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Qatar History - British Qatar

The british relations with the Gulf region, including Qatar inaugurated with the establishment of the East India Companys Factory at Basra in 1635, to explore the Arabian trade. Nevertheless, with the passage of time the primary economic activities gave way to the formal political functions. Eventually, Imperial Britain establishes its hold in the Gulf including Qatar under the pretext of protection of the shipping lines in the Gulf and its overland routes to India. By the 1820s, Britain was able to sign the General Treaty of Peace with the Gulf Littoral Arab rulers. Although, Qatar never acceded to this so called Peace Treaty, Britain obliged the Peninsula to abide by its terms. However, Qatar was brought under the Maritime Truce of 1835, which outlawed all welfare during the Pearl fishing season. In 1836, the Restrictive Line was extended from Sir Bu Nair Island by way of the Qatari Island of Halul.

The Ottomans officially renounced sovereignty over Qatar 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's 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 Qatar's 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 Qatar.

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 allowances.

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 Qatar's 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.



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