U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Qatar, November 1997
Released by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
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,
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
Religion: Islam (state religion, claimed by virtually all of the
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).
Subdivisions: Fully centralized government; nine municipalities.
Political Parties: None.
Flag: Maroon with white serrated band (nine white points) on the hoist
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
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
Japanās 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 Qatarās 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 Qatarās 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 Qatarās conservative Wahhabi
heritage, granting the Emir preeminent power. The Emirās role is
influenced by continuing traditions of consultation, rule by consensus,
and the citizenās right to appeal personally to the Emir. The Emir,
while directly accountable to no one, cannot violate the Shariāa
(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 Qatarās 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
Prime Minister and Interior Minister--HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al
Minister of Foreign Affairs--HE Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabir Al
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. Qatarās Permanent Mission
to the United Nations is at 747 Third Ave., 22nd floor, New York, NY
10017 (tel. 212-486-9335).
Qatarās 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
Oil is the cornerstone of Qatarās 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 worldās 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.
Qatarās 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
Governmentās 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
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
Qatarās northeast coast. Qatarās 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.
Qatarās 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 Qatarās oil and gas
industry, and U.S. companies are playing a major role in North Field gas
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 Qatarās strict
entry and immigration rules and regulations.
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 (Qatarās workweek), closed for U.S. and Qatari
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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