Absolute monarchy - first elected legislature in October 2021
Head of state
Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani
Head of government
Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdul Aziz Al Thani
Qatar's Ambassador to the UK
H.E Mr Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah
Qatar Embassy, 1 South Audley Street, London, W1K 1NB
UK's Ambassador to Qatar
*H.E Mr Jonathan Wilks CMG
*In February 2024, Mr Neerav Patel will replace H.E Mr Wilks, who will retiring from the Diplomatic Service
British Embassy Doha, West Bay, Dafna Area, Onaiza Zone 66, Al Shabab Street.
PO Box 3 Doha, Qatar
Qatar is a peninsula that juts out into the Persian Gulf just south of Bahrain and points out towards Iran. The Qatari peninsula itself is roughly 100 miles from south to north. It shares its only land border, its southern border, with Saudi Arabia. The emirate is mostly flat desert. Just 5.6% of the country is arable land with 1% being agricultural. Qatar’s main natural resources are petroleum and natural gas. The vast majority of the population live in and around the capital Doha.
Population and religion
The country’s population stands at approximately two and a half million people, but only 11.5% among this group is ethnically Qatari with the rest being a diverse range of migrant workers. The religious breakdown of Qatari society is roughly 68% Muslim, 14% Christian, 14% Hindu and 3.1% Buddhist, with tiny groups practising other religions.
The state religion is Islam and most Qatari citizens are therefore Muslims, who most often follow the Sunni Wahhabi interpretation of the religion. The rest of the state’s religious diversity derives from migrants who come from all over the world to work in Qatar. The laws prohibiting missionary work in Qatar are strict, but there are various minority religions in the country that have their own places of worship.
There are 8 administrative divisions in Qatar. The latest draft of the constitution was agreed in 2002. Any amendments are either proposed by the Emir or by one third of the Advisory Council. The legal system is a mixture of civil and Sharia law.
Qatar is an absolute monarchy with Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani as the country’s hereditary Chief of State. The prime minister, who like like all ministers is appointed by the Emir, currently serves as the interior minister. There are also two deputy prime ministers, who act as defence and foreign ministers respectively.
Qatar’s legislative branch is the Advisory Shura Council, for which the first elections were held in October 2021. This is a 45-seat body which contains 30 directly elected members on renewable 4-year terms. The remaining 15 seats are appointed by the Emir. The Council has legislative authority and approves primarily domestic state policies, as well as the budget, but the body has no say in the setting of defence, security, investment and economic policy.
The land that encompasses Qatar has been inhabited since prehistoric times. It has come under the control of various empires that operated within the wider region. The dynasty that is now associated with Qatar as a modern state, the Al-Thani dynasty, first gained control of the territory in the early 19th century. Until the mid-19th century, it was considered part of Bahrain. In 1968, Britain became the first western power to recognise Qatar's autonomy from Bahrain. Britain controlled the foreign policy of Qatar until September 1971 when it became independent.
Since independence, Qatar has maintained a pro-Western foreign policy, aligning closely with its Gulf neighbours. In 1981, Qatar became one of the five founding nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The GCC political and economic union was considered particularly urgent in the light of regional instability at the time. Iran had just experienced its traumatic Islamic revolution and was at the start of a bloody and protracted war with Iraq.
In 1995, the ruling dynasty experienced a power struggle following tensions over the distribution of money from Qatar’s booming petroleum industry. This resulted in the bringing to power of Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani’s son, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who ruled until 2013. Throughout this time, Qatar continued to consolidate its alliance with Western powers, particularly with the US, permitting it to station troops on Qatari soil.
Discovery of natural gas
While many of Qatar’s Gulf neighbours saw their most impressive development in the final years of the 20th century, Qatar’s equivalent economic boom was started most noticeably in the opening years of the 21st century, given the discovery and increasing value of Qatar’s huge natural gas reserves. The development of Qatar's natural gas industry was carried out in partnership with the United States.
Qatar’s strategy was to secure its position on the global stage with a huge investment program in cultural, educational and journalistic industries in the country. It is in Qatar that the region's best known, but probably the region's most controversial channel Al-Jazeera was started.
Qatar foreign policy
Qatar developed a sophisticated foreign policy that saw it bridge many complex regional and geopolitical divides. However, in the wake of the the Arab Spring, some of Qatar’s strategic decisions, particularly in relation to its foreign policy, alienated its usual Sunni allies, particularly its support for the Muslim Brotherhood in a number of countries. Sheikh Hamad abdicated in favour of his son, Sheikh Tamim, and the new ruler immediately had to tackle Qatar’s growing relationship problems with various of its joint members of the GCC, not least Saudi Arabia.
Qatar diplomatic crisis and boycott
On June 5th 2017, Saudi Arabia led the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in cutting off diplomatic relations with Qatar and banned Qatar-registered planes and ships from using their airspaces and waters. Life for Qatar was made even more difficult later when other countries joined the boycott, including Jordan and Dijibouti. Saudi Arabia also blocked Qatar's only land route.
The Saudi-led coalition of countries accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, along with other alleged breaches of a 2014 GCC agreement. Complaints over the news coverage of Al Jazeera and Doha's relationship with Iran were other factors. Qatar has acknowledged giving assistance to Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, but has denied funding militant groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
Rapprochement and end of boycott
A clear diplomatic, political and economic divide opened up between Qatar and her neighbours, but the country continues to thrive economically and consolidate its position as a major player in the region. In January 2021, Kuwait and the United States helped broker an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. On January 5th 2021, the GCC issued a statement marking the resolution of the crisis.
