With the elation of winning the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup over, the Gulf state continues to make strides forward in both the economic and diplomatic arenas. The state remains the world’s wealthiest country per capita, according to the World Bank. The General Secretariat for Development Planning (GSDP) forecasts real GDP growth of 6.2% for 2012, which is expected to slow to 4.5% in 2013. Qatar is becoming a prime destination for international companies seeking participation in ambitious development projects and programmes, with the National Development Strategy 2011-16 outlining out spending of $125bn on some 176 projects. The state’s prominent role in international events have seen it hold a number of acclaimed events such as the Fourth International Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilisations in December 2011 and the 20th World Petroleum Congress also in December 2011. Additionally, Qatar continues its role in regional conflict resolution and mediation, further proving it is an influential political player within the region.
HISTORY: It was in the sixth millennium BCE in Shagra that the earliest known inhabitants of pre-historic Qatar appeared. In the seventh century CE Islam arrived to the shores of Qatar and was accepted as the new religion by the then ruler of Qatar and Bahrain, Al Mundhir Ibn Sawa Al Tamini.
Qatar became independent in the latter half of the 19th century following a brief stint under Portuguese rule in the 16th century. Since then it has been a monarchy and in the late 19th century was under Ottoman and later British protection. Mohammad bin Thani became the first ruler of Qatar after he was chosen to negotiate on behalf of the State of Qatar, which was officially founded in December 18, 1878. His son, Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammad Al Thani, would later succeed him. Qatar regained its full independence in 1971 after the UK withdrew from the region. In the years since, rapid economic development has seen the country become one of the wealthiest in the world, largely due to its vast hydrocarbons resources.
GEOGRAPHY: Qatar covers an area of 11,437 sq km on the low-lying Qatar Peninsula, part of the larger Arabian Peninsula. Located midway along the western coast of the Arabian Gulf, the country’s only land border is shared with Saudi Arabia to the south. As part of larger GCC rail initiative, there is discussion of a rail connection linking Qatar to the UAE, which lies to the south-east. In addition, there is a proposed causeway and rail project to link Qatar to the Kingdom of Bahrain, which lies to the north-west.
Much of the country consists of dry, barren plains covered with sand, with the west and north of the peninsula characterised mostly by limestone outcrops.
Qurayn Abu Al Bawl is the state’s highest point, reaching 103 metres above sea level. Qatar’s coastline is 550-km long and bounds the country to the west, north and east. Qatar’s coastal area contains mainly salt flats.
On the south-eastern coast lies an inland sea, surrounded by sand dunes, known locally as the “moving dunes”, which attract locals and tourists alike on weekend excursions. Temperatures in summer can reach as high as 50°C. Average annual rainfall is limited and amounts to around only 75 mm.
POPULATION: According to the most recent population census published by the Qatar Statistics Authority (QSA), Qatar’s total population as of September 30, 2011 numbered nearly 1.8m. This figure is nearly double the 740,000 recorded just 10 years ago. Nearly 75% of the country’s population is male – a disparity largely due to the number of imported male labourers. Foreign workers account for an estimated 94.2% of the total population. A large number of the day labourers come from the Indian subcontinent, the Philippines and other Arab countries, while most of the mid- to upper-level white-collar expatriates come from Western Europe, North America and Australia. Of the country’s population, 47% are situated in Doha, the capital and financial centre of the country. Other prominent towns include Al Rayyan, Al Wakrah, Umm Salal, Al Khor, Dukhan, Al Shamal, Ras Laffan and Mesaieed.
LANGUAGE & RELIGION: Arabic is the official language of the state, but English is widely spoken and has in practice become the second language of Qatar. The dialect of the local population consists of a mixed Gulf Arabic, while official literature is in modern standard Arabic. Most people involved in business and the service industry speak English, although some government staff may be less fluent. Other languages spoken include Hindi and Malayalam, due to the large number of expatriate workers. Qatar’s official religion is Islam.
