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Qatar: Country and Foreign Investment

History, Population, Language and Culture


Greek historian Herodotus, in the 5th century BC, recorded the original inhabitants of the peninsular as being 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 largely uninhabited until the mid-1700s, when the Al-Thani family of fishers and pearl divers are thought to have arrived from what is now Saudi Arabia. Their arrival was followed in 1766 by the Al-Khalifa family from Kuwait who, despite being driven from Qatar by the Persians in 1783, continued to hold influence over Qatar until the mid-1800s. By then, Qatar’s main trade was in pearls, and pearl extraction was controlled by the Al-Khalifa family, although tensions between them and the Al-Thani family were rife. What is now 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 Sheikh Qassim bin Mohammed Al-Thani, Qatar came under the control of the Ottoman Empire, under a treaty signed with the Turks. Despite an at times tense relationship, Ottoman control remained until 1915, after which a treaty was signed with Britain in 1916, making Qatar 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, in which year, on September 1, Qatar declared independence.

On June 27, 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 (who continues to rule), in a bloodless coup.

The Emir revised the Constitution to include provisions for the establishment of an elected parliament. The first elections were held in May 1998, and notably women were allowed to run for office and to vote. A new Constitution has since been approved, under which a 45-member parliament was established, of whom 30 members are elected.

Population and language

Qatar has a population of just over 2.04m (as at July 2013, including expatriates). It is estimated that 40% are Arab, 18% Indian, 18% Pakistani, and 10% Iranian, with 14% making up other ethnic groups. The principal religion is Islam. Men far outnumber women by around 3:1, explained by the number of foreigners who take up temporary residence there (estimated at 85% of the population and 90% of the workforce – around 8,000 of whom are US citizens). 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 favor. 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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