Qatar country profile - Overview
- 21 May 2015
- From the section Middle East
Qatar, a former pearl-fishing centre and once one of the poorest Gulf states, is now one of the richest countries in the region, thanks to the exploitation of large oil and gas fields since the 1940s.
Dominated by the Thani family for almost 150 years, the mainly barren country was a British protectorate until 1971, when it declared its independence after following suit with Bahrain and refusing to join the United Arab Emirates.
In 1995 Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa deposed his father to become emir and during his reign introduced some liberal reforms.
Press freedom was extended and the Qatari satellite TV station Al-Jazeera has become one of the most important broadcasters in the Arab world.
Elections in 1999 for a 29-member municipal council were the first in which Qatari women were allowed to vote and stand for office.
A constitution providing for limited democratic reforms came into force in 2005. The new basic law provided for a legislature - the Advisory Council - with 30 elected members and 15 members appointed by the emir.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani assumed the role of emir when his father abdicated in June 2013.
The population is small. Foreigners - including labourers attracted by a construction boom - outnumber natives. Oil money funds an all-embracing welfare state, with many services free or heavily subsidised, but the treatment of migrant workers is frequently criticized by rights groups.
Possessing more than 15% of the world's proven gas reserves, Qatar has ambitions to become an energy giant and uses its wealth to pursue regional and global ambitions. It has been involved in pursuing an Afghan peace deal, and won a controversial bid to host the 2022 Football World Cup. Not all of its regional interventions are popular with other Arab leaders, such as its support for the Hamas faction in Gaza and Islamist groups in Egypt and Syria.