History of Qatar

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The history of Qatar spans from its first duration of human settlement to its formation as a modern state. Human habitation of Qatar dates back to 50,000 years ago and Stone Age settlements and tools have been unearthed in the peninsula.[1] Mesopotamia also had a presence in the area, with potsherds purportedly originating from the Ubaid period being discovered along the coast.[2] The peninsula fell under the domain of several different empires during its early years of settlement, including the Seleucid, the Parthians and the Sasanians. In 628, the peninsula converted to Islam after Muhammad sent an envoy to Munzir ibn Sawa.[3] It became a pearl trading center by the 8th century.[4] The Abbasid era saw the rise of several settlements.[5] After the Bani Utbah and other Arab tribes conquered Bahrain in 1783, the Al Khalifa imposed their authority over Bahrain and mainland Qatar.[6] Over the following centuries, Qatar was a site of contention between the Wahhabi of Najd and the Al Khalifa. The Ottomans expanded their empire into Eastern Arabia in 1871,[7] but they withdrew from the area before the beginning of World War I in 1913.

The country became a British protectorate in 1916 and a treaty was signed by Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani which stipulated that he could only cede territory to the British, in return for protection from all aggression by sea and support in case of a land attack. A 1934 treaty granted more extensive protection.[8] In 1935, a 75-year oil concession was granted to the Qatar Petroleum Company and high-quality oil was discovered in 1940 in Dukhan.[8]

During the 1950s and 1960s, increasing oil revenues brought prosperity, rapid immigration, substantial social progress, and the beginnings of the country's modern history. When, in 1968, the U.K. announced a policy of ending the treaty relationships with the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, Qatar joined the other eight states then under British protection in a plan to form a union of Arab emirates. By mid-1971, as the termination date of the British treaty relationship approached, the nine still had not agreed on terms of union. Accordingly, Qatar declared its independence on September 3, 1971.[8] On June 27, 1995, deputy emir Hamad bin Khalifa deposed his father Khalifa bin Hamad in a bloodless coup. The emir announced his intention for Qatar to move toward democracy and permitted more liberal press and municipal elections as a precursor to parliamentary elections. A new constitution was approved via public referendum in April 2003 and came into effect in June 2005.[8]


Archaeological evidence has dated human habitation of the Qatar Peninsula to 50,000 years in the past, when small groups of Stone Age inhabitants built coastal encampments, settlements, and sites for working flint. Other finds have included pottery from the Ubaid culture of Mesopotamia and northern Arabia (ca. 5000 B.C.), rock carvings, burial mounds, and a large town that dates from about 500 B.C. at Wusail, twenty kilometers north of Doha.[1]

Regularly used as rangeland for nomadic tribes from the Najd and Al Hasa regions in Saudi Arabia, a number of seasonal encampments were constructed around sources of water.[9] In addition, fishing and pearling settlements were established on the parts of the coast near a major well.

Neolithic period (6500–3800 BC)[edit]

Pottery jar from Late Ubaid Period.

Remnants of pottery originating from the Ubaid, the period of Mesopotamia which transpired from ca. 6500 to 3800 BC, were uncovered in Qatar during three separate expeditions during the 1970s and 1980s. Microprobe analyses carried out on the potsherds deduced that they originated from southern Mesopotamia.[2] It is hypothesized that the Qatari Peninsula would not have accommodated the necessary conditions for a pottery-making civilization to flourish and that the pottery was produced in Ur and traded down the Persian Gulf settlements.[10]

Al Da'asa, located on the north east coast of Qatar, is the most important Ubaid site in the country. It was excavated by a Danish team in 1961.[11] The site is alleged to have accommodated a small seasonal encampment, possibly a lodging for a hunting-fishing-gathering group who may have made recurrent visits.[10] This is evidenced by the discovery of fire pits at the site, in addition to flint tools such as scrapers, cutters, blades and arrow heads. Furthermore, many painted Ubaid potsherds and a Carnelian bead were found in the fire pit, which suggests overseas connections.[12] Further potsherds of a later date of origin were found in Ras Abaruk during a 1973–74 expedition.[11]

In an excavation done in Al Khor in 1977–78, several Ubaid graves were found. One grave contained the cremated remains of a young woman with no grave goods. Eight other graves contained grave goods, including beads made of shell, carnelian and obsidian. The obsidian most likely originated from Najran in south west Arabia.[12][11]

Bronze Age (2100–1155 BC)[edit]

Ruins in Zekreet, on the west coast of Qatar

The Qatari Peninsula was close enough to the Dilmun civilization in Bahrain to have felt its influence.[1] Around 2100 to 1700 BC, when the people of Dilmun began engaging in maritime activities, the inhabitants of Qatar started diving for pearls in the Persian Gulf.[13] The Qataris were engaged in the trading of pearls and date palms during this era.[14] Barbar pottery was excavated in two sites by the Qatar Archaeology Project, evidencing the country's involvement in Dilmun's trade network.[11]

It has been reasoned that, while remains of Dilmun settlements were found in Qatar, this does not represent major evidence of any long-lasting human habitation.[10] Qatar remained relatively uninhabited during this period due to regular migration by nomadic Arab tribes searching for untapped sources food and water.[15]

