Geography and Landscape


The Emirate of Qatar or Qatar (Arabic: Dawlat al-Qatar) is a peninsula on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula, jutting out into the Persian Gulf.

The total area of the country is 11,437 km2. Qatar is about 160 kilometers long and 50 to 80 kilometers wide. The total coastline is about 700 kilometers long. Qatar borders Saudi Arabia (60 km) to the south, the Gulf of Bahrain to the west and the Persian Gulf to the north and east.

Qatar Satellite photoQatar Satellite photoPhoto: Public Domain


Qatar is a barren desert area with karst phenomena in the calcareous areas. Artesian springs occur along the coasts. To the south are the salt marshes or sabchas of al-Amra. The island is fairly flat with a few ridges in the west. The highest point in Qatar is Qurayn Abu al Bawl at 103 meters. In the southeast of the country there are spectacular dunes that can reach a height of 60 meters.

Desert Landscape QatarDesert landscape QatarPhoto: Diliff in the public domain

Climate and weather

The climate is extremely warm and has a relatively high humidity. The average temperature in the hottest months of May to September is 35°C, but can rise to 50°C. Due to the high humidity of 90%, it is unpleasant to stay in Qatar in summer.

The cooler months of November to February are considerably milder with pleasant cool evenings. Sandstorms occur regularly, especially in the spring. Although it does not rain much, it can get quite wet in December and January. However, it never rains for more than a few days in a row.

The average lowest and highest temperature, rainfall, sunshine and humidity in the capital Doha is as follows:

Plants and Animals


Qatar's vegetation and animal life are both poor. This is due to the heat and the lack of water and vegetation. The only plant that is ubiquitous in Qatar is the date palm, Qatar's national tree for a reason. Besides the dates, the tree is also used for other purposes.

The University of Qatar studies local flora to see which plants are edible or used as medicine. There are already 300 species on the list, which often only flower after a heavy rain shower. The list includes "jaad" a type of mint,"ephedra" and gith-gath, which has a range of medicinal properties. The tastiest and also in the west most famous plant is the "fafafa", better known as the truffle.


Qatar has few native birds. The crested lark and the hoopoe are quite common. More interesting for bird watchers are the winter visitors that settle in Qatar, usually from March to May and from September to November. This generally concerns waterfowl and flamingos. The southeast coast is popular with spoonbills, ducks, swallows and swifts. The Hawar Islands, which have been part of Bahrain since 2001, are home to flamingos almost year round and have one of the largest colonies of cormorants in the world.

Lizards, desert hares and gerbils are common in the desert. The Arabian oryx, the national animal of Qatar, is being protected in nature reserves such as Al-Shahhainiya. Goats are protected on Halul Island and deer on Ras Ishairik Island. Well-known animals are, of course, donkeys and camels.

Typical desert animals are the common grasshopper, praying mantis, crickets and scorpions. Lizards, geckos, and skinks can also be found everywhere.

On the menu in restaurants and in people's homes is often the "hamour", collective name for a number of perch species.

The waters around Qatar are home to many species of fish, as well as turtles, rays, crabs, lobsters and whale sharks. Dangerous are sea snakes, jellyfish and scorpion fish. Occasionally manatees can be seen.

Qatar is also known for traditional hunting with hawks, falcons and peregrine falcons.


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.


There are 2,948,232 people living in Qatar in 2021, making it one of the smaller countries in the Arab world. On average there are about 200 people per km2.

About 11.6% of the total population are Qataris of Central Arab (Najdi) and Persian descent, the remaining inhabitants are immigrants mainly from Iran, Pakistan, India, Yemen, Egypt and several thousand Westerners, many of whom are British.

About 80% of the population lives in the capital Doha or Ad-Dawhah. Other major cities include Ar-Rayyän, Musayïd, Dukhan, Messaieed, Ras Laffan Industrial City, and Al-Wakrah.

The population structure of Qatar is as follows: 0-14 years 12.6%, 15-64 years 86.4%, 65+ 1%.

The population growth in 2017 was 2.27%. The birth and death rates in 2017 were 9.6 and 1.5 per 1000 inhabitants respectively.

Life expectancy for men is 76.8 years and for women 81 years.


Besides Arabic, which is the official language, English is spoken in Qatar. There are different types of Arabic. Classical Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, is the basis of all contemporary dialects of spoken and written Arabic. A modernized and somewhat simplified form of classical Arabic is the language of the educated class in the Middle East.

