Qatar: History


The area occupied by Qatar has been settled since the Stone Age. After the rise of Islam in the 7th cent. a.d. it became part of the Arab caliphate, and later of the Ottoman Empire. In the late 18th cent. it became subject to Wahhabis from the region of present-day Saudi Arabia; they were later supplanted by the Al Thani dynasty. During the Turkish occupation from 1871 to 1913, senior members of the Al Thani family were named deputy governors; subsequently, Qatar became a British protectorate, with Abdullah bin Jassim al-Thani recognized as emir. In 1971, Qatar became independent of Great Britain. In 1972 the reigning emir, Ahmad bin Ali al-Thani, was deposed by his cousin Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani. He in turn was deposed in June, 1995, by his son and heir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, who as crown prince was credited with having launched a major industrial modernization program.

In 1981, Qatar joined neighboring countries in the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to strengthen economic relations among the participating nations. The country's stability was threatened by the Iran-Iraq War throughout the 1980s. Territorial disputes with Bahrain over the Hawar Islands and gas fields in the separating sea erupted in 1986, and there were armed clashes with Saudi Arabia in 1992 over their common border. These disputes were not completely settled until 2008.

During the Persian Gulf War (1991), international coalition forces were deployed on Qatari soil. Palestinians were expelled from Qatar in retaliation for the pro-Iraqi stance of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), but since the war relations with the Palestinians have returned to normal. After the Persian Gulf War, Iraq was still regarded as a threat to Qatar's oil interests; Qatar signed a defense pact with the United States but also restored relations with Iraq.

Adopting a moderate course of action, Emir Hamad in the late 1990s eased press censorship and sought improved relations with Iran and Israel; his government worked to mediate a number of international conflicts. He also moved steadily to democratize the nation's government and institute elections. In 2003 voters approved a constitution establishing a largely elected advisory council with the power to pass laws, subject to the emir's approval; women have the right to vote and hold office. The constitution was endorsed by the emir in 2004 and came into force in 2005, but the elections for the council, scheduled for 2013, have since been postponed. The Al Udeid air base, in S central Qatar, has been used by the United States military since late 2001, and is the site of the U.S. Combined Air and Space Operations Center. The U.S. Central Command established forward headquarters in Qatar prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

During the Arab Spring Qatar was supportive of uprisings in Libya, Egypt, and Syria, and was seen as politically allied with Muslim Brotherhood groups in number of Arab nations. Sheikh Hamad abdicated as emir in 2013 and was succeeded by his son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani; the father, however, remained a powerful figure behind the scenes. Preparations for the 2022 World Cup, to be hosted by Qatar, threw light on the country's labor laws and the conditions of migrants working there. Under the country's system of kafala, or sponsorship, workers could not leave the country or change jobs without their sponsor's permission; there were accusations of abuse of foreign workers involved in construction projects. Under foreign pressure the government in 2016 enacted reforms designed to curb the worst abuses and allow workers to leave the country freely; further reforms were introduced in 2020.

In 2014 there were tensions with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates over Qatar's support for Islamists in foreign countries. In June, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Eqypt, and a few other nations cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting jihadist groups and destablizing the region. Qatar rejected the accusations, and received support from Turkey and Iran. Kuwait and Oman, the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, remained neutral. Qatar rejected a list of demands issued two weeks later; among them were closing the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera and ending support of the Muslim Brotherhood. The country adapted to the economic blockade, in some cases becoming more self-sufficient as a result. Qatar withdrew from the Saudi-dominated Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 2019; it had joined OPEC in 1961. In Jan., 2021, diplomatic tensions with the Arab nations that had cut ties in 2017 eased after they and Qatar signed an accord that largely left the pre-2017 situation unchanged.

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