U.S. Department of State Background Note
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Natives of the Arabian Peninsula, many Qataris are descended from a number of migratory tribes that came to Qatar in the 18th century from the neighboring areas of Nejd and Al-Hasa. Some came from neighboring Gulf emirates and others are descended from Persian merchants. Most of Qatar's 907,229 inhabitants live in Doha, the capital. Foreigners with temporary residence status make up about three-fourths of the population. Foreign workers comprise 52% of the total population and make up about 89% of the total labor force. Most are South and Southeast Asians, Egyptians, Palestinians, Jordanians, and Iranians. About 8,000 U.S. citizens reside in Qatar.
For centuries, the main sources of wealth were pearling, fishing, and trade. At one time, Qataris owned nearly one-third of the Persian Gulf fishing fleet. With the Great Depression and the introduction of Japan's cultured-pearl industry, pearling in Qatar declined drastically.
The Qataris are mainly Sunni Muslims. Islam is the official religion, and Islamic jurisprudence is the basis of Qatar's legal system, although civil courts have jurisdiction over commercial law. Arabic is the official language, and English is widely spoken. Education is compulsory and free for all Arab residents 6-16 years old. Qatar has an increasingly high literacy rate.
Qatar has been inhabited for millennia. The Al Khalifa family of Bahrain dominated the area until 1868 when, at the request of Qatari nobles, the British negotiated the termination of the Bahraini claim, except for the payment of tribute. The tribute ended when the Ottoman Empire occupied Qatar in 1872.
When the Ottomans left at the beginning of World War I, the British recognized Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani as ruler. The Al Thani family had lived in Qatar for 200 years. The 1916 treaty between the United Kingdom and Sheikh Abdullah was similar to those entered into by the British with other Gulf principalities. Under it, the ruler agreed not to dispose of any of his territory except to the U.K. and not to enter into relationships with any other foreign government without British consent. In return, the British promised to protect Qatar from all aggression by sea and to lend their good offices in case of a land attack. A 1934 treaty granted more extensive British protection.
In 1935, a 75-year oil concession was granted to the Qatar Petroleum Company, a subsidiary of the Iraq Petroleum Company, which was owned by Anglo-Dutch, French, and U.S. interests. High-quality oil was discovered in 1940 at Dukhan, on the western side of the Qatari peninsula. However, the start of WWII delayed exploitation of Qatar's oil resources, and oil exports did not begin until 1949.
During the 1950s and 1960s gradually increasing oil revenues brought prosperity, rapid immigration, substantial social progress, and the beginnings of Qatar's modern history. When the U.K. announced a policy in 1968 (reaffirmed in March 1971) of ending the treaty relationships with the Gulf sheikdoms, Qatar joined the other eight states then under British protection (the seven trucial sheikdoms--the present United Arab Emirates--and Bahrain) in a plan to form a union of Arab emirates. By mid-1971, as the termination date of the British treaty relationship (end of 1971) approached, the nine still had not agreed on terms of union. Accordingly, Qatar declared independence as a separate entity and became the fully independent State of Qatar on September 3, 1971.
In February 1972, the Heir Apparent, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad, deposed his cousin, Amir Ahmad, and assumed power. Key members of the Al Thani family supported this move, which took place without violence or signs of political unrest.
On June 27, 1995, the Deputy Amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, deposed his father Amir Khalifa in a bloodless coup. An unsuccessful counter-coup was staged in 1996. The Amir and his father are now reconciled, though some supporters of the counter-coup remain in prison. The Amir announced his intention for Qatar to move toward democracy and has permitted a freer and more open press and municipal elections as a precursor to expected parliamentary elections. Qatari citizens approved a new constitution via public referendum in April 2003, which came into force in June 2005.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The ruling Al Thani family continued to hold power following the declaration of independence in 1971. The head of state is the Amir, and the right to rule Qatar is passed on within the Al Thani family. Politically, Qatar is evolving from a traditional society to one based on more formal and democratic institutions to meet the requirements of social and economic progress. The country's constitution formalizes the hereditary rule of the Al Thani family, but it also establishes an elected legislative body and makes government ministers accountable to the legislature. In current practice, the Amir's role is influenced by continuing traditions of consultation, rule by consensus, and the citizen's right to appeal personally to the Amir. The Amir, while directly accountable to no one, cannot violate the Shari'a (Islamic law) and, in practice, must consider the opinions of leading families and the religious establishment.
The opinions of the people are institutionalized in the Advisory Council, an appointed body that assists the Amir in formulating policy. However, it is possible that the first elections for this body will occur in 2008. Elections in 1999, in which both men and women participated, resulted in the formation of a municipal council. One woman candidate was elected to the municipal council in 2003. Municipal elections were held for the third time in April 2007.
There has been no serious challenge to Al Thani rule. As the most visible sign of the move toward openness, the Al Jazeera satellite television station based in Qatar is considered the most free and unfettered broadcast source in the Arab world. In practice, however, Al Jazeera rarely criticizes the ruling Al Thani family.
Principal Government Officials
Qatar maintains an embassy in the United States at 2555 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037 (tel. 202-274-1600) and a consulate in Houston at 4265 San Felipe Street, Suite 1100, Houston, Texas 77207 (tel. 713-968-9840). Qatar's Permanent Mission to the United Nations is at 747 Third Ave., 22nd floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-486-9335).
Qatar's defense expenditures are estimated to be in the range of 10% of GDP. Qatar maintains a modest military force of about 12,000 men, including an army, navy, and air force. The country has a public security force of about 8,000 men, including a coast guard, national firefighting force, air wing, marine police, and an internal security force. Qatar also has signed defense pacts with the U.S., U.K., and France. Qatar plays an active role in the collective defense efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC--the regional organization of the Arab states in the Gulf; the other five members are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the U.A.E., and Oman). Qatari forces played an important role in the first Gulf War, and Qatar has supported U.S. military operations critical to the success of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Qatar hosts CENTCOM Forward Headquarters.
