Qatar may be one of the richest countries in the world, per capita, but until the discovery of oil and natural gas in the mid 20th century it was one of the poorest countries in the Middle East.
Most Qataris made their living from pearl-fishing or sea-fishing, and until the early 1970’s, the country had spent centuries moving between different ruling countries.
In 1825 the Ottomans, who controlled most of Arabia at the time, elevated Sheik Thani Bid Muhammed to the role of Sheikh of Qatar. The Al Thani family have ruled Qatar since that time and is remains an absolute monarchy, albeit first under the Ottomans and then as a British Protectorate when the Turks withdrew from Doha in 1916.
The British Protectorate Agreement lasted for 75 years, during which time Doha – along with other Gulf cities – suffered extreme economic problems. As the Japanese industry of cultured pearls grew, so the pearl-fishing industry suffered, and many Qataris lived in extreme poverty, in spite of the discovery of oil and natural gas reserves. Britain’s involvement in WWII diverted its attention from its Middle East concerns, leaving Qatar to wallow in a decade of economic gloom.
Finally in 1949, oil and gas production began and by the 1960’s Doha was one of the wealthiest cities in the region. Due to the conservatism of the ruling Emir, the country remained largely undeveloped and as the period as an English protectorate began to draw to a close, Qatar agreed to join the other eight states (the present day UAE and Bahrain) to form a union of Arab Emirates.
By the time the Protectorate came to an end in 1971, the nine states still had not agreed on terms of the union. Qatar withdrew and announced its independence on September 3 1971, with Doha as its official capital city.
In 1995, the Deputy Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa deposed his father in a bloodless coup and was widely credited with moving the country towards a more democratic and open society. It's now a super wealthy country - and one that is predicted to attract increasingly more attention in the future.
Did you know?
• Doha's first hospital only opened in 1947. Prior to this, Qataris had to travel overseas for medical help.
• A project is underway to uncover the remains of a late 18th century settlement beneath the city's Al Bidda Park.
• In the 19th century, a former ruler told to pay a fine to the British for enabling piracy wasn't able to stump up the cash and instead handed over a booty which included silver and gold jewellery and two daggers.