Kassite Babylonian-influenced materials dating back to the second millennium BC, which were found in Al Khor, reveal evidence of trade relations between the inhabitants of Qatar and the Kassite.[9] Among the findings were 3,000,000 crushed snail shells and Kassite potsherds.[11] It has been asserted that Qatar was the site of the earliest known production of shellfish dye[16] and that the Kassite operated a dye industry on the coast of Qatar which produced purple dye.[2] The dye was obtained from the Murex snail and was later dubbed "Tyrian purple".[11]

Iron Age and Babylonian–Persian control (680–325 BC)[edit]

Assyrian king Esarhaddon led a successful campaign against Bazu,[17] an area encompassing Dilmun and Qatar,[18] in c. 680 BC. As Assyrian power declined, the Babylonians took control over the Assyrian-held Arab lands around 612 BC.[19][20] In 539 BC, the Persians conquered Babylon under Cyrus the Great[21] and incorporated the territories encompassing the Arabian Peninsula into their empire.[13]

Hellenistic period (325–250 BC)[edit]

Around 325 BC,[13] Alexander the Great sent his top admiral, Androsthenes of Thasos, to survey the entire Persian Gulf. The requested charts arrived shortly after Alexander died in 323.[22] Seleucus I Nicator was awarded the eastern part of the Ancient Greek Empire after Alexander's death. Starting from 312, he expanded the Seleucid Empire eastward of Babylon, and it has been proposed that the territories encompassed parts of Eastern Arabia.[23] There is archaeological evidence of Greek influence in the Arabian Peninsula, notably in Bahrain and Oman.[24] Archaeological evidence has also been discovered in Qatar. Excavations north of Dukhan uncovered potsherds of Selucid characteristic, and a cairnfield consisting of 100 burial mounds dating to the era was discovered in Ras Abaruk.[25][11]

After losing most of their territories in the Persian Gulf, Seleucid influence ceased in the area by c. 250 BC.[5][26]

Persian control (250 BC–642 AD)[edit]

Following the eviction of the Seleucid by the Parthian Empire in c. 250 BC, the latter gained dominion over the Persian Gulf and Arabian Coast.[5][26] As the Parthians were dependent on trade routes through the Persian Gulf, they established garrisons along the coast.[5] Pottery recovered from expeditions in Qatar has demonstrated links to the Parthian Empire.[27]

Ras Abaruk, a coastal city north of Dukhan, housed a fishing station which foreign vessels used to dry fish in 140 BC.[28]

In 224 AD, the Sasanian Empire gained control over the territories surrounding the Persian Gulf.[26]

Qatar played a role in the commercial activity of the Sasanids, contributing to at least two commodities: precious pearls and purple dye.[29] Sasanid pottery and glassware were found in Mezru'ah, a city north-west of Doha, and fragments of glassware and pottery were discovered in a settlement in Umm al-Ma'a.[11]

An old fort at Umm al-Ma'a.

Under the Sasanid reign, many of the inhabitants in Eastern Arabia were introduced to Christianity after the religion was dispersed eastward by Mesopotamian Christians.[30] Monasteries were constructed in Qatar during this era,[31] and further settlements were founded.[28] The Arab nomads in Eastern Arabia retained their Christian faith for a longer period than the Arab tribes in Western Arabia.[30]

Muhammad sent a Muslim envoy to a ruler in Eastern Arabia named Munzir ibn Sawa Al Tamimi in 628 and requested that he and his people accept Islam. Munzir obliged his request and most Arab tribes converted to Islam.[3] Munzir ibn Sawa's seat of administration has been speculated to have existed in the Marwab or Umm al-Ma'a area of Qatar. This theory is lent credence by an archaeological find of approximately 100 small stone-built Islamic-period houses and fortified palaces of a tribal leader in Marwab, which are proposed to have originated from the early Islamic period.[32]

After the adoption of Islam, the Arabs led the Muslim conquest of Persia which resulted in significant decline of the Sasanian Empire.[33]

Muslim rule[edit]

Umayyad period (661–750)[edit]

Qatar was described as a famous horse and camel breeding centre during the Umayyad period.[34] It began to benefit from its commercially strategic position in the Persian Gulf during the 8th century.[35] It also became a center of pearl trading around the 8th century.[4]

During the Second Fitna, a renowned Khawarij commander named Qatari Ibn Al-Fuja'ah, who was described as the most popular, admired and powerful Khawarji leader,[36] led the Umayyads in several battles including the battle for Tabaristan in 685.[37][38] He was known as the 'Prince of the Believers' and ruled over the radical Azariqa movement for more than 10 years.[39] There were many revolts against the Umayyad at the end of the seventh century, particularly in Qatar and Bahrain.[39] Ibn Al Fuja'ah led an uprising against the Umayyad caliphs for more than twenty years.[36] Some scholars have linked the historical root of the country's name to Qatari Ibn Al-Fuja'ah.[36]

Abbasid period (750–1253)[edit]

Abbasid Caliphate at its greatest extent, c. 850.