LOCAL CULTRURE: Due to the nomadic nature of earlier civilisations, Qatari culture resembles that of many of the other countries in the GCC. The local cuisine is very similar to that of the Gulf area and northern Africa, while seafood has also traditionally been a staple of the Qatari diet. Dates have historically been an important food source, while rich Arabian coffee is also common in Qatari households. One of the most common dishes, machbous, is communal platter of rice and delicately spiced meat and/or seafood. Due to the rise in the expatriate population over the past decade, a number of foreign restaurants and fast-food chains have sprung up as well. The most popular form of music is known as Khaliji, a traditional style based on Bedouin poetry, song and dance. Qatar also boasts a large facility devoted to folk music in the Qatari Gulf Folklore Centre.
LEGAL SYSTEM: Qatar’s legal system combines Islamic sharia law and civil law. There are two court systems: the civil, commercial and criminal system; and the sharia system, which administers Islamic law on matters such as marriage, divorce, child support and succession. The judiciary is independent from the government.
POLITICS: Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became the ruler of the state of Qatar on June 27, 1995. The right to rule is inherited by the son who is appointed heir apparent, in accordance with the conventional hereditary system. Since coming to power, Sheikh Hamad has introduced government reforms, overseen the creation of a new democratic constitution and pushed for further social development.
In April 2003, the new constitution was approved in a general referendum and came into effect in 2005. This paved the way for Qatar’s first legislative elections, an independent judiciary and the election of two-thirds of the 45-member Majlis Al Shura, Qatar’s parliament. A municipal election in 2007 saw a 51% voter turnout. In 2008 under an Emiri decree, the Ministries of Environment, of Social Affairs, and of Culture, Arts and Heritage were added to the cabinet.
EDUCATION: Currently, the state provides a comprehensive, three-stage system. Education was placed at the top of the government’s priorities list, and its development is part of the state’s broader economic diversification strategy. The Ministry of Education will undergo major organisational restructuring, branching off into the higher education and public education segments, as all government schools are currently being transformed to independent schools.
Between the ages of six and 16 education is compulsory in Qatar. Of the local population 95.6% is literate, according to the QSA. Qatar University was established in 1973, and offers a wide range of academic disciplines. Qatar Foundation’s Education City is a major initiative aimed at promoting education and research, and is home to numerous satellite campuses of some of the world’s most prestigious universities.
Additionally, The College of the North Atlantic was established in Qatar in 2002 in order to fulfil the technical needs of local industry and the public sector, while the University of Calgary set up a nursing school in cooperation with the Hamad Medical Corporation to meet domestic demand for nursing professionals.
NATURAL RESOURCES: The abundance of hydrocarbons is the cornerstone of Qatar’s economy. According to Oil & Gas Journal, as of January 1, 2011, Qatar had 15.2bn barrels of proven oil reserves and achieved crude oil production of 800,000 barrels per day in 2009, ranking 11th in output of the 12-member Organisation for the Petroleum Exporting Countries. A number of on- and offshore development projects are currently under construction, and oil production is set to continue growing over the next few years.
In recent years, Qatar has focused on the development of its expansive natural gas resources. Proven reserves as of January 1, 2011 are estimated at some 896trn cu feet (tcf), around 14% of the global total, and ranking Qatar third behind only Russia and Iran. The majority of reserves are found in the immense North Field, the world’s largest non-associated gas field, holding an estimated 902 tcf. A moratorium on development in the North Field has been in place since 2005 and is not set to be reviewed until 2014, although previously approved projects or those under way are expected to boost production in the first half of the decade.
In late 2010 Qatar celebrated the achievement of 77m tonnes per annum of liquefied natural gas (LNG) capacity. The Qatar Gas Transport Company ( Nakilat) fulfils the transportation needs of the various LNG export deals. Nakilat wholly or jointly owns 54 LNG vessels, and an 8.5m cu ft transport capacity makes it the largest global LNG shipping company.