Qatar (official name: the State of Qatar) is an emirate on the western coastline of the Arabian or Persian Gulf. Located on a small desert peninsula in the east of the Arabian Peninsula, it covers an estimated 11,493 km2.
The emirate’s climate is mild and dry in winter and humid and very hot in the summer. The terrain is mostly flat and barren desert.
Qatar shares a land border with the eastern region of Saudi Arabia as well as with the northwestern part of the United Arab Emirates. Doha is the capital city of Qatar and it is located on the eastern coast of the Qatari peninsula that overlooks the Gulf. Around forty per cent of Qatar’s population lives within the borders of the city.
Doha has a mixture of modern architecture, new office buildings, shopping centers, and residential compounds. Due to its marine coral reefs and shallow waters, the city has long been a locally important port as well as a center for pearling.
The first evidence of human presence on the small peninsula of Qatar dates from the beginning of the 6th millennium BCE. At that time the climate in eastern Arabia was much wetter than it is nowadays. There were inland wells in abundance and hunters and gatherers could harvest wild cereals.
After the advent of Islam, the area which now forms the state of Qatar came under the Islamic caliphate’s rule. Subsequently, it was ruled by a number of domestic and foreign dynasties before it came under the control of the Al Thani dynasty in the 19th century.
As a small country with a very small national population, Qatar has never been able to stand on its own against more formidable outside aggressors. Therefore, the rulers have always been dependent on alliances with other powers.
The Al Thani family had sought the protection of the British against rival tribal groups and against the Ottoman Empire — which occupied the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
While the United Kingdom controlled Qatar’s foreign policy at the time, Qatar’s rulers turned to Saudi Arabia for protection after the country’s independence in 1971.
The exploitation of oil reserves – and from the nineties natural gas reserves – enabled Qatar to build a modern state, with housing, jobs, and a cradle-to-grave welfare system typical of the oil-exporting Gulf states.
Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani embarked on a more western-oriented policy, allying itself with the United States. Hamad bin Khalifa was pivotal in building Qatar’s contemporary status as a wealthy and prestigious country.
During Emir Hamad’s reign, Qatar gained international recognition in the fields of sports and culture, and as an international mediator in conflicts. From 2011 onwards, Qatar intervened in the Arab uprisings, supporting numerous actors in the region, such as opposition groups in Libya and Syria, and the regime of President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt.
In an unprecedented move, Hamad bin Khalifa transferred power to his son, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on 25 June 2013.
Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani inherited a country which had become increasingly assertive in international politics. This attracted the attention of key players in the region.
In 2017, a bloc of countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar. A long-running dispute over Qatar’s alleged support of Islamist groups had led to an unprecedented diplomatic crisis which lasted until January 2021. While the effects of the blockade on the economy and social fabric of the emirate were enormous, Qatar was able to survive.
Qatar’s oil and natural gas resources are the main driver of the emirate’s economy. It is a vital government revenue source, driving its high economic growth and per capita income levels, and robust state spending on construction projects. For its development, the emirate has relied on large numbers of foreign workers, hired under the controversial kafala system.
Despite the dominance of oil and natural gas, Qatar has made significant gains in strengthening non-oil sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, and financial services, leading non-oil GDP to steadily rise in recent years to just over half the total.
Following trade restrictions imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt in 2017, Qatar established new trade routes with other countries to maintain access to imports. Following the war in Ukraine, it has managed to take advantage of its strategic position as a major gas producer, aiming to replace Russian gas supplies to Europe.
Qatar’s population is estimated at 2.96 million in April 2023, according to the Planning and Statistics Authority. Expatriates made up around 88 per cent of the total population in 2020, according to Gulf Labour Markets and Migration, the highest proportion of expatriates among Gulf states.
While Qatari nationals hail from both Arab and non-Arab origins, migrant workers from many different nationalities have outnumbered them throughout the decades. This makes Qatar’s society highly multicultural. While adhering to religious beliefs and traditions, the Qataris are proud of their tolerance toward other cultures and beliefs.
Qatar has a rich heritage, shared with the entire Arab Gulf region, especially this region’s contributions through thousands of years worth of experience of crafts and arts. During the pre-oil era, the Qataris’ cultural product was drawn from the relation between Qataris and the professions they practiced, such as hunting, diving, sniping, grazing and agriculture.
After the discovery of oil, foreign culture was brought to the Gulf region. Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani embarked upon promoting culture as a form of ‘soft power’, with, among others, the opening of the Museum of Islamic Art and the hosting of cultural events.
As a result, life in Qatar is a mixture of modernity and the traditions drawn from its ancient culture. While Qatari cities are rich with modern characteristics, manifested in luxurious facilities, infrastructure and architecture, its heritage, traditions and culture are still embodied in all the details surrounding this modern life.
The growth of the al-Jazeera satellite channel has largely dominated Qatar’s media environment. The channel strengthened its position as one of the major international media outlets that had unparalleled access to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The media company established al-Jazeera English in 2006 as part of its expansion plans.
Al-Jazeera played an important role in covering the Arab uprisings from 2011 onwards. However, the channel’s popularity has begun to decline since its coverage of those events, amid accusations of bias. Al-Jazeera has also attracted the attention of regimes in the region not pleased with the way al-Jazeera covered events in their countries.
The sports culture in Qatar combines traditional sports with modern sports. Traditional sports include Arabian horse racing, camel racing, and falconry, all of which are rooted in the country’s Bedouin history. Contemporary sports include basketball, handball, golf, swimming, football, table tennis, and volleyball. Football is considered the most popular.
The Qatari National Team won the AFC Asian Cup title in 2019 for the first time in its history and won the Arabian Gulf Cup three times in 1992, 2004, and 2014. In 1981, the Qatari Youth Team, along with the West German team, reached the final match of the World Youth Championship held in Australia. In 2014, Qatar won the AFC Under-19 Championship in Myanmar, and the Qatar Olympic Team won the 2006 Asian Games title in Doha.
In recent years, Qatar has made massive strides in promoting the role of women in sports.
Since the 2000s, the emirate has been keen to host major regional and global sporting events.
Among those events, Doha hosted the 15th Asian Games in December 2006, making it the first Arabian Gulf city and the second West Asian city to host the event (after Tehran in 1974). The most high-profile event was the hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022.