Muslim scholar Yaqut al-Hamawi mentions Qatar in his book Mu'jam Al-Buldan, alluding to its fine striped woven cloaks and the Qataris' skills in improvement and finishing of spears, known at the time as Khattiyah spears.[40]

Several settlements, including Marwab, were developed during this period.[5] Over 100 stone-built houses,[34][41] two mosques, and an Abbasid fort were constructed in Marwab during this period.[42] Marwab fort is the oldest intact fort in the country and was built over the ruins of a previous fort which was destroyed by fire. The town was the site of the first sizable settlement established off the coastal area of Qatar.[11]

Substantial development in the pearling industry around the Qatari Peninsula occurred during the Abbasid era.[34] Ships from Basra en route to India and China would make stops in the port of Qatar during this period. Chinese porcelain, West African coins and pieces from Thailand have been discovered in Qatar.[33] Archaeological remains from the 9th century suggest that Qatar's inhabitants used greater wealth, perhaps from pearl trade, to construct higher quality homes and public buildings. However, when the caliphate's prosperity declined in Iraq, so too did it in Qatar.[43]

Most of Eastern Arabia, particularly Bahrain and the Qatari Peninsula, were sites of revolt against the Abbasid Caliphate around 868.[44] Mohammed ibn Ali, a revolutionary, roused the people of Bahrain and Qatar into a rebellion, but the rebellion was unsuccessful and he relocated to Basra. He was later successful in instigating the Zanj Rebellion.[45]

A radical Isma'ili group called the Qarmatians established a utopian republic in Eastern Arabia in 899.[46] They considered the pilgrimage to Mecca a superstition and once in control of the Bahraini state they launched raids along the pilgrim routes crossing the Arabian Peninsula. In 906 they ambushed the pilgrim caravan returning from Mecca and massacred 20,000 pilgrims.[47]

Post-Islamic Golden Age[edit]

Usfurids and Ormus control (1253–1515)[edit]

Much of Eastern Arabia was controlled by the Usfurids in 1253, but control of the region was later seized by the prince of Ormus in 1320.[20] Qatar's pearls provided the kingdom with one of its main sources of income.[22] The Portuguese defeated the Ormus by 1507 following the destruction of their fleet by Afonso de Albuquerque's forces. However, Albuquerque's captains grew rebellious and he was compelled abandoned the Ormus island. Ultimately, in 1515, King Manuel I killed Reis Hamed, pressuring Sultan Saifuddin to become a vassal of King Manuel.[48]

Portuguese and Ottoman control (1521–1670)[edit]

Bahrain and mainland Qatar had been seized by the Portuguese in 1521.[49][22] After the Portuguese were in control, they constructed a series of fortresses along the Arabian Coast.[49] However, there have been no significant Portuguese ruins found in Qatar.[13] The Portuguese focused on creating a commercial empire in Eastern Arabia, and exported gold, silver, silks, cloves, amber, horses and pearls.[50] The population of Al-Hasa submitted voluntarily to the rule of the Ottomans in 1550, preferring them to the Portuguese.[51]

The Portuguese were expelled from the area in 1602[52] by the Dutch and British.[53] With no opposing major force in the area, the Ottomans saw little need to maintain a military presence in Al-Hasa. As a result, the Ottomans were expelled by the Bani Khalid in 1670.[53]

Rule of Bani Khalid (1670–1783)[edit]

Having expelled the Ottomans, the Bani Khalid held jurisdiction over Qatar from 1670 onward.[54] In 1766,[55] the Utub tribes of Al Jalahma and Al Khalifa migrated from Kuwait to Zubarah in Qatar.[56] After the Persian Occupation of Basra in 1777 many merchants and families moved from Basra and Kuwait to Zubarah. The town became a thriving center of trade and pearling in the Persian Gulf region after this movement.[57]

The Al Khalifa claimed Qatar and Bahrain by 1783, but Bani Khalid control of neighboring Al-Hasa officially came to an end in 1795.[58]

Al Khalifa control (1783–1792)[edit]

By the time of the Utub's arrival in Zubarah in 1776, the Bani Khalid exercised weak power over Qatar, though the largest village was ruled by distant kin of the Bani Khalid.[6]

Following Persian aggression towards Zubarah, the Utub and other Arab tribes drove out the Persians from Bahrain in 1783.[57][59] Al Jalahma seceded from the Utub alliance sometime before the Utub annexed Bahrain in 1783 and returned to Zubarah. This left the Al Khalifa tribe in undisputed possession of Bahrain,[60] who had then transferred their power base from Zubarah to Manama. They also exerted authority over the mainland and paid tribute to the Wahhabi to ward off challenges on Qatar.[55] However, Qatar did not develop a centralized authority because the Al Khalifa oriented their focus towards Bahrain. As a result, Qatar went through many periods of 'transitory sheikhs', with the most notable being Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah.[6] By 1790, Zubarah was described as a safe heaven for merchants who enjoyed complete protection and no customs duties.[61]

A map of East Arabia in 1794.

Following the swearing in of Saud ibn Abd al-Aziz as crown prince of the Wahhabi in 1788, he moved to expand his empire's territory east-ward into the Persian Gulf. In 1792, amid strong resistance in Al-Hasa, Sulaiman ibn Ufaisan led a raid against Qatar and subjugated the region's population.[62]

Wahhabi control (1792–1811)[edit]

The coastal towns of Zubarah and Huwailah were besieged by the Wahhabi in 1795 in response to the former providing shelter for refugees from Al-Hasa.[11] After defeating the Bani Khalid in 1795, the Wahhabi were attacked on two fronts. The Ottomans and Egyptians assaulted the western front, while the Al Khalifa in Bahrain and the Omanis launched an attack against the eastern front.[63][64] The Wahhabi allied themselves with the Al Jalahmah in Qatar, who then engaged the Al Khalifa and Omanis on the eastern frontier.

