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Qatar History, Language and Culture
History of Qatar
Qatar may be the richest country in the world per capita, but until the discovery of oil and natural gas in the mid-20th century most Qataris made their living from pearl fishing.
Until the 1970s the country had spent centuries under the control of different ruling nations. In 1825 the Ottomans, who controlled most of Arabia, elevated Sheikh Thani Bin Mohammed to the role of Sheikh of Qatar. The Al Thani family have ruled Qatar since that time and it remains an absolute monarchy, albeit first under the Ottomans and then as a British Protectorate when the Turks withdrew 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 pearl industry expanded, Qatar’s pearl fishing industry suffered and many Qataris lived in extreme poverty, in spite of the discovery of vast oil and natural gas reserves. WWII diverted Britain’s 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 1960s 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 British 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 and Qatar withdrew, announcing its independence on 3 September 1971, with Doha as its capital city.
In 1995, Deputy Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, deposed his father in a bloodless coup. An unsuccessful counter-coup was staged in 1996, but Sheik Hamad remains the ruler of Qatar and is widely credited with the country’s move towards a more democratic society. Issues remain, however: non-government organisations have raised the alarm over Qatar’s human rights record and its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are building stadiums for the controversial 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Did you know?
• Sharia law is the principal source of Qatari legislation, which affords legal status to punishments such as flogging and stoning.
• In 2014 a modesty campaign was launched to advise female tourists not to wear mini skirts, sleeveless dresses, leggings and short or tight clothing in public.
• Qatar spends more on art than any other nation in the world.
Religion in Qatar
At least 95% of Qataris are Sunni Muslims, from the Wahhabi sect of Islam.
Social Conventions in Qatar
Beneath the surface of consumerism and western images, Qatar is an extremely traditional country and it’s important to observe some local courtesies. Outside western hotels, it’s respectful for women to cover knees and shoulders, while men should generally wear a shirt and trousers. When Arab men meet they usually exchange a handshake, and while this is extended to western men, it is rare for an Arab man to shake hands with a western woman. When taking photographs, seek permission before taking photos of people and be cautious taking pictures in public.
At business and social functions, traditional Qatari coffee is served as part of the ritual welcome. Guests are served in order of seniority - a few drops are poured before topping up the cups of the remaining party. Cups must be held in the right hand: accept two cups - taking only one cup will embarrass the host; taking more than three will embarrass everybody else. Never pass or receive items with the left hand.
Language in Qatar
Arabic is the official language. English is widely spoken.