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U.S. Department of State

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U.S. Department of State

Background Notes: Qatar, November 1997

Released by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs

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Official Name: State of Qatar



Area: 11,437 sq. km. (4,427 sq. mi.); about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.
Cities: Capital--Doha 313,600 (1992). Other Cities--Umm Said, Al-Khor, Dukhan, Ruwais.
Terrain: Mostly desert, flat, barren.
Climate: Hot and dry, sultry in summer.


Nationality: Noun and adjective--Qatari(s).
Population: 550,000 (est.) 80% foreign workers.
Population Growth Rate (1996 est): 2.39%.
Ethnic Groups: Arab 40%, Pakistani 18%, Indian 18%, Iranian 10%, other 14%.
Religion: Islam (state religion, claimed by virtually all of the indigenous population).
Languages: Arabic (official); English (widely spoken).
Literacy: 79.4%--total population, 79.2%--male, 79.9%--female.
Education: Compulsory--ages 6-16. Attendance--98%.
Health: Infant Mortality Rate--20.4 deaths/1,000 live births. Life Expectancy At Birth--73.03 years.
Work Force (primarily foreign): 290,000. Industry, services and commerce--70%, Government--20%, Agriculture--10%.


Type: Traditional emirate.
Independence: September 3, 1971.
Constitution: 1970 Basic Law, revised 1972.
Branches: Executive--Council of Ministers. Legislative--Advisory Council (appointed; has assumed only limited responsibility to date). Judicial--independent.
Subdivisions: Fully centralized government; nine municipalities.
Political Parties: None.
Suffrage: None.
Flag: Maroon with white serrated band (nine white points) on the hoist side.


GDP: $10.7 billion
Real Growth Rate: -1%
Per Capita Income: $20,820
Natural Resources: Petroleum, natural gas, fish.
Agriculture: Accounts for less than 2% of GDP. Products--fruits and vegetables (most food is imported).
Industry: Oil production and refining (31% of GDP), natural gas development, mining, manufacturing, construction, and power. Trade: Exports--$3.26 billion (1996 est.), principally oil (75-80%). Partners--Japan 61%, Australia 5%, UAE 4%, Singapore 4% (1994). Imports--$4.9 billion (1996 est.), principally consumer goods, machinery, food. Partners--Germany 14%, Japan 12%, UK 11%, U.S. 9%, Italy 5% (1994).


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 over 0.5 million 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 3,000 U.S. citizens resided there as of 1996.

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.


Qatar has been inhabited for millennia. In the 19th century, the Bahraini Al Khalifa family dominated until 1868 when, at the request of Qatari nobles, the British negotiated the termination of the Bahraini claim, except for the payment of tribute. The tribute ended with the occupation of Qatar by the Ottoman Turks in 1872.

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.

Government and Political Conditions

The ruling Al Thani family continued to hold power following the declaration of independence in 1971. The head of state is the Emir, and the right to rule Qatar is passed on within the Al Thani family. Politically, Qatar is evolving from a traditional society into a modern welfare state. Government departments have been established to meet the requirements of social and economic progress. The Basic Law of 1970 institutionalized local customs rooted in Qatar,s conservative Wahhabi heritage, granting the Emir preeminent power. The Emir,s role is influenced by continuing traditions of consultation, rule by consensus, and the citizen,s right to appeal personally to the Emir. The Emir, while directly accountable to no one, cannot violate the Shari,a (Islamic law) and, in practice, must consider the opinions of leading notables and the religious establishment. Their position was institutionalized in the Advisory Council, an appointed body that assists the Emir in formulating policy. There is no electoral system. Political parties are banned.

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.

Principal Government Officials

Emir, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and Minister of Defense--HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Deputy Ruler and Crown Prince--HH Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Prime Minister and Interior Minister--HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Minister of Foreign Affairs--HE Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabir Al Thani.
Ambassador to the U.S.--HE Saad Mohamed al-Kobaisi.

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 defense expenditures accounted for approximately 4.2% of GNP in 1993. Qatar maintains a modest military force of approximately 11,800 men, including an army (8,500), navy (1,800) and air force (1,500). In August 1994, Qatar signed a defense agreement with France in which it agreed to purchase several Mirage 2000-5 aircraft. Qatar has also recently signed defense pacts with the U.S. and U.K. Qatar plays an active role in the collective defense efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council (the regional organization of the Arab states in the Gulf; the other five members are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, and Oman). Qatari forces played a disproportionately important role in the Gulf War.


Oil is the cornerstone of Qatar,s economy and accounts for more than 70% of total government revenue. In 1973, oil production and revenues increased sizeably, 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 1982, Qatar remains a wealthy country.

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.

Foreign Relations

Qatar achieved full independence in an atmosphere of cooperation with the U.K. and friendship with neighboring states. Most Arab states, the U.K., and the U.S. were among the first countries to recognize Qatar, and the state promptly gained admittance to the United Nations and the Arab League. Qatar established diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. and China in 1988. It was an early member of OPEC and a founding member of the GCC, whose rotating presidency it holds until December 1997.

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.

Principal U.S. Officials

Ambassador--Patrick N. Theros
Deputy Chief of Mission--Todd P. Schwartz
Political Military Officer--Shaun Murphy
Economic/Commercial Officer--Benjamin Watson
Consular Officer--Clarence A. Hudson, Jr.
Administrative Officer--Raphael Semmes III
Public Affairs Officer--Jeffrey Hill

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.

U.S.-Qatari Relations

Bilateral relations are cordial. The U.S. Embassy was opened in March 1973. The first resident U.S. ambassador arrived in July 1974. In the summer of 1986, the then-Minister of Education, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani, third-ranking official in the government, visited the U.S. as a guest of U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett. In October 1987, Energy Secretary John S. Herrington led a delegation on a visit to Qatar that included calls on the Emir and the Heir Apparent and meetings at the Ministry of Finance and Petroleum. Secretary of Energy Henson Moore led a delegation to Doha in October 1991. The late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown visited Doha in February 1995, and Secretary of Defense Perry visited in November 1996. More than 400 Qataris study at U.S. universities.

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