Qatar is a small country located between Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. It has an area of 11,437 sq km, which is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. Qatar is a relatively flat country with its highest point reaching just over 300 feet. The majority of the land is barren desert. The country has an arid climate with mild winters and very hot, humid summers.
Since most of the land is desert, Qatar suffers from a lack of arable land. There are limited sources of fresh water, so Qatar is increasingly dependent on desalination facilities. The dry land also contributes to an increased likelihood of dust and sandstorms.
Qatar Located within the boundaries of several successive historical empires and dynasties, the area that now constitutes the State of Qatar became a crossroads of major trade routes including that of the Greco-Roman empires, for many centuries. Goods from the Bronze Age travelled through the region. This opportune position as a trading outpost brought a mixture of people, cultures and ideas to the area. During the 7th century, the people of modern day Qatar converted to Islam. The area was under the control of a series of Islamic empires for the next few centuries. The Abbasids and Umayyads, for example, strengthened the economy through trade and began diving for pearls.
When the Portuguese conquered the area in 1521, they continued the pearl industry. The Ottoman Turks conquered Qatar as they were moving through the Middle East, but left by 1670. The Bani Khalid tribe held jurisdiction over Qatar from 1670 onward until the Al Khalifa family of Kuwait migrated to the area and claimed Bahrain and Qatar in 1780. The British entered the mix in 1821 to protect trade routes when they suspected the area a haven for pirates; the British subsequently destroyed the coast of Qatar. The Bahrainis laid claim to the land and ruled during the 1830s and onward. The relationship between Bahrain and Qatar became increasingly tense and erupted into several attacks by Bahrain on Qatar. In 1867 Bahrain attacked Doha and Al Wakra which resulted in a major sea battle and a significant loss of life. In 1868, the British negotiated a treaty between the Bahrain government and the Qataris that terminated the Bahraini claim over the land in exchange for payment of tribute on a yearly basis. The Al Thani family was thereafter recognized by the British for the first time as a semi-independent political unit in Qatar. In 1878, Qatar became a protectorate between 1916 and 1971. The British began pulling out of the Gulf region in 1968 and Qatar was for a short time in a federation with Bahrain and the U.A.E. In 1971, Qatar officially became an independent state. The Al Thani family, which had been the nominal leader of the country for over a century, officially took over governance when the British departed.
Turmoil in the family has resulted in several coups since that time. In 1972, Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani seized power from his cousin, Ahmad bin Ali Al Thani. In 1974, the Qatar General Petroleum Corporation took control of all oil operations in the country, increasing its wealth substantially. In 1995, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani seized power from his father, Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, during another time of discord in the family. Capitalizing on the country’s underutilized oil revenue, Sheikh Hamad liberalized the country socially and politically, adopted a new constitution, and took dramatic measures to modernize the small country over a short period of time. Sheikh Hamid and his wife transformed the country through major educational and developmental initiatives which continue today through their internationally recognized Qatar Foundation, which is discussed further below. Sheikh Hamad was succeeded by his 4th oldest son, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in 2013 at the age of 33. Qatar remains a hereditary monarchy but does have a Prime Minister (Hamad ibn Jaber Al Thani) and Consultative Assembly; these are primarily symbolic as the positions are appointed by the emir who has ultimate authority on any legislation.
Qatar has the highest GDP per capita in the world. The country is the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the world, and the country’s exports of LNG, crude oil, and petroleum products provide a significant portion of government revenues. The decrease in revenue is due, in no small part, to the economic diversification efforts of Qatari leadership. The ruling family has been heavily involved in national development projects in an attempt to move toward a knowledge-based economy and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. This intelligent investment into its human capital has since become a trend across several Gulf States.
During his reign, in 1995, former Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and his 2nd wife, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, founded the Qatar Foundation. In addition to private funding, the chartered, non-profit organization is government-supported and in some ways government-funded.
Sheikha Moza, one of the most notable Muslim women leaders in the world, has been the chairperson of the foundation since its inception. Working both independently and alongside her husband, she is known as a highly active public figure who champions numerous causes related to national development and cultural awareness. The mission of the foundation states that:
Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is a private, non-profit organization that serves the people of Qatar by supporting and operating programs in three core mission areas: education, science and research, and community development. The Foundation strives to nurture the future leaders of Qatar. By example and by sharing its experience, the Foundation also contributes to human development nationally, regionally, and internationally. In all of its activities, the Foundation promotes a culture of excellence in Qatar and furthers its role in supporting an innovative and open society that aspires to develop sustainable human capacity, social, and economic prosperity for a knowledge-based economy.
QF states its goal is “to support Qatar on its journey from a carbon economy to a knowledge economy by unlocking human potential.” The foundation has invited a number of international universities to establish campuses in Qatar as part of its goal to develop a youth population with the necessary expertise to maintain that economy. Its main science and research agenda is developing Qatar’s technological capacity by researching new technologies which can be successfully commercialized. In addition to diversifying the economy, this strategy also helps satisfy Qatar’s aim of becoming a research and development hub. The foundation’s social development programs aim to preserve Qatar’s culture, to “foster a progressive society”, and to confront pressing social issues. In addition, Qatar Foundation International has allowed the initiative to extend its reach beyond Qatar’s borders in an attempt to improve cross-cultural understanding through such projects as Arabic language instruction in American schools.