Area 4,415 square mi (11,437 square km)
Population 2.172 million 2014
Capital Doha
Highest Point Qurayn Abu al Bawl 338 ft (103 m)
Lowest Point 0 m
GDP $210.1 billion 2014
Primary Natural Resources petroleum, natural gas, fish.

QATAR IS LOCATED in the MIDDLE EAST; it is a peninsula projecting into the PERSIAN GULF and bordered in the south by SAUDI ARABIA. Qatar has been inhabited for millennia but never stood out as a commercial or cultural center in ancient times. The peninsula shared the barren dry nature of the great Arabian deserts to the south and drew the nomads of the interior and the coastal settlers of the Persian Gulf. The Qatar coast held oyster banks that provided the classic gulf item of trade, pearls. This was to be Qatar's main source of wealth for centuries and led to the growth of Doha (Arabic for “port”) as the main settlement on the peninsula.

Qatar map

Qatar enters historical record in the early 19th century when the Al Khalifa (ruling family of BAHRAIN) domination was challenged by the tribal leaders on the peninsula. Britain was controlling the Persian Gulf at this time as a means of protecting its commercial interests in the INDIAN OCEAN. Attack of the Al Khalifa on Doha and the Qatari counterattack brought the British into the fray which was settled by treaty in 1868. This marked the first time Qatar was widely recognized as separate from Bahrain and the Al Khalifa family. The Al Thani family emerged as the ruling group in Qatar and learned to play the British and the encroaching Ottoman Turks off of one another.

In 1916, the Al Thani Sheikh signed a treaty with the British similar to those entered into by other Persian Gulf emirates and became a British protectorate. A 1934 treaty granted more extensive British protection and opened the way for exploration and exploitation of Qatar's petroleum potential. Across the Persian Gulf, World War II created a hiatus on oil development. In 1949 the beginning flow of oil wealth marked a turning point for Qatar. Slowly, development spread, often impeded by the age-old problems of strife within the Al Thani family and among the leading tribal groups of Qatar.

As Britain prepared to withdraw their protection form the Gulf states in a general reduction of military commitments east of Suez, Qatar considered joining into a coalition of emirate states. When their old nemesis Bahrain and the Al Kalifa family chose independence, so too did Qatar on September 3, 1971. Qatar participated in the liberation of Kuwait and was supportive of the United Nations sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s. The current (2005) emir deposed his father in 1995 and rapidly increased the pace of national development, as well as opened Qatar to the buildup of U.S. military forces.

The economy centers upon the petroleum sector where oil reserves have diminished. However, Qatar has the third-largest proven natural gas reserves in the world and is rapidly developing and improving extraction and exporting capabilities. Qatar is seeking to replace expatriate workers with nationals by an aggressive program of education and training. Most Qartaris, including the ruling family are followers of the Sunni branch of ISLAM. Islam is the official religion of the state and the people continue to be traditional in dress and custom.