This more modern version, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), is used in newspapers and on radio and television. It is also spoken by Arabs from different countries. Such a common language is necessary because the different dialects often differ too much from each other.

Some Arabic words and phrases:


Islam can be roughly divided into Sunni and Shia. In Qatar people adhere to a Sunni variant of Islam, Wahhabitism.


Sunnis (from Arabic sunnah = custom, especially the normative custom of the prophet Muhammad, expressed in his words and actions, which serve as examples for the believers and are recorded in the hadith), Muslims who trace back their rules and beliefs on Muhammad. Since virtually all Islamic groups and sects do this, strictly speaking, almost all Muslims are Sunnis. In common parlance, the term generally refers to the vast majority of Muslims who are not Shia or Charijite. In the field of constitutional law, the Sunnis hold the view that the caliph must come from the Kuraish tribe. In law, they belong to one of the four Sunni schools of law (madzhab).


Shiites (from Arabic Shi'at Ali = the Party of Ali), is a collective name for a large group of different Islamic sects, which have as their common premise the view that Ali and his descendants are the rightful successors of Muhammad as leaders (imam) of the Muslim community. They do not recognize the caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman (compare Sunnis).

The Shi'at Ali emerged as a political group in 661 when the Umayyads seized the caliphate. Ali's sons Hasan and Hussein (the second and third Shia Imam respectively) died during this time as martyrs for the Shia cause.

The teachings of the various Shia groups differ widely, but some common elements can be identified, such as the worship of the Imams, where the qualities attributed to them differ greatly. Some regard the imams as people with a divine mission, others see them as bearers of the divine light or incarnations of the divine or at least animated by divine inspiration. Most Shiites regard the Imams as sinless and infallible. Many Shia groups believe in a disappeared imam, who lives on in secrecy and will eventually return to earth as a mahdi.


As in Saudi Arabia, the majority of Qataris adhere to the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. However, the Qataris are not as strict as the Saudis. For example, it is difficult to get alcohol in Qatar and women are allowed to drive cars.

The Wahhabis were an ultra-Orthodox Islamic sect in Central Arabia and are named after its founder, the priest and judge Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1791).

The lack of respect for Islam by the Bedouin of Central Arabia led him to advocate a return to the traditional principles and traditions of the Hanbali school. This means a strict way of life according to the Qur'an and the hadith, the records of the words and deeds of the prophets.

There is also a significant minority of Shiites in Qatar, in addition to scattered Hindus and Christians. Qatar has about 60,000 Catholics and 10,000 Orthodox Christians. In December 1999, the government of Qatar approved the construction of the first church in the country. Policy on such matters has eased since current Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani came to power in 1995.


State structure

Qatar has an absolutist regime and is governed by an emir, currently Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. He is also Minister of Defense and Commander-in-Chief of the Army. His third son, Sheikh Jasim bin Hamad al-Thani is the official successor. The brother of Emir Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa al-Thani is Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior. The emir is entitled to appoint and dismiss ministers. The cabinet normally consists of the emir and about 15 ministers.

New laws are promulgated by decrees of the emir. Although theoretically an absolute monarch, he still depends on the support of family, the cabinet and other important Qatari families and consults them on difficult issues. These consultations are informal, but also take place through so-called "majlis" held regularly by the emir and the other members of the ruling family. Everyone can then ask the emir questions about all kinds of things. Regular, formalized consultations have been conducted since 1970 by an advisory board of thirty (male) members. This council can comment on bills, but can in fact not change anything or submit bills itself. The members of the advisory council are appointed by the emir for four years.

In 1999, Qatar held elections for the city councils of the six major cities, a unique event in the entire Gulf region. Although these councils also do not have much say, the fact that women were allowed to vote for the first time was an event of the first magnitude. There were 227 candidates, including six women.

There are no political parties and elections are never held. Trade unions are not allowed, but there is a labor law, which provides for a 48-hour work week, paid vacation and sick pay, among other things.

Qatar is administratively divided into nine municipalities: Ad Dawhah, Al Ghuwayriyah, Al Jumayliyah, Al Khawr, Al Wakrah, Ar Rayyan, Jarayan al Batinah, Madinat ash Shamal and Umm Salal. For the current political situation see chapter history.


The first tentative form of education emerged in the first half of the twentieth century when boys and girls were taught in so-called "katateeb" schools. The children were taught all kinds of things but without a formal system. Since that time, education has boomed all the way to university education.