Oil formed the cornerstone of Qatar's economy well into the 1990s and still accounts for about 62% of total government revenue. In 1973, oil production and revenues increased sizably, moving Qatar out of the rank of the world's poorest countries and providing it with one of the highest per capita incomes. In 2006, Qatar's per capita income of nearly $62,000 was the fifth-highest in the world.
Qatar's economy suffered a downturn from in the mid-1990s. Lower Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil production quotas, a fall in oil prices, and the generally unpromising outlook on international markets reduced oil earnings. In turn, the Qatari Government cut spending plans to match lower income. The resulting recessionary local business climate caused many firms to lay off expatriate staff. With the economy recovering in the late 1990s, expatriate populations have grown again.
Oil production is currently around 835,000 barrels a day (bpd), and is expected to reach 1.1 million bpd by 2009. At the current production pace, oil reserves are expected to last more than 40 years. Moreover, Qatar's proven reserves of gas are the third-largest in the world, exceeding 900 trillion cubic feet (14% of the world's total proven gas reserves). Qatar shares with Iran the largest single non-associated gas field in the world, the North Field. Qatar is now the world's largest producer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), with a capacity of more than 31 million metric tons per annum (mmta), and it expects to reach 77.5 mmta of LNG exports by 2010. By 2010, Qatar will account for one-third of the world's LNG supply.
The 1991 completion of the $1.5-billion Phase I of the North Field gas development project strongly boosted the economy. In 1996, Qatar began exporting liquefied natural gas to Japan. Further phases of North Field gas development costing billions of dollars are in various stages of planning and development, and Qatar has concluded agreements with the U.A.E. to export gas via pipelines and to Spain, Turkey, Italy, the U.S., France, South Korea, India, China, Taiwan, and the U.K. via ship. However, the government has halted any further expansion of gas production until 2010, as it assesses its plans for future exploitation of the field.
Qatar's natural gas liquefaction facilities and related industries are located in Ras Laffan Industrial City, site of the world's largest LNG exports of more than 31 million metric tons per year. Qatar's heavy industrial base, located in Messaieed, includes a refinery with a 140,000 bpd capacity, a fertilizer plant for urea and ammonia, a steel plant, and a petrochemical plant, and several new petrochemical plants will be built in the coming years. All these industries use gas for fuel. Most are joint ventures between U.S., European, and Japanese firms and the state-owned Qatar Petroleum (QP). The U.S. is the major equipment supplier for Qatar's oil and gas industry, and U.S. companies are playing a major role in the development of the oil and gas sector and petrochemicals.
The country's economic growth has been stunning. Qatar's nominal GDP, currently around $52.7 billion, has grown an average of 15% over the past five years. GDP is expected to grow approximately 8.3% in 2007. Qatar's per capita GDP is more than $60,000, and projected to soon be the highest in the world. The Qatari Government's strategy is to utilize its wealth to generate more wealth by diversifying the economic base of the country beyond hydrocarbons.
Qatar pursues a vigorous program of "Qatarization," under which all joint venture industries and government departments strive to move Qatari nationals into positions of greater authority. Growing numbers of foreign-educated Qataris, including many educated in the U.S., are returning home to assume key positions formerly occupied by expatriates. In order to control the influx of expatriate workers, Qatar has tightened the administration of its foreign manpower programs over the past several years. Security is the principal basis for Qatar's strict entry and immigration rules and regulations.
Qatar achieved full independence in an atmosphere of cooperation with the U.K. and friendship with neighboring states. Most Arab states, the U.K., and the U.S. were among the first countries to recognize Qatar, and the state promptly gained admittance to the United Nations and the Arab League. Qatar established diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. and China in 1988. It was an early member of OPEC and a founding member of the GCC.
In September 1992, tensions arose with Saudi Arabia when Saudi forces allegedly attacked a Qatari border post, resulting in two deaths. Relations have since improved, and a joint commission has been set up to demarcate the border as agreed between the two governments. Most, but not all, of the border issues have been resolved.
For years, both Qatar and Bahrain claimed ownership of the Hawar Islands. The case was eventually referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The ICJ issued a ruling in June 2001, which both sides accepted. In the agreement Bahrain kept the main Hawar Island but dropped claims to parts of mainland Qatar, while Qatar retained significant maritime areas and their resources.
Bilateral relations are strong and expanding. The U.S. embassy was opened in March 1973. The first resident U.S. ambassador arrived in July 1974. Ties between the U.S. and Qatar are excellent. Amir Hamad last visited Washington in 2004, and President Bush visited Qatar in 2003. Qatar and the United States coordinate closely on regional diplomatic initiatives, cooperate to increase security in the Gulf, and enjoy extensive economic links, especially in the hydrocarbons sector. Qatar sees the development of a world-class educational system as key to its continued success. As a result, hundreds of Qataris study in the United States. Cornell University has established a degree-granting branch medical school campus in Doha, and other universities including Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon University, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Design, and the Georgetown School of Foreign Service also have branch campuses in Qatar's "Education City" complex.
Principal U.S. Officials
The U.S. Embassy in Qatar is located in Doha at 22 February Road, Al Luqta District, Doha, Qatar. Mailing address: P.O. Box 23, Doha. Tel.: 974-488-4161; fax 4884150. The embassy is open Sunday through Thursday (Qatar's workweek), closed for U.S. and Qatari holidays.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jul. 2007