Upon being made aware of advancements by the Egyptians on the western frontier, in 1811, the Wahhabi amir reduced his garrisons in Bahrain and Zubarah in order to re-position his troops. Said bin Sultan of Muscat capitalized on this opportunity and attacked the Wahhabi garrisons in Bahrain and Zubarah. The fort in Zubarah was set ablaze and the Al Khalifa were effectively returned to power.[64]

19th–20th centuries[edit]

Al Khalifa control (1811–1868)[edit]

Britain's desire for secure passage for East India Company ships led it to impose its own order in the Persian Gulf. An agreement known as the General Maritime Treaty was signed between the East India Company and the sheikhs of the coastal area (later to be known as the Trucial Coast) in 1820. It acknowledged British authority in the Persian Gulf and sought to end piracy and the slave trade. Bahrain became a party to the treaty, and it was assumed that Qatar, as a dependency, was also a party to it.[1]

A report compiled by Major Colebrook in 1820 gives the first descriptions of the major towns in Qatar. All of the coastal cities mentioned in his report were situated near the Persian Gulf pearl banks and had been practicing pearl fishing for millenniums.[65] Until the late eighteenth century, all of the principal towns of Qatar including Al Huwaila, Fuwayrit, Al Bidda and Doha were situated on the east coast. Doha developed around the largest of these, Al Bidda. The population consisted of nomadic and settled Arabs and a significant proportion of slaves brought from East Africa.[1] As punishment for piracy committed by the inhabitants of Doha, an East India Company vessel bombarded the town in 1821. They razed the town, forcing between 300 and 400 natives to flee.[66]

A survey carried out by the British in 1825 notes that Qatar did not have a central authority and was governed by local sheikhs.[67] Doha was ruled by the Al-Buainain tribe. In 1828, a member of the Al-Buainain named Mohammed bin Khamis murdered a native of Bahrain, prompting the Bahraini sheikh to imprison the offender. The Al-Buainain tribe revolted, provoking the Al Khalifa to destroy their fort and expel them from Doha. The latter gained additional jurisdiction in the town after the tribe's expulsion.[68]

Residents of the peninsula were susceptible to skirmishes between the forces of the sheikh of Bahrain and the Egyptian military commander of Al-Hasa, owing to the volatile relations between the two parties. At the end of 1839 or beginning of 1840, the governor of Al Hasa dispatched troops to lay waste to Qatar following the Al Nuaim tribe's refusal to pay the demanded tribute. The assassination of a governor in Hofuf prematurely ended the expedition before the forces could reach the country.[69]

Doha in the early 20th century.

In 1847, Abdullah bin Ahmed Al Khalifa and a prominent Qatari chief named Isa bin Tarif formed a coalition against Mohammed bin Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain. In November, bin Khalifa landed in Al Khor with 500 troops and support from the governors of Qatif and Al-Hasa. The opposition forces numbered 600 troops and were led by bin Tarif. On 17 November, a decisive battle, which came to be known as the Battle of Fuwayrit, took place between the coalition forces and the Bahraini forces. The coalition forces were defeated after bin Tarif and eighty of his men were killed.[70] After he defeated the resistance troop, bin Khalifa demolished Al Bidda and moved all of its inhabitants to Bahrain. He sent his brother, Ali bin Khalifa, as an envoy to Al Bidda. However, he did not exercise any administrative powers, and local tribal leaders remained responsible for local and external affairs in Qatar.[71]

Wahhabi contention[edit]

Desiring to keep surveillance over the proceedings of the Wahhabi, Bahrain stationed a government official named Abdullah bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa on the coast of Qatar as early as 1833.[68] With his help, the people of Al Huwailah revolted against the Al Khalifa opened up a correspondence with the Wahhabi in 1835. Shortly after the revolt, a peace agreement was signed by both parties under the mediation of the son of the Sultan of Muscat. As part of the stipulations, Al Huwailah was demolished and its residents were removed to Bahrain. Nephews of Abdullah bin Ahmed almost immediately violated the agreement when they incited members of the Al Kuwari tribe to attack Al Huwailah. A dependent of Isa bin Tarif, a prominent leader among the people of Al Huwailah, died in a naval encounter during this incident.[68][69]

Having concocted a plan to invade Bahrain, the Wahhabi amir Faisal bin Turki left his headquarters in Najd with a platoon of troops in February 1851. Several offers of appeasement were made on behalf of Mohammed bin Khalifa, but these were met with rejections by Faisal. Accordingly, Ali bin Khalifa moved to enlist military support in Qatar, but Mohammed bin Thani was persuaded to grant support to Faisal's forces when they reached Al Bidda in May.[72] On June 8, forces loyal to Al Thani took possession of an important tower situated close to Ali bin Khalifa's residence in the Al Bidda fort. Bahrain attempted to negotiate a protective treaty with the British for the sake of halting Faisal's advances. They were initially unsuccessful in doing so, but the British reconsidered their position after receiving an intelligence report on the conflict. They promptly situated a naval blockade in Manama. In July, the Wahhabi allied tribe Al Qays attacked an Al Khalifa naval blockade and lost over 150 men in the encounter. Accompanied with a peace treaty, the sheikh of Bahrain agreed to pay a fee of 4,000 German krones in return for the restoration of an Al Bidda fort and the disassociation of the Wahhabi from the inhabitants of Qatar on 25 July 1851.[73]

1849 map of Bahrain and present-day Qatar.

