Qatar army 1st Lt. Hassan Al Sheeb explained artifacts located at Fort Zubara in Qatar, June 17, 2007. The fort stands as a reminder of Qatar’s history and the royal family’s rise to power.
Qatar, an Islamic nation situated on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, is a constitutional monarchy ruled and administered by an emir. Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani holds absolute power over one of the richest countries in the world. Today, Qatar exhibits a glamorous and prosperous nation, but it wasn’t always this way. The Al Thani royal family understands success is a product of struggle.
Today, Qatar exhibits a glamorous and prosperous nation, but it wasn’t always this way. The Al Thani royal family understands success is a product of struggle.
Qatar has sustained human existence for thousands of years. Recent archeological excavations have unearthed evidence of human existence during the Stone Age and Neolithic periods. In the 7th century, Islam swept across Arabia. Many early settlers were simply passing through or hiding from regional conflicts. By the 17th century, the Khalifa family occupied much of northern Qatar. They established an important seaport at Zubara, which they later used to later conquer Bahrain.
In the 19th century, Thani bin Mohamed became the first to rule the peninsula after Khalifa control dissolved. The sheikh’s home was in the eastern city of Bida, known today as Doha, Qatar’s capital city. His son, Mohammad bin Al Thani, would gain control in 1847 and move with his family to Doha.
In 1867, Bahrain’s Khalifa family attacked Qatar. They stormed through homes in Doha and neighboring Wakra. The British, primarily interested in keeping a safe and open trade route through the Persian Gulf, negotiated removal of Khalifa presence in 1868. This initiated the Al Thani family’s increased power and influence in Qatar.
In 1872, the emir allowed a controversial occupation by the Ottoman Turks, which finally led to total separation of Khalifa control. Accepting the Turkish flag eventually caused turmoil within Qatar’s ruling family and its people. Due to his father’s old age, control was passed on to Jassim bin Mohammad bin Al Thani in 1876.
In March 1893, Turkish attempts to increase their power led to war at Wajbah, west of Doha. Qatari victories in battle led to the rise of national heroes, as well as the ascendancy of the Al Thani royal family and Qatar as a nation. Once again, British intervention would put an end to another violent period and restore peace on the peninsula. The Turks completely separated themselves from Qatar in 1915. However, Khalifa territorial claims remained a dispute until 2001, when Qatar agreed to give the Hawar Islands to Bahrain in exchange for territorial compromises.
British attention continued to stem from Qatar’s strategic location to their colonial holds in India. Discovery of oil and other hydrocarbons would further spike their interest. British negotiations declared a promise to help protect the Al Thani royal family against forceful opposition.A 1916 treaty with the British officially recognized Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani as his father’s successor. In 1934, another treaty provided further British protection. In 1938, Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani ordered construction of the fort in the long disputed Al Zubara district (Qatar’s Coast Guard remained stationed at the fort until 1980).
In August 1948, Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani succeeded his father as ruler of Qatar.
In December 1949, the first shipment of onshore oil was sent from Mesaieed. The next several years would lead to the discovery of high-quality oil at Dukhan, in western Qatar. Qatar flourished with expanding immigration and social progress as resources became plentiful and oil became a major export. Pressure from the Arab emirates led to Britain officially announcing their political disengagement in 1968. On Sept. 3, 1971, Qatar became an independent and sovereign state.
Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani assumed power on Feb. 22, 1972, after overthrowing his cousin’s heir to the thrown in a nonviolent opposition supported by key members of the Al Thani family. He became known as the first modern ruler of Qatar. The U.S. embassy was opened in March 1973 and the first resident ambassador arrived in July 1974.
The emir took a strong interest and supervisory role over all aspects of the government and the growth of the country. The Al Thani royal family promptly gained admittance to the United Nations and the Arab League. They later joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and were a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, born in 1950, would later depose his father on June 26, 1995 after a bloodless coup. Rivalries and factions are not uncommon in large royal families. The emir and his father reconciled in 1996.
With a grant from the emir, the Al Jazeera news and current affairs satellite television channel launched in 2006. Qatar’s news station gained worldwide attention after the attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. Al Jazeera provided live coverage of the conflicts in Afghanistan and video statements by Al Qaeda’s top leaders. The news station remains a leading – often controversial – English and Arabic news source.
The Gulf state’s oil and natural gas revenues quickly earned it the highest per capita income in Arabia – second in the world, according to October 2009 estimates from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook. The nation is expected to climb to the world’s top position as they increase refinement and exportation of natural resources. U.S. companies are major partners in the development of the nation’s oil and gas sector and petrochemicals.
The small Arabian nation has made enormous strides in business, investment opportunities and international athletic competitions. The Pearl, a $2.5-billion investment project on a reclaimed island, is expected to accommodate 30,000 residents by late 2009. Its 7,600 luxurious properties, within 10 themed districts, will offer the first freehold residential rights to international investors in the Gulf state. After successfully hosting the 15th Asian Games Doha in 2006, Qatar submitted a proposal to host the 2016 Olympic Games. According to the Doha 2016 official Web site, the bid exemplified how the nation “embraces the modern world,” by providing a venue for “first-class business, technological and sports facilities.”
Qatar also focuses hosting a world-class educational system. Education City, a 2500-acre campus, hosts some of the world’s leading universities and aims to become the center of educational excellence in the Gulf. Several U.S. universities have positioned branch campuses in Qatar, to include Texas A&M University, Weil Cornell Medical College, Carnegie Mellon University, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and Northwestern University.
Qatar’s current emir is popular among the nation’s people. It’s common to see demonstrations of loyalty to his ruling, and pride in the nation’s present posture. The emir has announced intentions to move toward democracy while introducing numerous economic and social reforms. In April 2003, the country’s constitution was approved by a democratic referendum, which came into full force in June 2005. The same year Qatari citizens approved the new constitution, the first woman was appointed to the cabinet as minister of education.
Today, members of the Al Thani royal family are known as generous rulers and innovative thinkers in Qatar. Their leadership has allowed the Gulf state to gain worldwide recognition and international acceptance. The Al Thanis continue to hold absolute power in Qatar, with no serious challenges to their authority.