POPULATION: 907,000 (2007)
LANGUAGE: Arabic; English
RELIGION: Islam (Sunni Muslim)
Qataris live on a small peninsula that juts into the Persian Gulf, in the Middle East. Qatar is one of the "oil states," a country that moved quickly from poverty to riches with the discovery of oil reserves. There is archaeological evidence that the land now known as Qatar was inhabited by humans as long ago as 5000 bc. Pearling in the oyster beds just off shore began back in 300 bc, and continued to be Qataris' main source of income until the early 20th century. The Islamic revolution arrived in Qatar in ad 630, and all Qataris converted to Islam. For most of its history, Qatar was a sparsely populated land whose people followed three different lifestyles: some Qataris were fishers in the Gulf; others made their living through pearling; and the rest were Bedu (or Bedouin) nomads (seeBedu ). The modern state of Qatar can perhaps be said to have begun when the Arab tribe of Utub settled there around 1766. The years following their arrival were marked by constant shifts in power between two ruling families: the al Khalifa family, who are now the ruling family of Bahrain; and the al Jalahima family. Other forces who were involved in these centuries of conflict include the Sultan of Oman, Wahhabi Muslims from Saudi Arabia, the Persians, and the Ottoman Turks. When Britain made its treaties with other Gulf states (which then became known as the Trucial States), Bahrain and Qatar were left out because Britain did not want to get involved in the conflicts between them. Qatar, therefore, became a stronghold for the pirates that terrorized the Gulf at that time.
After a series of naval battles between Bahrain and Qatar (initiated by Bahrain) in 1867-68, Britain decided it was in their best interests to try to negotiate a settlement between them. In this settlement, the al Thani family were established as the rulers of Qatar, which they continue to be to this day.
The Ottoman Turks occupied Qatar in 1871 and stayed until August 1915. As soon as they left, Qatar began to negotiate a protective treaty with Britain, and officially became one of the Trucial States in November 1916. When Japan developed the cultured pearl in the late 1920s, Qatar's economy sank. Cultured pearls were a much easier way to obtain pearls than diving for them in the wild oyster beds, so demand for Qatar's wild pearls fell drastically. The Qatari people lived in great poverty for the next two decades, until oil was discovered. World War II (1939-45) delayed production of the oil for a few years, until 1947. Since that time, Qataris have become some of the wealthiest people in the world. Qatar became fully independent on 3 September 1971.
Toward the end of the 20th century, Qatar began establishing itself as a reforming, democratizing force among the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE). The country allows no political parties, but does sponsor regional conferences on civil liberties and does allow elections to regional councils. These reforms were mostly driven by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, who overthrew his father in a bloodless coup in 1995. He introduced municipal elections in 1999 and a new constitution enacted in 2005 created a national assembly, one third of whose members are appointed by the emir.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Qatar is a small peninsula that juts due north into the Arabian (or Persian) Gulf. The peninsula is about 160 km (100 mi) long, and 88 km (55 mi) across at its widest point. The total area is 11,437 sq km (4,427 sq mi), which is about the size of the US states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. The north, east, and west sides of the peninsula are bordered by the Gulf waters. To the south lie Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar and Bahrain have long disputed ownership of the Hawar Islands, which lie between the two states.
The climate in Qatar is generally hot and dry. In the winter months it gets somewhat cooler, but much more humid. Temperatures can go as high as 43°c (110°f) in the summer (between May and October). In the winter, the humidity can reach 100%. A hot desert wind, or shamal, blows almost constantly all year long, bringing with it frequent sand- and duststorms. There is very little rainfall, only 7.5 cm (3 in) per year on average, all of which falls during the winter months. Qatar's terrain is flat, with some sand dunes in the southeast. There are also extensive salt flats in the south, indicating that the land there was once under the sea, making Qatar an island in the remote past.Little plant or animal life exists in Qatar, beyond hardy forms of desert life, such as thorn bushes, cacti, and scrub grass; insects, spiders, and some butterflies; and lizards, snakes, and scorpions. Mammals in the desert include fox, rabbits, hedgehogs, gerbils and other rodents, and bats. The Gulf waters support a greater amount and variety of life. Sea turtles, sea cows, dolphins, and an occasional whale can be found there, as well as a myriad of fish. Shrimp are harvested in large numbers as well. Flamingoes flock along the shores, along with other sea and shore birds. The Arabian, or white, oryx is almost extinct in the wild but is being bred in captivity in Qatar and elsewhere. The same is true for the gazelle.