In a move which angered Mohammed bin Khalifa, Faisal bin Turki relocated Abdullah bin Ahmed's sons to Dammam in 1852. In response, bin Khalifa attempted to drive away residents of Al Bidda and Doha who were suspected of being loyal to the Wahhabi by imposing an economic blockade on the inhabitants which prevented them from engaging in pearl fishing. The blockade continued until the end of 1852.[74] In February 1853, the Wahhabi began marching from Al-Hasa to Al Khor. After receiving assurance from the Qataris that they would not cooperate with them if they crossed into their borders, Bahrain sent Ali bin Khalifa to the mainland to act as a collaborator with the local resistance. A British-mediated peace agreement was reached between the two parties in 1853.[75]

Hostilities were provoked again after the Bahraini sheikh, in response to the harboring of Bahraini fugitivese in Dammam, stopped paying tribute to the Wahhabi amir in 1859 and proceeded to instigate Qatari tribes to attack its subjects. After Abdullah bin Faisal threatened to attack Bahrain, the British navy dispatched a ship off the coast of Dammam to prevent any attacks. The situation escalated in May 1860 when Abdullah threatened to occupy the coast of Qatar until the annual tribute was paid. In May 1861, Bahrain signed a treaty with the British government in which the latter agreed to offer protection and recognize Qatar as a dependent of Bahrain.[76]

In February 1862, the treaty was ratified by the Indian government.[77] Proceeding the agreement, the sway that the Al Khalifa tribe held over Qatar's affairs began declining. Mohammed bin Thani was described by Gifford Palgrave as the acknowledged governor of the Qatar Peninsula in 1863.[78] Some of Al Wakrah's inhabitants were forced to vacate the town by the Bahraini sheikh in April 1863 due to alleged links with the Wahhabi. The town's chief, Mohammed Bu Kuwara, was taken into custody on a similar charge.[79] In 1866, a report by the British revealed that Qatar was paying an annual zakat of 4,000 German krones to the Wahhabi, in encroachment of the 1861 British treaty. The report also contended that the Al Khalifa were taxing the people of Qatar the same annual tax.[80]

Qatari–Bahraini War[edit]

In June 1867, a representative of Mohammed Al Khalifa seized a Bedouin from Al Wakrah and deported him to Bahrain. Mohammed bin Thani demanded his release, but the representative refused. This prompted Mohammed bin Thani to expel the representative from his headquarters in Al Wakrah. Upon receiving news of this, Mohammed Al Khalifa released the Bedouin prisoner and expressed his desire of renewed peace talks. Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, the son of Mohammed bin Thani, traveled to Bahrain on his behalf. He was imprisoned on arrival and a large number of ships and troops were soon sent to punish the people of Al Wakrah and Al Bidda. Abu Dhabi joined on Bahrain's behalf due to the conception that Al Wakrah served as a refuge for fugitives from Oman. Later that year, the combined forces sacked the two aforementioned Qatari cities with 2,000 men in what would come to be known as the Qatari–Bahraini War.[81][82] A British record later stated "that the towns of Doha and Wakrah were, at the end of 1867 temporarily blotted out of existence, the houses being dismantled and the inhabitants deported". In June 1868, Qatari tribes retaliated against Bahrain and a battle ensued in which 60 boats were sunk and 1000 men were killed. Afterwards, the Bahraini sheikh agreed to free Jassim bin Mohammed in return for captured Bahraini prisoners.[83] This attack, and the Qatari counterattack, prompted the British political agent, Colonel Lewis Pelly, to impose a settlement in 1868. Pelly's mission to Bahrain and Qatar and the peace treaty that resulted were milestones in Qatar's history. It implicitly recognized the distinctness of Qatar from Bahrain and explicitly acknowledged the position of Mohammed bin Thani as an important representative of the Peninsula's tribes.[84]

Ottoman control (1871–1915)[edit]

Reconstructed tower in Zubarah.

The Ottoman Empire expanded into Eastern Arabia in 1871. After establishing themselves on Al-Hasa coast, they advanced towards Qatar. Al Bidda soon came to serve as a base of operations for Bedouins harassing the Ottomans in the south, and Abdullah II Al-Sabah of Kuwait was sent to the town to secure a landing for the Ottoman troops. He brought with him four Ottoman flags for the most influential personages in Qatar. Mohammed bin Thani received and accepted one of the flags, but he sent it to Al Wakrah and continued hoisting the Arab flag above his house. Jassim bin Mohammed accepted a flag and flew it above his house. A third flag was given to Ali bin Abdul Aziz, the ruler of Al Khor. The British reacted negatively to the Ottoman's advancements, which they perceived as unjustified. Receiving no response to their objections, the British gunboat Hugh Rose arrived in Qatar on 19 July 1971. After inspecting the situation, Sidney Smith, the assistant political resident in the Gulf, discovered that Qatar flew the flags willingly.[7] To further add to their apprehension, Jassim bin Mohammed, who assumed his father's role during this period, authorized the Ottomans to send 100 troops and equipment to Al Bidda in December 1871. By January 1872, the Ottomans incorporated Qatar into their dominion. It was designated a province in Najd under the control of the sanjak of Najd. Jassim bin Mohammed was appointed as the Kaymakam (sub-governor) of the district and most other Qataris were allowed to keep their positions in the new government.[85]

