New Internationalist

Qatar

Issue 167

new internationalist
issue 167 - January 1987

COUNTRY PROFILE

Qatar
Map of Qatar Hot, arid and saline, Qatar has one of the most inhospitable environments in the world. Before becoming a British protectorate in 1918 it was an independent sheikdom, receiving the caravans coming down from the Mediterranean and Red Sea, and transferring their goods on to dhows bound for the Indian Ocean. The only local food came from the sea and a few date palms. Its pearl trade collapsed in the 1930s, and Qatar became a sheikdom again in 1971, largely unchanged by its contact with the West.

Oil changes all this. As the price of a barrel of oil soared in the early 1970s, the people of Qatar were catapulted into modernity. Lest anyone forget, the memory of the days before water desalination, power generation and motor cars is enshrined in Qatar's award-winning national museum.

Money is pumped into a major construction programme with expertise, materials, labour and whatever it took being brought in from abroad. There are five-star hotels, satellite communications and luxury consumer goods for the foreign visitor and expatriate executive. Qatar has more telephones per head of the population than many industrialised countries, and a flow of passenger traffic at the airport greater than the total resident population.

But look away from the oil industry world and a different picture of Qatar emerges. For the ordinary Qatari and the labourers from the Indian sub-continent, development had meant free medical services and electricity to provide refrigeration in a country where fresh food fades fast.

Every child has the chance of free education and the government pays parents in poor families to avoid children being kept home from school for financial reasons. Co-operative shops have been organised in Qatari towns and villages all over the peninsula, not just in the capital, to get to the best value in food and household goods for members and others at no profit. And for desert dwellers the process of development has brought a regular supply of water to drink and to irrigate the land.

Young people emerging from school or university can hope for well-paid jobs in government or private sector as Qataris replace foreign employees. A little over thirty years ago there were no schools, no industry, no government offices. Life expectation was short and work meant diving for pearls or crewing vessels on coastal waters.

It will be many years before the Qataris can take full control of their own industries and businesses. But at least they can now do it at their own pace. The recent decline in oil revenues has forced a slow down in construction, making the country less attractive to foreign companies. Coming out from the national museum of their past, they can take the time now to adjust to the glare of the steel-and-glass Qatar of today.

Leader: Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani

Economy: GNP per capita $26,207 (1984) (US $14,110)
Monetary unit: Qatar Riyal
Main export: Crude oil, chemical fertilizers, steel, polyethylene

People: 257,000 (over half are immigrant workers)

Health: Infant mortality, figure unknown

Culture: Religion; Muslim. Arab-Islamic culture with marked influence of oral poetry and work songs from pearl diving era.

Source: OPEC, Middle East Review 1986


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Wide social security for low-income Qatari families.

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Financially independent, but relies on imports of food & equipment.

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Improving by government efforts, but restricted by family tradition.

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[image, unknown] Dynastic sheikdom, non-aligned foreign policy, supports liberation struggles.

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60% and improving.

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Social rather than political restraint, at family not public levels.

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not available but presumed around 60 (US 74 years).

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