The human population of Qatar is about 907,000. Of those, at least three-fourths are foreign workers. There are only about 173,000 native-born Qataris. Most people in Qatar live in the cities; 80% of the total population lives in the capital city of Doha. Doha is on the east coast of the Qatar peninsula, as are most of the larger towns and cities.
The official language of Qatar is Arabic, the native language of native-born Qataris. Many Qataris are also fluent in English, which is used as the common language for business transactions, etc.
Arabic, spoken by 100 million people worldwide, has many dialects which are very distinctive, so that people living as little as 500 km (300 mi) apart may not be able to understand one another. The written form of Arabic is called Classical Arabic, or, for today's literature and press, Modern Standard Arabic. It is the same for all literate Arabs, regardless of how different their spoken forms are. Arabic is written from right to left in a unique alphabet which has no distinction between upper and lower cases. It is not necessary for the letters to be written on a straight line, as English letters must be. Punctuation conventions are also quite different from English.
Arabic speakers tend to use emotional appeal, exaggeration, repetition, and words instead of action (for example, making threats with no intention to follow through on them). Th ey are more interested in the poetry of the language than in communicating "cold, hard facts." "Hello" in Arabic is Marhaba or Ahlan, to which one replies, Marhabtayn or Ahlayn. Other common greetings are As-salam alaykum, "Peace be with you," with the reply of Walaykum as-salam, "And to you peace." Ma'assalama means "Goodbye." "Thank you" is Shukran, and "You're welcome" is Afwhan. "Yes" is na'am and "no" is la'a. The numbers 1 to 10 in Arabic are wahad, itnin, talata, arba'a, khamsa, sitta, saba'a, tamania, tisa'a, and ashara.
Arabs have very long names, consisting of their given name, their father's name, their paternal grandfather's name, and finally their family name. Women do not take their husband's name when they marry, but rather keep their mother's family name as a show of respect for their family of origin. Given names usually indicate an Arab's religious affiliation: Muslims use names with Islamic religious significance, such as Muhammad and Fatima, whereas Christians often use Western names.
Many Muslims believe in jinns, spirits who can change shape and be either visible or invisible. Muslims sometimes wear amulets around their necks to protect them from jinns. Stories of jinns are often told at night, like ghost stories around a campfire.
At least 95% of the total population of Qatar is Muslim, and native-born Qataris are mostly of the Sunni branch of Islam and adhere to a modified, slightly less conservative branch of Wahhabism, the fundamentalist and puritanical branch of Islam that is prevalent in Saudi Arabia.
As an Islamic state, Qatar's official holidays are Islamic ones. Muslim holidays follow the lunar calendar, moving back by 11 days each year, so their dates are not fixed on the standard Gregorian calendar. The main Muslim holidays are Ramadan, the month of fasting from dawn until dusk each day; Ayd Al-Fitr, a three-day festival at the end of Ramadan; Ayd Al-Adha, a three-day feast of sacrifice at the end of the month of pilgrimage to Mecca (known as the Hajj; the First of Muharram, or the Muslim New Year; Mawoulid An-Nabawi, the Prophet Muhammad's birthday; and Ayd Al-ism wa Al-Miraj, a feast celebrating the nocturnal visit of Muhammad to Jerusalem. Friday is the Islamic day of rest, so most businesses and services are closed on Fridays. All government offices, private businesses, and schools are also closed during Ayd Al-Fitr and Ayd Al-Adha.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Qataris mark major life transitions such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death with Islamic ceremonies and feasting.