Assistant political resident Charles Grant falsely reported that the Ottomans sent a contingent of 100 troops from Qatif to Zubarah under the command of Hossein Effendi in August 1873. The sheikh of Bahrain reacted negatively to this because the Al Nuaim tribe which resided in Zubarah had signed a treaty agreeing to be subjects of his. Upon being confronted by the sheikh, Grant referred him to political resident Edward Ross. Ross informed the sheikh that he believed he had no right to protect tribes residing in Qatar.[86] In September, the sheikh reiterated his sovereignty over the town and tribe. Grant replied by arguing that there was no special mention of the Al Nuaim or Zubarah in any treaties signed with Bahrain. A government official agreed with his views and concurred "that it was desirable that the Chief of Bahrain should, as far as practicable abstain from interfering in complications on the mainland."[87]

Another chance arose for the Al Khalifa to renew their claim on Zubarah in 1874 after an opposition leader named Nasir bin Mubarak moved to Qatar. They believed that Mubarak, with the assistance of Jassim bin Mohammed, would target the Al Nuaim living in Zubarah as a prelude to an invasion. As a result, a contingent of Bahraini reinforcements were sent to Zubarah, much to the disapproval of the British who suggested that the sheikh was involving himself in complications. Edward Ross made it apparent that a government council decision advised the sheikh that he should not interfere in the affairs of Qatar.[88] The Al Khalifa remained in consistent contact with the Al Nuaim, drafting 100 members of the tribe in their army and offering financial assistance. Jassim bin Mohammed expelled some members of the tribe after they attacked ships near Al Bidda in 1878.[89]

Despite the opposition of many prominent Qatari tribes, Jassim bin Mohammed continued to show support for the Ottomans. However, there were no signs of improvement in the partnership between the two parties, and relations further deteriorated when the Ottomans refused to aid Jassim in his expedition of Abu Dhabi-occupied Al Khor in 1882. In addition, the Ottomans supported the Ottoman subject Mohammed bin Abdul Wahab who attempted to supplant Jassim bin Mohammed in 1888.[90]

Battle of Al Wajbah[edit]

An old fort in Al Khor.

In February 1893, Mehmed Hafiz Pasha arrived in Qatar in the interests of seeking unpaid taxes and accosting Jassim bin Mohammed's opposition to proposed Ottoman administrative reforms. Fearing that he would face death or imprisonment, Jassim bin Mohammed moved to Al Wajbah (10 miles west of Doha); he was accompanied by several tribe members. Mehmed demanded that he disband his troops and pledge his loyalty to the Ottomans. However, Jassim bin Mohammed remained adamant in his refusal to comply with Ottoman authority. In March 1893, Mehmed imprisoned his brother, Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Thani, in addition to 13 prominent Qatari tribal leaders on the Ottoman corvette Merrikh. After Mehmed declined an offer to release the captives for a fee of ten thousand liras, he ordered a column of approximately 200 Ottoman troops to advance towards Jassim bin Mohammed's fortress in Al Wajbah under the command of Yusuf Effendi.[91]

Shortly after arriving to Al Wajbah, Effendi's troops came under heavy gunfire by Qatari infantry and cavalry troops, which totaled 3,000 to 4,000 men. They retreated to Shebaka fortress, where they once again sustained casualties from a Qatari incursion. After they retreated to the fortress of Al Bidda, Jassim bin Mohammed's advancing column besieged the fortress and cut off the water supply of the neighborhood. The Ottomans conceded defeat and agreed to relinquish the Qatari captives in return for the safe passage of Mehmed Pasha's cavalry to Hofuf by land.[92] Although Qatar did not gain full independence from the Ottoman Empire, the result of the battle forced a treaty that would later form the basis of Qatar emerging as an autonomous separate country within the empire.[93]

20th–21st centuries[edit]

British protectorate (1916–1971)[edit]

The Ottomans officially renounced sovereignty over Qatar in 1913, and in 1916 the new ruler Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani signed a treaty with Britain, thereby instating the area under the trucial system. This meant that Qatar relinquished its autonomy in foreign affairs, such as the power to cede territory, and other affairs, in exchange for Britain's military protection from external threats. The treaty also had provisions suppressing slavery, piracy, and gunrunning, but the British were not strict about enforcing those provisions.[1]

Al Wakrah Fort in 1908.

Despite Qatar coming under British protection, Abdullah bin Jassim's position was insecure. Recalcitrant tribes refused to pay tribute; disgruntled family members intrigued against him; and he felt vulnerable to the designs of Bahrain and the Wahhabi. The Al Thani were merchant princes, reliant on trade and especially the pearl trade, and dependent on other tribes to do their fighting for them, primarily the Bani Hajer who owed their allegiance to Ibn Saud, amir of the Najd and Al-Hasa. Despite numerous requests by Abdullah bin Jassim for strong military support, weapons, and a loan, the British were reluctant to become involved in inland affairs. This changed in the 1930s, when competition for oil concessions in the region intensified.

