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Prehistory and Antiquity

Archaeological finds have shown that the Qatar Peninsula was already inhabited in the Stone Age, when the climate was milder than it is today. In contrast, very little archaeological material has been found from antiquity and the Middle Ages. Some ancient burial mounds have been found, but no connection whatsoever with the Dilmun Empire in Bahrain has been found, for example.

Qatar is also the only place in the Gulf region where no Portuguese remains have been found. And since the Portuguese conquered or at least attacked all over the Gulf, it can be concluded that Qatar must have been practically uninhabited at that time. Qatar is also not mentioned in the stories of several European travelers between the 16th and early 18th centuries.

Qatar was part of the Islamic Empire of the Caliphs from 633 onwards. Approx. 900 Qatar was annexed to the independent state of the Karmatians founded in that year.

After the breaking of the sect's military power (1030), local sheikhs held power alternately until 1591, the year Qatar was annexed to the Ottoman Empire. In 1669 the peninsula was lost to Istanbul again.

Al-Thani family takes power

In the mid-17th century, the Al-Thani family settled in Qatar. One hundred years later, this family would take power and dominate recent history. They were originally Bedouins of the Tamim tribe who arrived in nomadic Central Arabia from Najd.

Once they arrived in Qatar they became fishermen and pearl divers and by 1750 Qatar was already a well-known pearl center, mainly concentrated in the northwestern Al-Zubara, which was under the control of the Al-Khalifa family, who now rule Bahrain.

There followed a period of rapid rule until Qatar was conquered in 1804 by the Wahhabis, an Islamic sect.

Qatar becomes British protectorate

From the end of the 18th century Qatar was ruled from Bahrain and when the population rose up against it in 1867, the British intervened, declared the area a protectorate and appointed a member of the al-Thani family as sheikh. Sheikh Mohammed bin-Thani was the first al-Thani emir and the capital became Al-Bida, what is now Doha. To arm himself against the other tribes in the area, he signed a treaty with the British in 1867.

That same year, Mohammed died and was succeeded by his son, Jasim, who reigned until his death in 1913. He was a master at pitting the British and the Turks against each other. As early as 1872 he signed a treaty with the Turks allowing them to station a garrison of soldiers in Doha. However, the number of Turks was limited and he also refused to ask for money. Due to the presence of the Turkish troops, he gained a lot of respect among local tribes as a representative of the Ottoman sultan.

Jasim's successor, Sheikh Abdullah, oversaw the withdrawal of the Ottoman garrison in 1915 after Turkey sided with Germany in World War I.

The British were most likely behind this withdrawal and in 1916 they made an exclusive agreement with Abdullah. The British would protect Abdullah and in return Abdullah promised that he would not do business with other countries without permission from the British. In 1934 that treaty was expanded once more and amended on a number of points.

Qatar becomes an oil state

In 1930, the first oil seekers arrived at a time when Qatar was in bad shape: poverty, hunger and disease dominated the picture. In 1935, Abdullah granted a concession to drill for oil to the Petroleum Development Qatar (PDQ), the predecessor of the current state-owned Qatar General Petroleum Corporation (QGPC). The PDQ was in fact a subsidiary of the Iraq Petroleum Company, which in turn was controlled by a number of American, British and French oil companies.

The oil seekers encountered oil in 1939, but could not start production of oil fields until 1949 because of the Second World War. The British responded immediately by stationing a political representative in Doha. Until then, Britain's interests were represented by a political representative in Bahrain. From that moment on things went fast. The new British representative was succeeded a few years later by a financial adviser who helped the emir deal with the incoming money. In order not to rely entirely on the British, the clever Abdullah also hired an Egyptian adviser, Hassan Kamil.

This Hassan Kamil would remain an advisor for several decades. Abdullah resigned in 1949 due to his age and was succeeded by his son Ali who would rule until 1960.

The amount of oil produced was not that much in itself, but enough for sparsely populated Qatar to see its prosperity rise rapidly. Also in 1952 the first school was opened and medical facilities were improved, although a real hospital was not opened until 1959.

Sheikh Ali had little interest in governing his country and more or less left that to his cousin Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani from the mid-1950s. In the early 1960s, Ali resigned in favor of his son Ahmed, but he too did not feel like running the country. Khalifa was again much more involved in local politics and the development of the country.

