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Qatar History - Independent Qatar

During the 1950s and 1960s gradually increasing oil revenues brought prosperity, rapid immigration, substantial social progress, and the beginnings of Qatar's modern history. When the U.K. announced a policy in 1968 (reaffirmed in March 1971) of ending the treaty relationships with the Gulf sheikdoms, Qatar joined the other eight states then under British protection (the seven trucial sheikdoms -- the present United Arab Emirates -- and Bahrain) in a plan to form a union of Arab emirates. By mid-1971, as the termination date of the British treaty relationship (end of 1971) approached, the nine still had not agreed on terms of union. Accordingly, Qatar declared independence as a separate entity and became the fully independent State of Qatar.

The Al Thani family have lived in Qatar for over 200 years. The Al Khalifa family of Bahrain dominated the area until 1868 when, at the request of Qatari nobles, the British negotiated the termination of the Bahraini claim, except for the payment of tribute. The tribute ended when the Ottoman Empire occupied Qatar in 1872. When the Ottomans left at the beginning of World War I, the British recognized Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani as ruler. The 1916 treaty between the United Kingdom and Sheikh Abdullah was similar to those entered into by the British with other Gulf principalities. Under it, the ruler agreed not to dispose of any of his territory except to the U.K. and not to enter into relationships with any other foreign government without British consent. In return, the British promised to protect Qatar from all aggression by sea and to lend their good offices in case of a land attack. A 1934 treaty granted more extensive British protection.

The two preindependence rulers, Ali ibn Abd Allah (r. 1949- 60) and his son, Ahmad ibn Ali (r. 1960-72), had no particular interest in supervising daily government, content to hunt in Iran and Pakistan and spend time at their villa in Switzerland. Thus, somewhat by default, those duties were assumed, beginning in the 1950s, by Ahmad ibn Ali's cousin, Khalifa ibn Hamad, the heir apparent and deputy ruler. By 1971 Khalifa ibn Hamad not only had served as prime minister but also had headed the ministries or departments of foreign affairs, finance and petroleum, education and culture, and police and internal security.

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, the Heir Apparent, Khalifa ibn Hamad deposedd his cousin, Ahmad ibn Ali, who was hunting with his falcons in Iran. Key members of the Al Thani family supported this move, which took place without violence or signs of political unrest. Khalifa ibn Hamad had the tacit support of Britain, and he had the political, financial, and military support of Saudi Arabia. Western sources frequently refer to the event as an overthrow. Qataris regarded Khalifa ibn Hamad's assumption of full power as a simple succession because leading members of the Al Thani had declared Khalifa ibn Hamad the heir apparent on October 24, 1960, and it was their consensus that Ahmad ibn Ali should be replaced.

On February 22, 1972, with the support of the Al Thani, Khalifa ibn Hamad assumed power as ruler of Qatar. The reasons for the transfer of power were not entirely clear. Khalifa ibn Hamad reportedly stated that his assumption of power was intended "to remove the elements that tried to hinder [Qatar's] progress and modernization." Khalifa ibn Hamad has consistently attempted to lead and to control the process of modernization caused by the petroleum industry boom and the concomitant influx of foreigners and foreign ideas so that traditional mores and values based on Islam can be preserved. He and other influential members of the ruling family are known to have been troubled by the financial excesses of many members of the Al Thani. Ahmad ibn Ali reportedly drew one-fourth, and the entire Al Thani between one-third and one-half, of Qatar's oil revenues in 1971. The new ruler severely limited the family's financial privileges soon after taking power.

Family intrigue may also have played a part in the change of rulers. Factionalism and rivalries are not uncommon, particularly in families as large as the Al Thani. Western observers have reported rumors that Khalifa ibn Hamad acted to assume power when he learned that Ahmad ibn Ali might be planning to substitute his son, Abd al Aziz, as heir apparent, a move that would have circumvented the declared consensus of the Al Thani.

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.

The 1970 provisional constitution (sometimes called the basic law) declares Qatar a sovereign Arab, Islamic state and vests sovereignty in the state. In fact, sovereignty is held by the amir, but, although he is supreme in relation to any other individual or institution, in practice his rule is not absolute. The constitution also provides for a partially elected consultative assembly, the Advisory Council. The first council's twenty members were selected from representatives chosen by limited suffrage. The size of the council was increased to thirty members in 1975. Among the council's constitutional prerogatives is the right to debate legislation drafted by the Council of Ministers before it is ratified and promulgated.

The members represent all Qataris, not just those in their districts. The Advisory Council was increased to thirty members in December 1975 and to thirty-five members in November 1988. Membership is limited to native-born citizens at least twenty years of age. The constitution states that members are to serve three-year terms, but in May 1975 members' terms were extended for an additional three years and then for additional four-year terms in 1978, in 1982, in 1986, and in 1990.

Occupying a barren peninsula scorched by extreme summer heat, Qatar was transformed between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for pearling into an independent state with modern infrastructure, services, and industries. The state was built using mostly foreign labor and expertise, with funding from oil revenues. And as in other states where oil dominates the economy, Qatar's fortunes have followed those of the world oil market. The late 1980s and early 1990s were times of relative austerity, with development projects canceled or delayed. But those years were also a period of significant transition when Qatar began its shift from an economy reliant almost entirely on oil to one that would be supported by the exploitation of natural gas from the North Field, the world's largest natural gas field.

The early 1990s also constituted a watershed period in foreign relations because the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on August 2, 1990, changed regional and world alignments. Qatar sent troops to fight for Kuwait's liberation and, reversing its previous opposition to the presence of foreign forces in the region, permitted United States, Canadian, and French air force fighter aircraft to operate from Doha (also seen as Ad Dawhah). This placed Qatar firmly on the anti-Iraq side of the great rift that split the Arab world after the invasion and weakened the full support for the Palestine Liberation Organization that the country had previously shown.

Qatars political system is evolving from a traditional tribal system towards a more modern, democratic one. The pace of political reform, along with wider economic and social development, has accelerated since the present Emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, replaced his father in a bloodless coup in 1995. 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.

Under the Emir, Qatar has experienced a notable amount of sociopolitical liberalisation, including the endorsement of womens right to vote, drafting a new constitution and the launch of Al Jazeera, a leading Arabic and English news source which operates a website and satellite television news channel. The Emir appointed Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, his son, as Heir Apparent in 2003 and in April 2007, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani as Prime Minister, while also continuing to act as Minister of Foreign Affairs.



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