Oil drilling[edit]

The scramble for oil raised the stakes in regional territorial disputes and signified the need to establish territorial borders. The first move came in 1922 at a boundary conference in Uqair when prospector Major Frank Holmes attempted to include Qatar in an oil concession he was discussing with Ibn Saud. Sir Percy Cox, the British representative, saw through the ploy and drew a line on the map separating the Qatar Peninsula from the mainland.[94] The first oil survey took place in 1926 under the direction of George Martin Lees, a geologist contracted to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, but no oil was found. The oil issue raised its head again in 1933 after an oil strike in Bahrain. Lees had already noted that, in such an eventuality, Qatar should be investigated again.[95] After lengthy negotiations on 17 May 1935, Abdullah bin Jassim signed a concession agreement with Anglo-Persian representatives for a period of 75 years in return for 400,000 rupees on signature and 150,000 rupees per annum with royalties.[96] As part of the agreement, Great Britain made more specific promises of assistance than they had in earlier treaties.[1] Anglo-Persian transferred the concession to the IPC subsidiary company Petroleum Development (Qatar) Ltd. in order to meet its obligations under the Red Line Agreement.

Hawar Islands (shown in red). Not to scale.

Bahrain claimed rule over a group of islands encompassing the two countries in 1936. The largest island was Hawar Islands, situated off the west coast of Qatar, where the Bahrainis had established a small military garrison. Britain accepted the Bahraini claim over Abdullah bin Jassim's objections, in large part because the Bahraini sheikh's personal British adviser was able to phrase their case in a legal manner familiar to British officials. In 1937, the Bahrainis again laid claim to the deserted town of Zubarah after being involved in a dispute involving the Al Nuaim tribe. Abdullah bin Jassim sent a large, heavily armed force and succeeded in defeating the Al Nuaim. The British political resident in Bahrain supported Qatar's claim and warned Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain, not to intervene militarily. Indignant over the loss of Zubarah, Hamad ibn Isa imposed a crushing embargo on trade and travel to Qatar.[1]

Drilling of the first oil well began in Dukhan in October 1938 and over a year later, the well struck oil in the Upper Jurassic limestone. Unlike the Bahraini strike, this was similar to Saudi Arabia’s Dammam field discovered three years before.[97] Production was halted between 1942 and 1947 because of World War II and its aftermath. The disruption of food supplies caused by the war prolonged a period of economic hardship in Qatar which began in the 1920s with the collapse of the pearl trade and was exacerbated in the early 1930s with the onsets of the Great Depression and the Bahraini embargo. As was the case in previous times of privation, entire families and tribes moved to other parts of the Persian Gulf, leaving many Qatari villages deserted. Abdullah bin Jassim went into debt and groomed his favored second son, Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, to be his successor in preparation for his retirement. However, Hamad bin Abdullah's death in 1948 led to a succession crisis in which the main candidates were Abdullah bin Jassim's eldest son, Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani, and Hamad bin Abdullah's teenage son, Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani.[1]

Zubarah Fort, built in 1938.

Oil exports and payments for offshore rights began in 1949 and marked a turning point in Qatar. The oil revenues would dramatically transform the economy and society and would also provide the focus for domestic disputes and foreign relations. This became apparent to Abdullah bin Jassim when several of his relatives threatened armed opposition if they did not receive increases in their allowances. Aged and anxious, Abdullah bin Jassim turned to the British. He promised to abdicate and agreed to an official British presence in Qatar in exchange for recognition and support of Ali bin Abdullah as ruler in 1949.[1]

Under British tutelage, the 1950s witnessed the development of government structures and public services. Ali bin Abdullah was at first reluctant to share power, which had centered in his household, with an infant bureaucracy run and staffed mainly by outsiders. Ali bin Abdullah's increasing financial difficulties and inability to control striking oil workers and obstreperous sheikhs led him to succumb to British pressure. The first official budget was drawn up by a British adviser in 1953. By 1954 there were forty-two Qatari government employees.[1]

Protests and reforms[edit]

Large numbers of protests against the British and the ruling family occurred during the 1950s. One of the largest protests took place in 1956; it drew 2,000 participants, most of whom were high-ranking Qataris allied with Arab nationalists and dissatisfied oil workers.[98] During another protest which took place in August 1956, the participants waved Egyptian flags and chanted anti-colonialism slogans.[99] In October 1956, protesters tried to sabotage oil pipelines in the Persian Gulf by destroying the pipelines with a bulldozer.[99] These were major impetuses to the development of the British-run police force which was established by the British in 1949.[100] The demonstrations led Ali bin Abdullah to invest the police with his personal authority and support. This was a significant reversal of his previous reliance on his retainers and Bedouin fighters.[1]

