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Qatar: Country and Foreign Investment

History, Population, Language and Culture

This page was last updated on 26 October 2020.


In the 5th century BC, Greek historian Herodotus described the original inhabitants of the peninsula as the Canaanites, who were renowned for their seafaring and trading skills. Ptolemy also made reference to ‘Qatara’ on his map, indicating the peninsular as an important trade link connecting the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia.

However, the country remained sparsely inhabited until the mid-1700s, when the Al-Thani family of fishers and pearl divers are thought to have arrived from Arabia. In 1766 the Al-Khalifa family from Kuwait arrived. Though they were driven from Qatar by the Persians in 1783, they held some influence over Qatar until the mid-1800s.

The Al-Khalifa family controlled pearl fishing, the mainstay industry of the time, though there was often tension with the Al-Thanis. Doha was established as the capital of the region, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Al-Thani positioned himself as emir, later signing a treaty with the British in 1867 to protect him from the Al-Khalifa family.

In 1872, under the rule of Qassim Al-Thani, Qatar came under the control of the Ottoman Empire, under a treaty signed with the Turks. In what was often a tense relationship, the Ottomans retained control until 1916, when Qatar became a British protectorate.

Around 1930, the pearl market collapsed under the weight of Japan’s dominant cultured pearl industry and the Great Depression. However, oil was discovered in 1939, although oil production did not begin until 1949, delayed by World War II. Britain left the region in 1971; on 1 September of that year, Qatar declared independence.

On 27 June 1995, the then ruler, Khalifa bin Hamad Al-Thani – who himself had deposed the previous emir in a palace coup – was dethroned by his son, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani in a bloodless coup. The emir revised the constitution to include provisions for an elected parliament. The first elections were held in May 1998, and notably women were allowed to run for office and vote. A new constitution has since been approved, under which a 45-member parliament was established, of whom 30 members are elected.

On 25 June 2013, Hamad stepped down in favour of his son Tamim, who continues to rule.

Population and Language

Qatar has a population of just over 2.8 million (October 2020 estimate). Of this, approximately 40% are Arab, 18% Indian, 18% Pakistani, and 10% Iranian, with 14% making up other ethnic groups. The principal religion is Islam. Men outnumber women by around three to one; this is due to the number of foreign workers (estimated at 85% of the population and 90% of the workforce. Arabic is the official language of Qatar, although English is widely spoken.


The principal religion is Islam, which was introduced to Qatar in the mid-7th century AD.
The Qatari people are made up of tribes of related families, each with its own distinctive dress, customs and speech. Traditionally, marriage occurred within the tribe, usually as a matter of family and business, although arranged marriages have generally fallen out of favour. Further, the emphasis now is for girls to pursue an education rather than marry young, as used to be the case.

The emir has initiated programs to promote Qatar’s cultural heritage, including museums and libraries, institutes for the performing and creative arts, and support for local handicrafts and boat building.



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