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Human habitation of the qatar
Peninsula dates as far back as 50,000 years, when
small groups of Stone Age inhabitants built coastal encampments, settlements,
and sites for working flint, according to recent archaeological evidence. Other
finds have included pottery from the Al Ubaid culture of Mesopotamia and
northern Arabia (ca. 5000 B.C.), rock carvings, burial mounds, and a large town
that dates from about 500 B.C. at Wusail, some twenty kilometers north of Doha.
The qatar Peninsula was close enough to the
Dilmun civilization (ca. 4000 to
2000 B.C.) in Bahrain to have felt its influence. A harsh climate, lack of
resources, and frequent periods of conflict, however, seem to have made it
inevitable that no settlement would develop and prosper for any significant

length of time before the discovery of oil. The peninsula was used almost
continuously as rangeland for nomadic tribes from Najd and Al Hasa regions in
Saudi Arabia, with seasonal encampments around sources of water. In addition,
fishing and pearling settlements were established on those parts of the coast
near a major well. Until the late eighteenth century, the principal towns were
on the east coast–Al Huwayla, Al Fuwayrit, and Al Bida–and the modern city of
Doha developed around the largest of these, Al Bida. The population consisted of
nomadic and settled Arabs and a significant proportion of slaves brought
originally from East Africa. The qatar
Peninsula came under the sway of several
great powers over the centuries. The Abbasid era (750-1258) saw the rise of
several settlements, including Murwab. The Portuguese ruled from 1517 to 1538,
when they lost to the Ottomans. In the 1760s, the Al Khalifa and the Al Jalahima
sections of the Bani Utub tribe migrated from Kuwait to
‘s northwest coast
and founded Az Zubarah. Because the Bani Utub had important trading connections
with Kuwait and were close to the rich oyster banks, Az Zubarah became a
thriving center of trade and pearling, despite hostilities between the Al
Khalifa and the Al Jalahima.

In response to attacks on Az Zubarah by an Omani shaykh who ruled Bahrain from
Bushehr in Iran, the Bani Utub of Kuwait and
, as well as some local qatari
tribes, captured Bahrain in 1783. The Al Khalifa claimed sovereignty over
Bahrain and ruled it for several years from Az Zubarah. This angered the Al
Jalahima, who felt they were deprived of their share of the spoils, and so they
moved a few kilometers up the qatari coast to
establish Al Khuwayr, which they used as a staging point for maritime raids
against the shipping of the Al Khalifa and the Iranians.

Most of the Al Khalifa migrated to the more desirable location
of Bahrain and established a shaykhdom that endures to this day. That they left
only a token presence in Az Zubarah meant initially that the Al Jalahima branch
of the Bani Utub could achieve ascendancy in
, with their leader, Rahman ibn Jabir Al Jalahima, earning a reputation
as one of the most feared raiders on the surrounding waters. It also meant that
with the economic decline of Az Zubarah (because the Al Khalifa shifted their
trade connections to Bahrain), the peninsula would once more become a relative
backwater. With no dominant local ruler, insecurity and rivalry characterized
tribal relations. Settled tribes built walled towns, towers, and small forts to
keep raiding beduin at bay.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,
continuing bloody conflict involved not only the Al Khalifa, the Al Jalahima,
and the Iranians but also the Omanis under Sayyid Said ibn Sultan Al Said, the
nascent Wahhabis of Arabia, and the Ottomans. The period also saw the rise of
British power in the Persian Gulf as a result of their growing interests in
India. Britain’s desire for secure passage for East India Company ships led it
to impose its own order in the gulf. The General Treaty of Peace of 1820 between
the East India Company and the shaykhs of the coastal area–which became known
as the Trucial Coast because of the series of treaties between the shaykhs and
the British– was a way of ensuring safe passage. The agreement acknowledged
British authority in the gulf and sought to end piracy and the kidnapping of
slaves. Bahrain also became a party to the treaty, and it was assumed by the
British and the Bahrainis that qatar, as a
dependency, was also a party to it.

But when, as punishment for piracy, an East India Company vessel
bombarded Doha in 1821, destroying the town and forcing hundreds to flee, the
residents had no idea why they were being attacked. The situation remained
unsettled in 1867, when a large Bahraini force sacked and looted Doha and Al
Wakrah. This attack, and the qatari
counterattack, prompted the British political agent, Colonel Lewis Pelly, to
impose a settlement in 1868. His mission to Bahrain and
and the peace treaty that resulted were milestones in
‘s history because they implicitly recognized the distinctness of
from Bahrain and explicitly acknowledged the position of Muhammad ibn
Thani ibn Muhammad, an important representative of the peninsula’s tribes. The
Al Thani were originally beduin from Najd, but after settling in
, they engaged in fishing, pearling, date palm cultivation, and trade.