Qatar's first proper school only opened in 1952, but it has progressed rapidly since then. Qatar now has 113 primary schools: 60 for boys and 53 for girls, 56 preparatory schools: 28 for boys and 28 for girls, and 41 secondary schools: 19 for boys and 22 for girls. Primary school lasts six years, preparatory secondary education three years and secondary education also three years. State education is completely free for all Qataris, as well as for children of foreigners working in the public sector.

Qatar also has many private schools and schools for the different Arab population groups (including Lebanese, Jordanian and Sudanese). Finally, there are also schools for the non-Arab groups such as Indians and Americans.

University education started in 1973 with two higher education institutes, one for male and one for female students.

The University of Qatar was founded in 1977 and before that, students from Qatar went to universities in the west, Lebanon and Egypt. The new university campus was opened in 1985. The university now consists of the following faculties: education, humanities and sociology, natural sciences, Islamic studies, public administration, economics and technology. All these faculties have a department for men and for women. The engineering faculty has only male students. The teachers come from Qatar, but also many from other Arab countries and some from Western countries.

In the 1994-1995 school year, there were approximately 52,000 students in primary education, 38,000 in secondary education and 8,200 students in higher education. More than 1200 students studied abroad.

Children and students are taught the Arabic language, and English is generally taught as a foreign language. Recently, it was decided to introduce English in basic education.

The first adult education center was set up in 1954 and by 1956 there were already seven schools with more than 600 students. Two schools specifically for women opened in 1976. After four years of education, students receive a diploma. As a result of these efforts, illiteracy has fallen sharply and in 1997 only 13.6% of the population over the age of ten was illiterate.


Petroleum and natural gas

Since the start of oil extraction in 1949, traditional fishing, agriculture, pearl fishing and nomadic animal husbandry have gradually come to an end, sectors that until then had mainly thrived and were mainly important for the internal market.

It was not until 1965 that oil was extracted on a large scale for export. Petroleum production increased from 20,000 barrels per day in 1951 to 570,000 barrels per day in 1973. After the oil crisis, the number of barrels was reduced to 300,000 in 1988, but is now back at 600,000 barrels per day.

The oil accounts for 30% of the Gross National Product, for about 86% of the export income and for 66% of the state's income. The current reserves of 3.7 billion barrels of petroleum are good for many years of production. The petroleum has ensured that the GDP per capita is above the level of the major western industrialized countries ($124,100 in 2017 the highest income in the world). The extraction of the oil is in the hands of the state-owned Qatar Petroleum (formerly Qatar General Petroleum Corporation).

Natural gas reserves are more than 7 trillion cubic meters, more than 5% of the world's total supply and the third largest in the world after Russia and Iran. The production and export of natural gas is becoming increasingly important and natural gas is also increasingly used for the desalination of seawater, the only source of drinking water.

In the long term, the aim is to create new offshore oil resources and diversify the economy.

Qatar is a member of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The main buyers of the petroleum are: Japan, Brazil, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

Various economic activities

The government of Qatar has attempted to diversify the economy over the past few decades, with limited success.

Qatar has a growing petrochemical industry, fertilizer and cement factory. The steel industry produces pig iron for Saudi Arabia and the domestic market.

Since 1960 there has been renewed activity in the fisheries, agriculture and livestock sectors, making the country largely self-sufficient. About 5% of the working population is employed in agriculture.

Imported are technical equipment, means of transport, foodstuffs. Main suppliers of these products are: Japan, United Arab Emirates, China and the United States. In 2017, imports totaled USD 30 billion.

Total exports amounted to $167.5 billion in 2017 and the main export partners were Japan, Singapore, South Korea, India and the United Arab Emirates.

Shipping, especially traditional coastal shipping, plays an important role for traffic. The country has a good road network. Umm Sa'id and Doha have important seaports. Umm Sa'id is used for bulk transport and Doha for regular transport. Since 1997, the port of Ras Laffan has been used exclusively for the export of natural gas.

Doha has an international airport and Qatar has interests in Gulf Air, which is further owned by Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar Airways is the national airline.

Holidays and Sightseeing

Recently, Qatar is also trying to promote tourism to the country. To this end, major sporting events (tennis, motorcycle races, golf) were organised.

Large conferences and meetings are also regularly organized for the international business world. Only since 1989 visas have been issued to tourists.

The main attractions in Qatar are the coastline with beautiful beaches, the soukhs where you can buy everything and the Al Koot fort with the museum of ethnology.

Furthermore, tourists like to visit the breeding farms with Arabian thoroughbred horses or to watch the camel races that are held regularly.

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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 October 2021
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