Public services developed slowly during the 1950s. The first telephone exchange opened in 1953, the first desalination plant in 1954, and the first power plant in 1957. Also built in this period were a dock, a customs warehouse, an airstrip, and a police headquarters. In the 1950s, 150 adult males of the ruling family received grants from the government. Sheikhs also received land and government positions. This mollified them as long as oil revenues increased. However, when revenues declined in the late 1950s, Ali bin Abdullah could not handle the family pressures this engendered. Discontent was fueled by his residence in Switzerland, extravagant spending, and hunting trips in Pakistan, especially among those who were excluded from the regime's largesse (non-Al Thani Qataris) and among other branches of Al Thani who desired more privileges. Seniority and proximity to the sheikh determined the size of allowances.[1]

Succumbing to family pressures and poor health, Ali bin Abdullah abdicated in 1960. Instead of handing power over to Khalifa bin Hamad, who had been named heir apparent in 1948, he made his son, Ahmad bin Ali, ruler. Nonetheless, Khalifa bin Hamad gained considerable power as heir apparent and deputy ruler, in large part because Ahmad bin Ali spent much time outside the country.[1] One of his first acts was to increase funding for the sheikhs at the expense of development projects and social services. In addition to allowances, adult male Al Thani were given government positions. This added to the anti-regime resentment already felt by, among others, oil workers, low-ranking Al Thani, dissident sheikhs, and some leading government officials. These individuals formed the National Unity Front in response to a fatal shooting of a protester on 19 April 1963 by one of Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali's nephews.[101] While the Saudi monarch was at the ruler's palace on 20 April 1963, a demonstration occurred in front of the building. Police fired and killed three demonstrators, prompting the National Unity Front to organize a general strike on 21 April.[99] The strike lasted around two weeks, and most public services were affected.[102]

The group made a statement that week where it listed 35 of its demands to the government entailing less authority for the ruling family; protection for oil workers; recognition of trade unions; voting rights for citizens and the Arabization of the leadership.[99][102] Ahmed bin Ali rejected most of these demands and moved to arrest and detain fifty of the most prominent National Unity Front members and sympathizers without trial in early May.[103] The government also instituted some reforms in response to the movements. This included the provision of land and loans to poor farmers, instituting a policy of preferential hiring of Qatari citizens, and the election of a municipal council.[1][104]

The infrastructure, foreign labor force, and bureaucracy continued to grow in the 1960s, largely under the instruction of Khalifa bin Hamad. There were also some early attempts at diversifying Qatar's economic base, most notably with the establishment of a cement factory, a national fishing company, and small-scale agriculture.[1]

Independence (1971–present)[edit]

Qatar's first university was opened in 1973.

In 1968 Britain announced its intention of withdrawing its military commitments east of Suez, including those in force with Qatar, by 1971. The rulers of Bahrain, Qatar and the Trucial Coast contemplated forming a federation after the British withdrawal. However, a dispute arose between Ahmad bin Ali and Khalifa bin Hamad because Khalifa bin Hamad opposed Bahrain's attempts to become the senior partner in the federation. Still giving public support to the federation, Ahmad bin Ali nonetheless promulgated a provisional constitution in April 1970 which declared Qatar an independent Arab Islamic state with the Sharia as its basic law. Khalifa bin Hamad was appointed prime minister in May. The first Council of Ministers was sworn in on 1 January 1970 and seven of its ten members were Al Thani. Khalifa bin Hamad's argument prevailed with regard to the federation proposal.[1]

Qatar declared its independence on 1 September 1971 and became an independent state on 3 September. When Ahmad bin Ali issued the formal announcement from his Swiss villa instead of from his palace in Doha, many Qataris were convinced that it was time for a change in leadership. On 22 February 1972, Khalifa bin Hamad deposed Ahmad bin Ali when he was on a hunting trip in Iran. Khalifa bin Hamad had the tacit support of the Al Thani and Britain and also had the political, financial and military support of Saudi Arabia.[1]

In contrast to his predecessor's policies, Khalifa bin Hamad cut family allowances and increased spending on social programs, including housing, health, education, and pensions. In addition, he filled many top government posts with close relatives.[1] In 1993, Khalifa bin Hamad remained the Emir, but his son, Hamad bin Khalifa, the heir apparent and minister of defense, had taken over much of the day-to-day running of the country. The two consulted with each other on all matters of importance.[1]

Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

On 27 June 1995, deputy emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa deposed his father Khalifa in a bloodless coup. An unsuccessful counter-coup was staged in 1996. The emir and his father are now reconciled, although some supporters of the counter-coup remain in prison. The emir announced his intention for Qatar to move toward democracy and permitted more liberal press and municipal elections as a precursor to expected parliamentary elections. A new constitution was approved via public referendum in April 2003 and came into effect in June 2005.[8] Economic, social, and democratic reforms have occurred in recent years. In 2003, a woman was appointed to the cabinet as minister of education.

Qatar and Bahrain have had disputes over the ownership of Hawar Islands since the mid-20th century.[105] In 2001, the International Court of Justice awarded Bahrain sovereignty over Hawar Islands while allotting Qatar sovereignty over smaller disputed islands and the Zubarah region in mainland Qatar.[106] During the trial, Qatar provided the court with 82 forged documents to substantiate their claims of sovereignty over the territories in question. These claims were withdrawn at a later stage after Bahrain discovered the forgeries.[107] In June 2013, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa stepped down as emir and transferred leadership to his son and heir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.[108]

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External links[edit]