History of Qatar

Early and Pre-Islamic History

There is evidence of human habitation in Qatar as early as the 5th or 6th centuries B.C. The Greek historian, Herodotus, refers to the seafaring Canaanites as the original inhabitants of Qatar. And the ancient geographer, Ptolemy, showed in his map of the Arab world a town believed to be the present Qatari town of Zubarah. Danish, French and British expeditions have discovered inscriptions, rock carvings and fine pottery in the peninsula.

Qatar embraced Islam in the middle of the 7th century A.D. and since that time, it has been noticed regularly in the accounts of Arab historians and writers. The country was famed for its fine striped woven cloaks, known as Qatari cloaks, and for the excellence of spears made in the country.

First signs of human habitation in the Qatar peninsula date from 4000BC. Archaeological expeditions in the sixties and seventies found rock carvings and sets of pottery that indicate human presence at that time. Qatar also appears on ancient maps, a clear sign that travelers and explorers alike knew of the presence of civilized settlements in this location. Some historical texts indicate that the first inhabitants of Qatar are the ancient Canaanites, who are known for their trade and navigation skills.

The strategic location of Qatar on the Arabian Gulf was the main reason for the seasonal migration of Arab tribes from the Arabian Peninsula and particularly from the Nejd desert. When the ancient Mediterranean flourished with many civilizations, the Arabian Gulf area, with its strategic location, found commercial prosperity. The several fishing centres and pearl trading such as Al Zubara, Al Bida Al Khor and Al Wakra. Due to the concentration of trade in the red sea area during the Roman era, the Gulf suffered from a commercial decline, but from the third century AD the area regained its important trading position.

Islamic Period

Following the appearance of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar started to play a key role starting from the mid seventh century AD. It had an important role in the campaign to spread Islam beyond the seas. Historical document indicate that Qatar was especially renowned for the skill of its people in weaving and cloth making as well as for the quality of its horses and camels.

During the Abbasid period Qatar thrived and had excellent relations with the Caliphs in Baghdad; artifacts from the Abbasid period were discovered in Moab fort in western Qatar.

The Ottoman Period

Qatar fell under the influence of the Portuguese at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Portuguese succeeded in establishing control over many areas in the Arabian Gulf and managed later to control trade and navigation. However, the Ottomans managed to expel the Portuguese in 1538 AD and Qatar, like other areas in the Gulf, came under the Ottoman sovereignty for about four centuries, but the real power remained in the hands of the local sheikhs due to the Ottoman sovereignty being mostly a formal one.

The British

British initially sought out Qatar and the Persian Gulf as an intermediary vantage point en route to their colonial interests in India, although the discovery of oil and other hydrocarbons in the early twentieth century would re-invigorate their interest. During the nineteenth century, the time of Britain’s formative ventures into the region, the Al Khalifa clan reigned over the Northern Qatari peninsula from the nearby island of Bahrain to the west. Although Qatar had the legal status of a dependency, resentment festered against the Bahraini Al Khalifas along the eastern seaboard of the Qatari peninsula. In 1867, the Al Khalifas launched a successful effort to quash the Qatari rebels sending a massive naval force to Wakrah. However, the Bahraini aggression was in violation on the 1820 Anglo-Bahraini Treaty. The diplomatic response of the British to this violation set into motion the political forces that would eventuate in the founding of the state of Qatar. In addition to censuring Bahrain for its breach of agreement, the British Protectorate (per Colonel Lewis Pelly) asked to negotiate with a representative from Qatar. The request carried with it a tacit recognition of Qatar’s status as distinct from Bahrain. The Qataris chose as their negotiator the respected entrepreneur and long-time resident of Doha, Muhammed bin Thani. His clan, the Al Thanis, had taken relatively little part in Persian Gulf politics, but the diplomatic foray ensured their participation in the movement towards independence and their dominion as the future ruling family, a dynasty that continues to this day. The results of the negotiations left Qatar with a new-found sense of political selfhood, although it did not gain official standing as a British protectorate until 1916.

Modern History

The reach of the British Empire diminished after the Second World War,especially following Indian independence in 1947. Pressure for a British withdrawal from the Arab emirates in the Persian Gulf increased during the 1950s, and the British welcomed Kuwait’s declaration of independence in 1961. When Britain officially announced in 1968 that it would disengage politically, though not economically, from the Persian Gulf in three years’ time, Qatar joined Bahrain and seven other Trucial States in a federation. Regional disputes however, quickly compelled Qatar to resign and declare independence from the coalition that would evolve into the seven-imarat United Arab Emirates. In 1971, Qatar became an independent sovereign state.

Since 1995, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani has ruled Qatar, seizing control of the country from his father Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani while the latter vacationed in Switzerland. Under Emir Hamad, Qatar has experienced a notable amount of sociopolitical liberalisation, including the enfranchisement of women, a new constitution, and the launch of Al Jazeera, the controversial Arabic language satellite television news channel. Qatar ranks as the eleventh richest country in the world per capita.

Qatar served as the headquarters and one of the main launching sites of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In 2005, a suicide-bombing killed a British teacher at the Doha Players Theatre, shocking a country that had not previously experienced acts of terrorism. It is not clear that the bombing was committed by an organised terrorist group, and although the investigation is ongoing there are indications that the attack was the work of an individual, not a group.

The United States Armed Forces Unified Combatant Command unit for the Middle East theatre, known as CENTCOM (US Central Command), has its headquarters in Qatar. Qatar also hosts a large United States Air Force base.

Qatar held the West Asian Games in 2005. Qatar also hosted the fifteenth Asian Games in December 2006.


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