With the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into eastern Arabia in
1871, qatar became vulnerable to occupation.
Muhammad ibn Thani opposed Ottoman designs on
, but his son, Qasim ibn Muhammad Al Thani, accepted Ottoman
sovereignty in 1872. Although Qasim ibn Muhammad privately complained of the
Ottoman presence, he hoped that with Ottoman support he could dominate those
shaykhs in other towns who opposed him and rebuff Bahrain’s claims on Az
Zubarah. The question of Az Zubarah became moot in 1878, however, when Qasim ibn
Muhammad destroyed the town as punishment for the piracy of the Naim, a tribe
that resided in the north of qatar but was
loyal to the shaykh of Bahrain. Moreover, Qasim ibn Muhammad’s ambivalent
relations with the Ottomans deteriorated to the point that in 1893 they sent a
military force to Doha to arrest him, ostensibly over his refusal to permit an
Ottoman customhouse in Doha. Fighting broke out, and Qasim ibn Muhammad’s
supporters drove out the Ottoman force. This defeat, and Qasim ibn Muhammad’s
embrace after the turn of the century of the resurgent Wahhabis under Abd al
Aziz ibn Saud, marked the de facto end of Ottoman rule in

The Ottomans officially renounced sovereignty over
in 1913, and in 1916 the new ruler, Qasim ibn Muhammad’s son, Abd
Allah ibn Qasim Al Thani, signed a treaty with Britain bringing the peninsula
into the trucial system. This meant that in exchange for Britain’s military
protection, qatar relinquished its autonomy in
foreign affairs and other areas, such as the power to cede territory. The treaty
also had provisions suppressing slavery, piracy, and gunrunning, but the British
were not strict about enforcing those provisions.

Despite qatar coming under
British "protection," Abd Allah ibn Qasim was far from secure: recalcitrant
tribes refused to pay tribute; disgruntled family members intrigued against him;
and he felt vulnerable to the designs of Bahrain, not to mention the Wahhabis.
Despite numerous requests by Abd Allah ibn Qasim–for strong military support,
for weapons, and even for a loan–the British kept him at arm’s length. This
changed in the 1930s, when competition (mainly between Britain and the United
States) for oil concessions in the region intensified. In a 1935 treaty, Britain
made more specific promises of assistance than in earlier treaties in return for
the granting of a concession to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.

The scramble for oil, in turn, raised the stakes in regional
territorial disputes and put a dollar value on the question of national borders.
In 1936, for example, Bahrain claimed rule over a group of islands, the largest
of which is Hawar, on the west coast of qatar
because it had established a small military garrison there. Britain accepted the
Bahraini claim over Abd Allah ibn Qasim’s objections, in large part because the
Bahraini shaykh’s personal British adviser was able to frame Bahrain’s case in a
legal manner familiar to British officials. The question of domain continued in
the early 1990s. Triggered by a dispute involving the Naim, the Bahrainis once
again laid claim to the deserted town of Az Zubarah in 1937. Abd Allah ibn Qasim
sent a large, heavily armed force and succeeded in defeating the Naim. The
British political resident in Bahrain supported
claim and warned Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain, not
to intervene militarily. Bitter and angry over the loss of Az Zubarah, Hamad ibn
Isa imposed a crushing embargo on trade and travel to

Oil was discovered in qatar in
1939, but its exploitation was halted between 1942 and 1947 because of World War
II and its aftermath. The disruption of food supplies caused by the war
prolonged a period of economic hardship in qatar
that had begun in the 1920s with the collapse of the pearl trade and had
increased with the global depression of the early 1930s and the Bahraini
embargo. As they had in previous times of privation, whole families and tribes
moved to other parts of the gulf, leaving many qatari
villages deserted. Even Shaykh Abd Allah ibn Qasim went into debt and, in
preparation for his retirement, groomed his favored second son, Hamad ibn Abd
Allah Al Thani, to be his successor. Hamad ibn Abd Allah’s death in 1948,
however, led to a succession crisis in which the main candidates were Abd Allah
ibn Qasim’s eldest son, Ali ibn Abd Allah Al Thani, and Hamad ibn Abd Allah’s
teenage son, Khalifa ibn Hamad Al Thani.

Oil exports and payments for offshore rights began in 1949 and
marked a turning point in qatar. Not only would
oil revenues dramatically transform the economy and society, but they would also
provide the focus for domestic disputes and foreign relations. This became
frighteningly clear to Abd Allah ibn Qasim when several of his relatives
threatened armed opposition if they did not receive increases in their
allowances. Aged and anxious, Abd Allah ibn Qasim turned to the British,
promised to abdicate, and agreed, among other things, to an official British
presence in qatar in exchange for recognition
and support for Ali ibn Abd Allah as ruler in 1949.

The 1950s saw the cautious development of government structures
and public services under British tutelage. Ali ibn Abd Allah was at first
reluctant to share power, which had centered in his household, with an infant
bureaucracy run and staffed mainly by outsiders. Ali ibn Abd Allah’s increasing
financial difficulties and inability to control striking oil workers and
obstreperous shaykhs, however, led him to succumb to British pressure. The first
real budget was drawn up by a British adviser in 1953. By 1954 there were
forty-two qatari government employees.

