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What Should I Know About Qatar?

A map of the Middle East, including Qatar.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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Qatar is a small nation in the Middle East. It covers 4,400 square miles (11,400 sq. km), making it a bit smaller than the state of Connecticut. It shares a border with Saudi Arabia, and has coastline along the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Bahrain.

Although people did live in Qatar early on, they did not settle there until fairly recently. The extremely arid environment made the country inhospitable for most, and so while nomadic groups spent some time in Qatar, they did not establish the more permanent settlements they did in other regions. Some small villages did spring up along the coastline, primarily to foster fishing and pearling economies, with clans such as the al-Saud and al-Khalifa making use of the region.

The al-Khalifa clan eventually controlled most of Qatar by the 19th century, although they ruled from nearby Bahrain. Britain considered the region important during this time, seeing it as a waypoint on the way to India. When people living in Qatar began to revolt against the al-Khalifa, and when the al-Khalifa subsequently reacted with force, the British used this as a pretext to establish Qatar as a distinct identity by formally requesting their presence at negotiations, and eventually labeling Qatar as a British Protectorate in 1916. Qatar sent a member of the al-Thanis clan, Muhammed bin Thani, to represent them, and his clan would later become important in Qatari politics.

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When the British pulled out of the Middle East in the 1960s, Qatar initially joined the loose federation that would eventually become the UAE. Because of disputes over borders, however, Qatar dropped out and declared its independence in 1971. The country has had a rich economy since the discovery of oil, and has seen fairly steady growth since even before independence. Up until the mid-90s, however, a great deal of the oil wealth was being skimmed by the ruling Emir. In 1995, in response to this, his son, the present Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, deposed his father in a bloodless coup. Since bin Khalifa’s ascension to power the Qatari economy has seen even greater growth, and the standard of living in the country has increased drastically. The new Emir has also begun a process of moving his nation towards becoming a democracy, implementing a number of reforms and a new Constitution in 2003.

Qatar is one of the safest regions in the Gulf, and as such a great place for risk-shy travelers to taste the Middle East. Although a suicide bombing in 2005 did kill a British national, the national shock at this event should be a strong indicator of how rare such violence is. Qatar boasts some beautiful beaches, truly ancient rock carvings, and long expanses of rolling sand dunes. The tourist infrastructure here is top-notch, with new resorts opening all the time, and every amenity one could hope for. Although Doha is often called the “most boring place in the Middle East”, for many that might be exactly what they’re searching for. While there aren’t the historical relics, impressive mosques, or sweeping vistas in Qatar that grace some other Middle Eastern countries, there is also virtually no violence or crime.

Flights arrive in Doha daily on Qatar Airways from all of the major cities in the Middle East, as well as locations in Europe and the United States. While there is no organized transportation overland from Saudi Arabia, the border is open and rented cars can be used for a more exciting journey.

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