Qatar is largely barren, flat desert. Water is scarce, and agriculture is minimal. Once a nomadic society, Qatar now has little rural population. Doha, the main urban center, is on the eastern coast of the peninsula. About 40% of the inhabitants are Sunni Arabs of the Wahhabi sect of Islam. There are Christian and other minorities. Other ethnicities include South Asians, Iranians, and Palestinians. Less than one fifth of the population are native Qataris; most of the workers associated with the important oil and gas industries are foreigners. Arabic is the official language, although English is widely used.
Qatar imports the majority of its food. Agriculture is limited to fruits, vegetables, and livestock, and there is some fishing. Oil and natural gas, the mainstays of the economy, account for roughly 85% of the country's export earnings. Although total oil reserves are somewhat modest in comparison to other Persian Gulf countries, Qatar is one of the largest natural-gas producers in the world. The vast North Field gas reserve, an underwater field northeast of the Qatar peninsula, began production in the 1990s. Natural gas, crude oil, refined petroleum, and petrochemicals are produced, and ammonia, fertilizers, and steel are some of Qatar's developing diversified industries. The country has also become a regional banking center. Native Qataris have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. In addition to oil and gas products, steel and fertilizer are exported, while machinery, transportation equipment, food, and chemicals are imported. Japan, South Korea, France, and the United States are the major trading partners.
Qatar is a traditional monarchy headed by an emir, who is the head of state. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the emir. A new constitution came into force in 2005, providing for a 45-seat consultative council, two thirds of whose members would be elected and one third appointed by the emir, but it has not yet been established. The previous provisional constitution (1972) called for elections to the 35-seat advisory council (Shura), but none were held; council members, appointed by the ruling family, have had their terms extended since 2005. Administratively, the country is divided into ten municipalities.
The area occupied by Qatar has been settled since the Stone Age. After the rise of Islam in the 7th cent. A.D. it became part of the Arab caliphate, and later of the Ottoman Empire. In the late 18th cent. it became subject to Wahhabis from the region of present-day Saudi Arabia; they were later supplanted by the Al Thani dynasty. During the Turkish occupation from 1871 to 1913, senior members of the Al Thani family were named deputy governors; subsequently, Qatar became a British protectorate, with Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani recognized as emir. In 1971, Qatar became independent of Great Britain. In 1972 the reigning emir, Ahmad ibn Ali al-Thani, was deposed by his cousin Khalifa ibn Hamad al-Thani. He in turn was deposed in June, 1995, by his son and heir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who as crown prince was credited with having launched a major industrial modernization program.
In 1981, Qatar joined neighboring countries in the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to strengthen economic relations among the participating nations. The country's stability was threatened by the Iran-Iraq War throughout the 1980s. Territorial disputes with Bahrain over the Hawar Islands and gas fields in the separating sea erupted in 1986, and there were armed clashes with Saudi Arabia in 1992 over their common border. These disputes were not completely settled until 2008.
During the Persian Gulf War (1991), international coalition forces were deployed on Qatari soil. Palestinians were expelled from Qatar in retaliation for the pro-Iraqi stance of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), but since the war relations with the Palestinians have returned to normal. After the Persian Gulf War, Iraq was still regarded as a threat to Qatar's oil interests; Qatar signed a defense pact with the United States but also restored relations with Iraq.
Adopting a moderate course of action, Emir Hamad in the late 1990s eased press censorship and sought improved relations with Iran and Israel. He also has moved steadily to democratize the nation's government and institute elections. In 2003 voters approved a constitution establishing a largely elected advisory council with the power to pass laws, subject to the emir's approval; women have the right to vote and hold office. The constitution was endorsed by the emir in 2004 and came into force in 2005. The Al Udeid air base, in S central Qatar, has been used by the United States military since late 2001, and the U.S. Central Command established forward headquarters in Qatar prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
See R. S. Zahlan, The Creation of Qatar (1979); B. Reich, Qatar (1989).
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The name of the island is derived from its customized topography, designed to resemble a string of pearls. Creating over 32 kilometers of new coastline, it was reclaimed for use as a residential estate with an expected 15,000 dwellings by 2010. Developed by United Development Company (UDC), the island is located 350 meters offshore of Doha’s West Bay Lagoon area.
Residential development on the island is intended to incorporate various national and international themes including aspects of Arabic, Mediterranean and European culture. Commercial and educational facilities are also planned to support the various residential precincts.