establish campuses in the state, including Texas A&M University, Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon University, the College of the North Atlantic, Northwestern University, the University of Calgary, UCL, Virginia Commonwealth University, Weill Cornell Medical College and HEC Paris. In addition to the state’s largest public university, Qatar University, the Qatar Foundation’s Education City also hosts all of the country’s international branch campuses. Many Qataris and Qatar residents also travel abroad to study, particularly to the US, UK and Australia. Demand for high-quality education from the national and expatriate communities has seen independent and international schools flourish in recent years.
Qatar’s hydrocarbons resources, and particularly its natural gas reserves, are the leading source of its wealth and still the driving force of the economy, contributing 49% of GDP in late 2014, according to Qatar National Bank.
Much of the sector’s activity focuses on the huge North Field gas deposit, which stretches from the north-east corner of the peninsula and extends out across the Gulf towards the Iranian coast.
BP figures show that Qatar had proven natural gas reserves of 871.5trn cu feet (tcf) at the end of 2013, some 13% of total global proven reserves and the third largest in the world after Iran, with 1193 tcf, and Russia, with 1104 tcf. According to BP’s “Statistical Review of World Energy 2014”, Qatar had proven oil reserves of 25.1bn barrels, or 1.5% of global proven reserves (these figures include crude oil, gas condensates and natural gas liquids). Despite these vast reserves, with an eye on sector longevity and international prices, Qatar imposed a moratorium on further development of the North Field.
Qatar has become one of the world’s leading exporters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) through an integrated production and distribution system, exporting 105.6 bcm of LNG in 2013. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, the importance of Qatar’s LNG exports as an additional source of supply to Russian gas has become even more apparent.
LNG production is divided between Qatargas and RasGas, with Qatar Petroleum a leading stakeholder in both. An array of international oil and gas companies have stakes in the country's energy assets including ExxonMobil, Total, Shell, Maersk Oil, ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum, Wintershall, Mitsui, Marubeni, amongst several others.
The gas is then transported internationally by the Qatar Gas Transport Company (Nakilat), which has the world’s largest fleet of LNG tankers. Almost two-thirds of exports go to Asia, with Japan and South Korea particularly important markets, and 30% to Europe, according to the EIA. While Qatar’s oil exports are not as large as those of its neighbours, they are nonetheless significant, with the state ranking among the world’s top-20 exporters. Most of the oil comes from the fields of Al Shaheen, Dukhan, Al Khalij and Idd Al Sharqi, which together account for more than 85% of the country’s crude oil production capacity.
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