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The History of Qatar

posted on: May 19, 2021

Qatar. Photo: Arab News

By: Christian Jimenez/Arab America Contributing Writer

Qatar is one of the richest and most prosperous countries in the Middle East today, and with one of the highest GDP per capita of any other nation.  And while the country’s wealth and oil are interesting facts about the region, it is the history of Qatar that should be attracting your attention. The peninsula has had a long and interesting story, and it’s important to understand where Qatar came from before it became the powerhouse they are known for today.

Prehistory to the 18th Century in the Gulf

Map of the Arabian Gulf by

The location of the nation of Qatar is attached to the largest peninsula on Earth, the Arabian Peninsula.  This nation has had a long history stretching back millennia. They were the first human habitation of the area over 50,000 years ago, and it would also be home to many ancient cultures such as the Al Ubaid culture around 5000 B.C.E.   Qatar would be ruled by different empires, such as the Persians. They would eventually embrace Islam under the caliphates of the Rashidun, the Umayyads, and the Abbasids.  However, after the Abbasids, the country would be ruled by the Qarmatians who were an Ismaili group that controlled most of Eastern Arabia after the weakening of the Abbasids in the 9th century. 

The Uyunids and the Usfurids, who controlled most of the Persian Gulf during the 11th and 15th centuries followed the reign of ruling over the area.  After, some parts of the region, such as Bahrain , would be controlled by the Portuguese during the 15th and 16th centuries.  By the 16th century the Ottomans would be the dominant power of the Persian Gulf until weakening by the 19th and 20th centuries. 

The nation would be occupied by many different Arabian tribes. During the 18th century, the Al-Khalifa and the Al-Jalahama of the greater Bani Utbah tribe emigrated from Kuwait into northern Qatar and founded the town of Az-Zubarah.  Due to their origin in Kuwait, Qatar had many connections and trading relations, eventually making them famous for their pearls, as pearl diving was the main industry back in the day before the discovery of oil.  However, the tribe would soon be disrupted by attacks from the Persians.  This attack led the Al-Khalifa to capture the Omani territory of Bahrain in 1783, and they would rule parts of Qatar and Bahrain from Az-Zubarah.  This outcome soon angered the Al-Jalahma, who were angry due to the lack of the spoils of war and moved to build Al-Khuwayr

Meanwhile, the Al-Khalifa completed their move to Bahrain with their center of power of Manama, and it is where they continue to rule to this day. There was still the conflict between the al-Khalifa and the al-Jamahima, and this fighting over Bahrain and Qatar would also include the Iranians, the Omanis, the Wahhabis, and the Ottomans.  This was also a time when the British power power began to rise in the region of the Persian Gulf. The Al-Khalifa would try to keep Qatar under its suzerainty. The Az-Zubarah and the Al-Jalahma would also still be involved on the peninsula as short lived sheiks in parts of the country.  The most famous amongst them was that of Rahmah ibn Jabir Al-Jalahma, who was known by the British as the most powerful pirate in the Persian Gulf during this time.

The Al-Thani and Modern Qatar

Image of Modern Day Doha by

However, another tribe that also settled in Qatar around this time was that of the Al-Thanis.  During the 18th century, the Al-Khalifa and the people living in Qatar still disputed over Az-Zubarah, which then led the British to recognize Qatar’s independence from Bahrain under the rule of the Al-Thanis in a treaty signed between Muhammad ibn Thani and the British in 1868.  After this, other foreign powers would try to occupy Qatar, such as the Ottomans in 1871 after conquering the neighboring Al-Hasa region of modern day Saudi Arabia, and then the Saudis would have a go at it around 1913.  These events led Qatar’s ruler to sign another treaty with the British around 1916, making Qatar a British protectorate.  It would be under this British protectorate that the Qataris would sign a concession deal with the Iraq Petroleum Company in 1935. They would later discover oil in the area, but it wouldn’t be commercially viable until around 1950. 

Qatar would then gain independence from the British in 1971, which was around a similar time frame for the independence of most of the other Gulf states.  Soon, Qatar would also join the Gulf Cooperation Council and enjoy the oil wealth that it has today.  Qatar would become a major regional player in the region, thanks to their news network, Al-Jazeera, which is one of the most popular news sites in the Arab World. 

Qatar had some ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and was a general supporter of the Arab Spring protests happening in the Arab World around that time.  However, they would soon be involved in a conflict with the Saudis, Bahrainis, and Emiratis over their supposed ties to the Iranians, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their support for the Arab Spring protests leading to the diplomatic crisis. 

Today Qatar is still a wealthy and an influential nation and is one of America’s key allies in the region. They are the home to oil and natural gas reserves, Al-Jazeera, and soon the 2021 World Cup taking place in their capital of Doha.  Hopefully, Qatar and the other states of the Arab World, can foster more unity and create a more peaceful Middle East.

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