Qatar, a tiny peninsula in the Persian Gulf that shares a land border with Saudi Arabia and is in proximity to the island nation of Bahrain, is often referred to as ‘the richest country in the world’; conversely, its detractors have called it ‘a family that has a country’ and implied that it has no significant historic, religious, or cultural heritage. Ruled by the House of Thani since its recognition as a country in 1868, independent since 1971 with a constitution since 2003, it is conversely — and controversially — referred to as either a constitutional or absolute monarchy.
Qatar has a population of 2.3 million — with expatriates outnumbering Qatari 8:1. Its GDP is the world’s 4th highest per capita [IMF], based on oil discovered in 1940; the country is also the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas. Profit from these resources is reinvested in the country’s infrastructure, which can be seen in its plethora of modern architecture and other such facilities; it has also been diversified in multiple property investments worldwide, for stable wealth protection.
Qatar is a Muslim-majority country, with most citizens of sunni tradition; considering that foreigners far outnumber Qatari, however, other religions are also represented. Arabic is the official language with English widely spoken, and Qatari identify as being of Arabic culture, with specifically Bedouin influence. In its capital of Doha, the stunning Museum of Islamic Art celebrates that of Qatar and all other Muslim-majority nations both in and outside of the region, and Islam serves as a strong component of national identity.
Education is compulsory and highly valued, with the highest literacy rate in the Arabic world; a 10-year plan for educational reform was launched in 2012, and a number of international tertiary institutions have branches in the country’s Education City.
The arts are also held in high value, with several other major museums for both Islamic and contemporary art — and Qatar as the world’s top buyer in the art market. Literature and music are also well represented, based at least in part on Bedouin traditions of poetry, storytelling, and dance.
Though Qatar has a high quality of life index, the nation has been accused of human rights abuses — primarily in the arena of labour. With expatriates numbering 8:1 over Qatari, the vast majority are migrant workers primarily from south Asia, and frequent abuses including trafficking have been reported; new laws just announced have begun to address labour reform, though they don’t go nearly far enough. Other areas of questionable human rights have included LGBT, who have no legal protection; women, especially in areas of income disparity and access to abortion; harsh penal code; and, issues surrounding freedom of expression.
Qatar has been in a diplomatic crisis, including economic embargo, by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and UAE since June 2017; the country is accused of supporting rebel groups in various Arab Spring and other uprisings, Iran, and Hamas in Palestine, and generally fomenting dissent among Arab youth, by use of its Al Jazeera media platform as well as funding. Qatar denies these claims and has been largely unfazed by the embargo, which is now seeming to weaken — in light of the country’s upcoming hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar, a highly developed society, is in a heightened state of preparation for hosting the 2022 event and welcoming the world — with numerous new construction and infrastructure projects, and more. All eyes will be on this tiny nation, and troubled region — hopefully, with a positive effect on these various controversies as well.