Qatar: Historical Overview                                

For more in depth history of Qatar navigate your way through different time periods here (scroll to the Middle East and click the down arrow to start)!

Qatar has been inhabited for a millennium.

19th century          

Doha, in eastern Qatar on the Persian Gulf, was a small fishing and pearling (photo) village used by Persian Gulf pirates for protection. They used to hide in the old port of Al Bida. 



The Al Khalifa family of Bahrain dominated the Qatar area.



The Ottoman Empire (map) occupied Qatar. 




When the Ottomans left at the beginning of World War I, the British and Ottomans recognized Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al-Thani as the ruler. The Al Thani family had lived in Qatar for 200 years.


Doha became the administrative center of the British Qatar protectorate. The 1916 treaty between the UK and Sheikh Abdullah was similar to those entered into by the British with other Persian Gulf principalities. Under it, the ruler agreed not to dispose of any of his territory except to the UK 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 treaty granted more extensive British protection.



High-quality oil was discovered in 1940 at Dukhan, on the western side of the Qatari peninsula. However, the start of World War II delayed exploitation of Qatar's oil resources, and oil exports did not begin until 1949. Once petroleum exports began, Doha grew rapidly.


Gradually increasing oil revenues brought prosperity, rapid immigration, substantial social progress, and the beginnings of Qatar's modern history.



Doha’s large, artificial deepwater port, opened. It serves as a major shipping passage way and as a center for cargo from the Persian Gulf nations. Shrimp fishing and shrimp (photo) processing are important local industries.  



Qatar remained a British protectorate until 1971 when Britain decided to withdraw from the Arabian Gulf area. Qatar then adopted a provisional constitution declaring it an independent Arab country with an official religion of Islam, using Shari’ah as the prime source of legislation and Arabic as the official language. Doha was declared the capital of the independent state of Qatar. It is also the largest city.




The Heir Apparent, Sheikh Khalifa ibn Hamad Al Thani, deposed his cousin, Sheikh Ahmed ibn Ali Al Thani, and assumed power. Key members of the family supported this move, which took place without violence or signs of political unrest.



The Qatari economy was crippled by a continuous siphoning off of petroleum revenues by the Amir, who had ruled the country since 1972.


Amir Khalifa was overthrown by his son, Sheikh Hamad ibn Khalifa Al Thani, 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 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 referendum in 2003, which was enacted in 2005.



Qatar resolved its longstanding border disputes with both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Oil and natural gas revenues enable Qatar to have a per capita income not far below the leading industrial countries of Western Europe.


Present Day           

Qatar has transformed itself from a poor British protectorate, which was known mainly for pearling, into an independent state with significant oil and natural gas revenues. Qatar has rapidly become a wealthy country with a modern and well-developed infrastructure.