The State of Qatar is one of the most exciting countries in the Middle East, with the population predominantly young, the economy expanding, and the pace of modernization quickening every year. A member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC Countries), Qatar has hosted meetings of the World Trade Organization and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It is the home of Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel and of the Qatar Foundation’s Education City, one of the most ambitious and far-reaching centers for education and research in the Middle East. For centuries, economic activity centered on camel breeding, fishing and pearl diving. In the twentieth century, the economy was transformed by the discovery of oil and, later on, of vast reserves of gas off the northeast coast. Qatar has the largest non-associated gas field yet discovered, and is now a major exporter of liquefied natural gas and condensates. The country is forecast to have the highest per capita income in the world within the next few years. With economic prosperity came the development of a modern infrastructure: transport and telecommunication links, schools, hospitals and public health clinics. The University of Qatar was founded in 1973. Once the Father Emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani assumed power in 1995, the pace of change accelerated:
- Industrial complexes expanded, and there was a boom in the construction of housing, hotels, shopping complexes and sports facilities. Qatar hosted the Asian Games in 2006.
- The first elections were held in 1999 for members of the Central Municipal Council (CMC), which has an advisory and monitoring role. Women could both vote and stand as candidates, and in 2003 the first woman member of the CMC took her seat.
- A Constitution guaranteeing a number of important rights was adopted following a referendum, the first in the country’s history, in 2003.
- Qatar’s first woman Minister, H.E. Sheikha Al-Mahmoud was appointed Minister of Education in 2003. Other Qatari women hold posts in international (e.g. U.N.), regional and national organizations.
- Educational reform became a priority. Qatar has begun a major overhaul of the schools system and curriculum, under the aegis of RAND-Qatar Policy Institute
Following Ottoman rule, Qatar became a British protectorate in the early 20th century until gaining independence in 1971. Qatar has been ruled by the Al Thani family since the mid-19th century. Qatar is an absolute monarchy and its head of state is HH Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Qatar is the world’s richest country per capita and has the highest human development in the Arab World; furthermore, it is recognized as a high income economy by the World Bank. Qatar has the world’s third largest natural gas reserves and oil reserves in excess of 25 billion barrels. Qatar has become an influential player in the Arab world. Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, becoming the first Arab country to host the event. Although tiny, Qatar wields significant clout. Qatar’s rising international profile has led some analysts to identify it as a middle power.