Qatari culture is strongly linked to the Bedouin Islamic culture of much of the Gulf. Some distinctions exist between those that have Bedouin ancestry, those whose ancestors settled in towns (many of whom originally came from Iran), and those whose ancestors were slaves brought from East Africa. Nowadays, all such groups are considered Qatari.
Symbols and ideas of Qatar’s ancestral connections to Bedouin life and traditional trades such as the pearl industry have been and remain important cultural anchors as the country’s economy continues to boom. Institutions such as Qatar’s National Museum are internationally renowned not just for their impressive collections, but also for their stunning and award-winning architecture.
Economy and oil
Oil was first discovered in Qatar in 1939, after Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani had signed an oil exploration concession with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1935. Until then, as with Bahrain, the country's most important economic activity had been its famous pearl fishers.
The Qatari economy remains one centred on its the abundance of oil and natural gas. These resources have for years underpinned Qatar’s remarkable economic ascent, placing it now as the country with the highest GDP per capita in the world. As is the case with many of Qatar’s neighbours, the country is investing in ways to diversify its economy including in sectors like manufacturing, financial services and tourism. In particular tourism is expected to get a major boost from the 2022 Football World Cup which begins in November 2022.
In December 2018 - during the blockade of Qatar by its neighbours - Qatar withdrew from OPEC, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Qatar and its neighbours may have resolved their differences but few experts expect Qatar to rejoin OPEC any day soon.
Al-Thani dynasty establishes control over Qatar peninsula and seeks autonomy from Bahrain
The UK becomes the first western power to recognise Qatari autonomy from Bahrain
Doha emerges from the earlier town of Al Bidda as the capital. Prior to its emergence, the important trading post of Zubarah was the peninsula's most important settlement
The Al-Thanis recognise Ottoman suzerainty over Qatar
Britain and the Ottoman Empire are opposing belligerents in World War 1. Qatar and Britain sign agreement giving London control of Qatari foreign affairs in return for its protection.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani signs oil exploration deal with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company
1939 - 1942
Oil is discovered in Dukhan in west Qatar. Drilling is stopped in 1942 and for the duration of the war
Drilling for oil at Dukhan recommences; 3 drilling rigs drill 25 wells. A 120 km pipeline connects the off shore Dukhan field with port of Umm Said
Oil revenues start to fund the expansion and modernisation of Qatar's infrastructure
Qatar becomes independent on September 3rd. The ruler Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali al-Thani adopts the title Emir of Qatar
PALACE COUP: Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali al-Thani is deposed in a bloodless coup by his cousin and heir apparent Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani
Qatar takes 25 per cent control share of Qatar Petroleum and the Shell Company of Qatar
Two oil companies give Qatar Petroleum 60 per cent of the oil
Qatar Petroleum fully nationalises all off-shore and on-shore oil production and gives service contracts to former concessionaires
GULF WAR: Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Qatar allows foreign forces on its soil. Qatari troops participate in liberation of Kuwait
PALACE COUP 2: Emir Khalifa is deposed in a palace coup while he is abroad by his son, Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani, with the support of his family
Launch of the satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera (The Island- referring to Qatar peninsula), an independent station funded by the Emir. Used in Doha, it establishes a reputation for its tackling of certain issues topics that can irritate Qatar's neihbours
IRAQ WAR: The US deploys its Central Command to Qatar in preparation for an eventual war against Iraq. Qatar's Udeid airbase is also developed and expanded
The Qatar-based US Central Command becomes to nerve centre for the US-led military campaign against Iraq
Qatar's first written constitution comes into effect, initiating some democratic reforms
Qatar and the US launch a $14 billion joint project to build the world's largest liquified natural gas plant. Most of the gas will be exported the US. Natural gas greatly adds to Qatar's wealth
Qatar and Saudi Arabia agree to the final delineation of their common border and vow to boost cooperation following restoration of diplomatic relations earlier in the year
Qatar wins bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup - to be held in 2022
Qatar joins international military operations in Libya, and later decides to arm Islamist opposition groups
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani abdicates in favour of his son
Qatar and 4 other GCC states participate in Saudi-led airstrikes on Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen
Qatari government says it will abolish the controversial system of "Kafala" which force foreign workers to seek bosses' consent to leave the country or change jobs
BOYCOTT: Three and a half year crisis for Doha starts after Saudi-led air, sea and land blockade begins against Qatar, to force it to distance itself from Iran and cut its alleged links to terrorism
OPEC ANNOUNCEMENT: Qatar announces it will withdraw from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries ~(OPEC), stressing its greater reliance on gas exports. It is widely perceived as a symbolic distancing from Saudi Arabia
BLOCKADE ENDS: Blockade comes to end after Kuwait and the US broker a deal between Qatar and the Saud-led coalition that decided on the blockade. The GCC agrees dispute resolution on January 5th 2021.Qatar does no rejoin OPEC.
The first legislative elections for 30 of the 45 seats on the Shura Council are held. The Emir decides who holds the 15 remaining seats. Women are also permitted to vote and stand in the election