The 1960s were very tumultuous across the Arab world, including a strike wave in 1963, but the constantly growing flow of oil dulled any political ambitions, it seemed. Attempts to get some left-wing political groups off the ground in the 1970s failed, and since then there has been general peace and stability in Qatar, despite some notable changes in power.

Qatar independent

When the British announced in 1971 that they were leaving the Gulf region, negotiations started between Qatar, Bahrain and the Trucial States (now: United Arab Emirates) to form a confederation. Bahrain, however, soon withdrew because they were given too little say to their liking. Qatar immediately followed and on September 3, 1971 Sheikh Ahmed declared independence in Geneva instead of the capital Doha, typical example of Ahmed's "involvement" in developments in his country.

At that point, his days were numbered. Khalifa took power after a palace revolution on February 22, 1972. He was well prepared, having in fact ruled the country for fifteen years and headed all major ministries. One of his first acts was to curb the extravagant lifestyle of some members of the royal family. A friendship treaty was concluded with Great Britain.

The years after Khalif's coup were marked by political stability, rising oil prices and increasing prosperity. Yet Qatar also suffered from the vicissitudes of large neighbors such as Iraq and Iran, and the Iranian revolution in 1979 was followed with great suspicion. In 1981, Qatar joined the Gulf Cooperation Council, a defense pact with Saudi Arabia and the small Arab Gulf states. Since the 1970s, Qatar has continued to maintain close relations with Britain on defense matters and increasingly with France and the United States. For example, American and Canadian soldiers were stationed in Doha during the Gulf War. In general, Qatar often followed the mighty Saudi Arabia in foreign policy, but that would change in the 1990s.

In the early 1990s, Qatar sought closer ties with Iran. In 1991, the two countries signed an agreement in which Iran would supply fresh water to Qatar through a submarine pipeline. During the 1991 Gulf War, Qatar was one of Kuwait's allies. Qatar became the first Arab state after the Second Gulf War to return its ambassador to Baghdad in October 1992.

In 1993, following the peace agreement between Israel and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation), Qatar became the first Gulf state to officially establish diplomatic relations with Israel. At the end of 1995, Qatar was again the first Gulf state to establish economic relations with Israel, including to supply Tel Aviv with natural gas. This was done through a third party.

Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani takes power

In June 1995, while on holiday in Switzerland, Khalifa was unexpectedly replaced by his son Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, until then crown prince and defense minister. It caused much excitement in the Gulf region that the new emir refused to acknowledge.

However, his father was accused of illegally transferring at least $3 billion into a foreign bank account. The palace coup was therefore carried out with the permission of the emir's family. In the end, the new emir was soon recognized by the United States and members of the GCC.

At the end of February 1996, an attempted coup d'état took place, in which about 100 people were arrested.

Qatar is becoming increasingly liberal, especially compared to the other Gulf countries. The press can do a decent job and Qatar was the first Gulf state to allow women to vote in local elections in early 1999. In March 2001, the disputed Hawar Islands were assigned to Bahrain by the International Supreme Court in The Hague. A border dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar was settled in the same month.

Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani resigned in early April 2007. Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al Thani was named his successor by the emir. Sheikh Hamad, a cousin of Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, also remained as foreign minister.

In September 2007, Qatar and Dubai become the largest shareholder of the London Stock Exchange. In December 2008, Saudi Arabia and Qatar conclude a border dispute agreement and restore diplomatic relations. In January 2009, Qatar severs trade ties with Israel because of the Gaza offensive. Qatar was the only Arab country that still had trade ties with Israel.

Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has been head of state since June 25, 2013. A day later, Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani was appointed prime minister. In 2014 and 2015, Qatar participates in actions against Islamic State in Syria and Houthis in Yemen respectively. In 2016, Qatar has been discredited because of the conditions in which migrants are working on the stadiums for the 2022 football World Cup. In June 2017, a diplomatic crisis erupts when Saudi Arabia and Arab allies impose a land, sea and air blockade against Qatar in an attempt to get Qatar to reduce its alleged links to terrorism and distance itself from Iran.


Robison, G. / Bahrain, Kuwait & Qatar
Lonely Planet

Whetter, L. / Live & work in Saudi & the Gulf
Vacation Work

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info