Qatar is an independent emirate on the west coast of the Persian Gulf. Occupying a small desert peninsula that extends northward from the larger Arabian Peninsula, it has been continuously but sparsely inhabited since prehistoric times. Following the rise of Islam, the region became subject to the Islamic caliphate; it later was ruled by a number of local and foreign dynasties before falling under the control of the Āl Thānī (Thānī dynasty) in the 19th century.
The Āl Thānī sought British patronage against competing tribal groups and against the Ottoman Empire—which occupied the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—and in exchange the United Kingdom controlled Qatar’s foreign policy until the latter’s independence in 1971.
Doha Bay and the skyline of Doha, showing a high-rise district (left) and the Museum of Islamic Art (right).
Qatar has one of the world’s largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas and employs large numbers of foreign workers in its production process. Because of its oil wealth, the country’s residents enjoy a high standard of living and a well-established system of social services.
The capital is the eastern coastal city of Doha (Al-Dawḥah), which was once a centre for pearling and is home to most of the country’s inhabitants. Radiating inland from its handsome Corniche, or seaside boulevard, Doha blends pre-modern architecture with new office buildings, shopping malls, and apartment complexes. Qatar’s traditions draw on a nomadic past and practices that are centuries old, from hand-woven products to falconry.
However, the country’s population is urban and coastal, its daily life is thoroughly modern, and its rulers have sought to enhance civil liberties. The press is among the freest in the region, and though they are religious and traditional, Qataris pride themselves on their tolerance for the cultures and beliefs of others.
Slightly smaller in area than the U.S. state of Connecticut, the Qatar peninsula is about 100 miles (160 km) from north to south, 50 miles (80 km) from east to west, and is generally rectangular in shape. It shares a border with eastern Saudi Arabia where the peninsula connects to the mainland and is north and west of the United Arab Emirates.
The island country of Bahrain lies some 25 miles (40 km) northwest of Qatar. A territorial dispute with Bahrain was resolved in 2001, when the International Court of Justice awarded the Ḥawār Islands (just off the coast of Qatar) to Bahrain and gave Qatar sovereignty over Janān Island and the ruined fortress-town of Al-Zubārah (on the Qatari mainland). That year Qatar also signed a final border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia.