What is Qatar? Sure, you may have heard it mentioned in the news, but how much do you actually know about it?
What is Qatar?
Qatar is a small country in Western Asia, located on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. A peninsula itself, Qatar has only one land border, which it shares with Saudi Arabia. The rest of the country is surrounded by the Persian Gulf.
Despite being only 4,471 square miles, Qatar wields a great deal of influence in the region and the rest of the world. The country is considered a “middle power”, with its high-income economy supported by the world’s third-largest natural-gas reserves, and plenty of oil.
Recently, Qatar has been making a lot of headlines – both good and bad. In December, 2010, Qatar was selected as the host nation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. If you follow soccer at all, you know that hosting this event is a really big deal. However, Qatar’s selection would be overshadowed by rumors of corruption regarding how it won the right to host.
Furthermore, in June, 2017, several Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt, all cut of diplomatic ties with Qatar. This came amongst accusations that Qatar was a state-sponsor of terrorism, and that country had intervened in internal affairs of its neighbors.
History of Qatar
Qatar has been inhabited for thousands of years. It is believed humans first arrived in the region some 50,000 years ago, and Stone Age settlements and tools have been found throughout the peninsula.
Much of Qatar’s early history was marked by different empires competing for influence in the area. In the 7th century, the people of Qatar were first introduced to Islam, after the Islamic prophet Muhammad sent a military envoy to the regional governor, inviting him to accept Islam, as he had done in other kingdoms and empires in the region.
Qatar would become a center of pearl trading in the 8th century, and would continue to be fought over by various powers. In 1871, Qatar came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, before becoming a British protectorate in 1916 following the outbreak of World War I.
In 1940, oil was discovered in Qatar, a development that would bring greater prosperity, increased immigration, and more social freedoms throughout the following decades. Qatar would declare their independence in 1971.
Towards the end of the 20th century, Qatar took steps to become a more democratic nation, holding their first elections, allowing more liberal press, and making many social reforms. In 2003, Qatar served as a launching site for the US-led invasion of Iraq, helping to strengthen relations with the West.
Today, the country is home to some 2.7 million people, with non-Arab foreigners making up the majority of Qatar’s population. Oil money funds a heavily subsidized country, and many services in Qatar are free. In fact, Qatar has the highest GDP per capita in the world.
However, recently, Qatar has been making headlines for the wrong reasons. The Qatar Diplomatic Crisis began in June of 2017, when several countries suddenly cut ties with the country. This led to the withdrawal of ambassadors in Qatar, and trade and travel bans.
The roots of this crisis stem from an ongoing rivalry between Qatar and Saudi Arabia over influence in the region. Sometimes called the Second Arab Cold War, this struggle dates back to the Arab Spring in 2010. Saudi Arabia and company asserts that Qatar supports terrorism. Qatar acknowledges that it has provided assistance to some Islamic organizations, like the Muslim Brotherhood, but denies any connection to extremist groups like al-Qaeda or ISIL. The Saudi-led coalition has also taken issue with Qatar’s relations with Iran.
Qatar, however, continues to emphasize the fact that they have played a key role in the United States’ War on Terror.
There currently remains a lot of uncertainty about how this will get resolved, but the negative headlines have cast a bit of a dark cloud over Qatar, especially with the 2022 World Cup approaching.
Qatar applied to host the World Cup in 2010, amidst its oil boom and growing riches. The country was ultimately be selected to host the 2022 event. It will mark the first time the World Cup has been held in the Middle East, and the first time in an Arab and a Muslim-majority country.
While Qatar certainly has the financial means to host the cup, accusations have been made against the country, implicating them in a corruption scandal centered on the host application and awarding process. FIFA officials have threatened to withdraw eligibility if bribery was committed. While the bid has not been officially removed, further evidence appeared in February of 2018, indicating vote-buying by the country, as well as accusations of poor migrant working conditions.