Arab hospitality reigns in Qatar. An Arab will never ask personal questions, as that is considered rude. It is expected that a person will say what he or she wishes, without being asked. A direct refusal is also considered rude, so one must learn to read the indirect signals that are given. Food and drink are always taken with the right hand because the left hand is used for "unclean" purposes, such as wiping oneself after using the toilet. When talking, Arabs touch each other much more often, and stand much closer together, than Westerners do. People of the same sex will often hold hands while talking, even if they are virtual strangers. (Members of the opposite sex, even married couples, never touch in public.) Arabs talk a lot, talk loudly, repeat themselves often, and interrupt each other constantly. Conversations are highly emotional and full of gestures.
Qatar has engaged in a rapid modernization program since the 1970s, when income from the oil industry rose dramatically. All villages and towns can now be reached by paved roads which are well-maintained. The constantly growing population in the cities leads to a continual campaign of expansion and road construction, so travel there is sometimes delayed. There is little public transportation available in Qatar, so nearly everyone drives a car. Housing, utilities, and communication services are all modern. Health care is up-to-date and free to all Qataris. Health clinics, both public and private, are located throughout the peninsula so that medical care is readily available to all. The general health of Qataris is good, although there are some problems with rat and insect control—and their accompanying diseases—in the larger cities.
The two largest cities, the capital city of Doha and the west-coast city of Umm Said, have a water-main system that provides running water to all residents. In other places, water is delivered by tankers and stored in water tanks in gardens or on roofs, or is pumped into homes from deep-water wells. All foreign workers are provided with free housing. Even the formerly nomadic Bedu (or Bedouin) now live in air-conditioned villas built by the government. The government also provides social welfare programs for the sick, elderly, and disabled.
Qatar's population increased rapidly in the 1990s and early in the first decades of the 21st century. This has caused some housing shortages but the country is rapidly building new housing and is even allowing some foreign ownership in newly developed properties.
The family is the central unit of Qatari society. Qataris are only recently removed from a tribal way of life, so tribal values and customs still prevail.
Qataris wear traditional Arab clothing. For men, this is an ankle-length robe called a thobe or dishdasha, with a ghutrah (a large piece of cloth) on the head which is held in place by an uqal (a woven piece of rope). Women tend to wear very colorful long-sleeved, ankle-length dresses, with a black silk cloak called an abaya covering them completely in public. Some older Qatari women still wear a face mask, called a batula, but this custom is dying out.
Rice is a staple food for Qataris. It is usually fried (or sautéed) first, then boiled. Saffron is often added during the frying stage to make the rice yellow. Bread is served at almost every meal, especially pita bread (known in Qatar as khubus arabi). Hummus, a spread made from ground chickpeas, is also eaten at most meals. Hamour, a type of fish caught in the Gulf, is frequently served baked, or cooked with rice. Mutton (sheep) is the favorite meat—pork is forbidden by Islam (as is alcohol). Shellfish, particularly shrimp which are caught in great numbers off Qatar's shores, is a popular dish. Tea and coffee are the beverages of choice. Tea is never drunk with milk added, and coffee is always made from Turkish beans and is often flavored with saffron, rosewater, or cardamom. Coffee and tea are usually sweetened with sugar.
Education is highly valued by Qataris. Attendance at primary and secondary schools is 98%, and the literacy rate is more than 65% and rising. In the public school system, which was established in 1956, education is compulsory from age 6 to age 16 and it is free all the way through university-level. The government even provides full scholarships (including travel costs) for university students who wish to study abroad. Over 40,000 students, both boys and girls, are enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and another 400 or so study in vocational training institutes and religious schools. Adult education was introduced in 1957, and 40 adult education centers now provide literacy courses to about 5,000 adult students. Qatar University was founded in 1973 and offers state-of-the-art degree programs in many subjects. Computer courses are required for all university students, as is physical education.