A major impetus to the development of the British-run police
force came in 1956 when about 2,000 demonstrators, who coalesced over issues
such as Gamal Abdul Nasser’s pan-Arabism and opposition to Britain and to Shaykh
Ali ibn Abd Allah’s retinue, marched through Doha. This and other demonstrations
led Ali ibn Abd Allah to invest the police with his personal authority and
support, a significant reversal of his previous reliance on his retainers and
beduin fighters.

Public services developed haltingly during the 1950s. The first
telephone exchange opened in 1953, the first desalination plant in 1954, and the
first power plant in 1957. Also built in this period were a jetty, a customs
warehouse, an airstrip, and a police headquarters. In the 1950s, 150 adult males
of the Al Thani received outright grants from the government. Shaykhs also
received land and government positions. This mollified them as long as oil
revenues increased. When revenues declined in the late 1950s, however, Ali ibn
Abd Allah could not handle the family pressures this engendered. That Shaykh Ali
ibn Abd Allah spent extravagantly, owned a villa in Switzerland, and hunted in
Pakistan fueled discontent, especially among those who were excluded from the
regime’s largesse (non-Al Thani qataris) and
those who were not excluded but thought they deserved more (other branches of
the Al Thani). Seniority and proximity to the shaykh determined the size of

Succumbing to family pressures and poor health, Ali ibn Abd
Allah abdicated in 1960. But instead of handing power over to Khalifa ibn Hamad,
who had been named heir apparent in 1948, he made his son, Ahmad ibn Ali, ruler.
Nonetheless, Khalifa ibn Hamad, as heir apparent and deputy ruler, gained
considerable power, in large part because Ahmad ibn Ali, as had his father,
spent much time outside the country.

Although he did not care much for governing, Ahmad ibn Ali could
not avoid dealing with family business. One of his first acts was to increase
funding for the shaykhs at the expense of development projects and social
services. In addition to allowances, adult male Al Thani were also given
government positions. This added to the antiregime resentment already felt by,
among others, oil workers, low-ranking Al Thani, dissident shaykhs, and some
leading individuals. These groups formed the National Unity Front in response to
a fatal shooting on April 19, 1963, by one of Shaykh Ahmad ibn Ali’s nephews.
The front called a general strike, and its demands included a reduction of the
ruler’s privileges, recognition of trade unions, and increased social services.
Ahmad ibn Ali cracked down by jailing fifty leading individuals and exiling the
front’s leaders. He also instituted some reforms, eventually including the
provision of land and loans to poor qataris.

Largely under Khalifa ibn Hamad’s guiding hand, the
infrastructure, foreign labor force, and bureaucracy continued to grow in the
1960s. There were even some early attempts at diversifying
economic base, most notably with the establishment of a cement
factory, a national fishing company, and small-scale agriculture.
In 1968 Britain announced its intention of withdrawing from military commitments
east of Suez, including those in force with Qatar, by 1971. For a while, the
rulers of Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial Coast contemplated forming a
federation after the British withdrawal. A dispute arose between Ahmad ibn Ali
and Khalifa ibn Hamad, however, because Khalifa ibn Hamad opposed Bahrain’s
attempts to become the senior partner in the federation. Still giving public
support to the federation, Ahmad ibn Ali nonetheless promulgated a provisional
constitution in April 1970, which declared Qatar an independent, Arab, Islamic
state with the sharia (Islamic law) as its basic law. Khalifa ibn Hamad was
appointed prime minister in May. The first Council of Ministers was sworn in on
January 1, 1970, and seven of its ten members were Al Thani. Khalifa ibn Hamad’s
argument prevailed with regard to the federation proposal. Qatar became an
independent state on September 3, 1971. That Ahmad ibn Ali issued the formal
announcement from his Swiss villa instead of from his Doha palace indicated to
many Qataris that it was time for a change. On February 22, 1972, Khalifa ibn
Hamad deposed Ahmad ibn Ali, who was hunting with his falcons in Iran. Khalifa
ibn Hamad had the tacit support of the Al Thani and of Britain, and he had the
political, financial, and military support of Saudi Arabia.

In contrast to his predecessor’s policies, Khalifa ibn Hamad cut
family allowances and increased spending on social programs, including housing,
health, education, and pensions. In addition, he filled many top government
posts with close relatives.

In 1993 Khalifa ibn Hamad remained the amir, but his son, Hamad
ibn Khalifa, the heir apparent and minister of defense, had taken over much of
the day-to-day running of the country. The two consulted with each other on all
matters of importance.

On June 27, 1995, the Deputy Amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa,
deposed his father Amir Khalifa 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 for Qatar 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 public referendum in
April 2003, which came into force in June 2005.[1] The current emir has
announced his intention for Qatar to move toward democracy and has permitted a
nominally free and open press and municipal elections. Economic, social, and
democratic reforms have occurred in recent years. In 2003, a woman was appointed
to the cabinet as minister of education.

Qatar and Bahrain have argued over who owns the Hawar Islands.
In 2001, Qatar agreed to give the islands to Bahrain in exchange for territorial
concessions relating to previous Bahrain claims on mainland Qatar.


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