Qatar has been developing an international hub of higher education since early in the 21st century. By 2008 the country hosted branch campuses of such US universities as Cornell, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Texas A&M.
Arab music is much like the Arab language—rich, repetitive, and exaggerated. The oud is a popular instrument; it is an ancient stringed instrument that is the ancestor of the European lute. Another traditional instrument is the rebaba, a one-stringed instrument. A traditional Arab dance is the ardha, or men's sword dance. Men carrying swords stand shoulder to shoulder and dance, and from among them a poet sings verses while drummers beat out a rhythm.
Islam forbids the depiction of the human form, so Qatari art focuses on geometric and abstract shapes. Calligraphy is a sacred art, with the Quran being the primary subject matter. Muslim art finds its greatest expression in mosques. The Islamic reverence for poetry and the poetic richness of the Arabic language inform much of Qatar's cultural heritage.
The most profitable industry in Qatar is the oil industry, and natural gas production. The government runs both. Other industries include cement, power plants, desalinization plants (making drinking water out of sea water by removing the salt), petrochemicals, steel, and fertilizer. The government is trying to encourage private industry by offering grants, low-interest loans, and exemption from customs duties to private entrepreneurs. There is almost no agriculture in Qatar, although irrigation systems are being developed to increase the amount of arable land. Fishing continues to be a way of life for many Qataris, one that they have followed for millennia.
Qataris love outdoor sports, both on land and on water. Football ("soccer" in the US) has become the most popular sport, although auto-racing is also a favorite. Basketball, handball, and volleyball are modern sports that are beginning to catch on in Qatar. Ten-pin bowling and golf are also enjoyed by some Qataris. The traditional sports of horse- and camel-racing and falconry are still pursued passionately in Qatar.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Qataris enjoy playing chess, bridge, and darts. Tea shops and coffee houses are popular spots for socializing. Most are inside malls due to the intense heat of the Persian Gulf. Going to the movies is a very popular pastime as is simply driving around. Most modern Qataris have free time and considerable amounts of disposable income (the country has the fifth highest per capita income in the world, higher than the US) and the streets and mall and cinema parking lots are overflowing with the best luxury automobiles in the world.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
The national government generously subsidizes folk arts such as rug making and basket-weaving. Goldsmithing is an ancient art among Qataris that continues to be practiced today. Folk music is also performed in Qatar. The National Th eater produces both Arabic and English language productions at a modern performance space in Doha.
The rapid modernization of Qatar in the last few decades has created a huge generation gap between the pre-oil boom elders and the post-oil boom young people. Older people who grew up in Qatar before oil wealth made modernization possible do not understand or like many of the changes that modernization has brought about. Th ey often lament the loss of the "good old days." Young people, on the other hand, have grown up in the more-industrialized era of high technology and are comfortable with it, seeing only the benefits and none of the losses. The two generations often find it very difficult to communicate with each other.
Qatar is a politically and religiously moderate country, but there was at least one incident of a terrorist bombing in Doha in 2005. A British citizen was killed outside of a theater in Doha. The bombing occurred on the second anniversary of the US invasion of neighboring Iraq. The US maintains an enormous military presence in Qatar. The US Central Command is headquartered there and this has caused some unease among some Qataris due to the great unpopularity of the US occupation of Iraq.
The rights of women in Qatar are limited by Islamic teachings and Arab tradition. The wife of the emir, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned, has been a strong advocate for women's rights in the country. Qatar is one of a very few Arab countries with a personal status law, passed in 2007, which codifies personal and family law in such areas as divorce, inheritance, and child custody. Women in Qatar have the right to divorce their husbands and the 2007 personal status law also ended the ancient tradition of "temporary marriage." Women are represented in the government to a greater degree than in other Gulf countries but their participation is low by Western standards.
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—revised by J. Henry