During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Qatari economy was crippled by a continuous siphoning off of petroleum revenues by the amir who had ruled the country since 1972. He was overthrown in a bloodless coup by his son in 1995, followed by economic,social, and democratic reforms. Oil and natural gas revenues enable Qatar to have a per capita income not far below the leading industrial countries of Western Europe.
Qatar has been inhabited for millennia. the Thani bin Mohammed, the founder of the Al-Thani family was elected Sheikh of Qatar, where he ruled in Al-Bida (now known as Doha) In the 19th century, the Al Khalifa family occupied the northern part of Qatar until 1868 when, at the request of Qatari nobles, the British negotiated the termination of the Al Khalifa claim to Qatarexcept for the payment of tribute. The tribute ended with the occupation of Qatar by the Ottoman Turks in 1872. The Al Khalifa family moved to Bahrain.
When the Turks left, at the beginning of World War I, the British recognized Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani as Ruler. The Al Thani family had lived in Qatar for 200 years. The 1916 treaty between the United Kingdom and Sheikh Abdullah was similar to those entered into by the British with other Gulf principalities. Under it, the Ruler agreed not to dispose of any of his territory except to the U.K. and not to enter into relationships with any other foreign government without British consent. In return, the British promised to protect Qatar from all aggression by sea and to lend their good offices in case of a land attack. A 1934 treaty granted more extensive British protection.
In 1935, a 75-year oil concession was granted to Qatar Petroleum Company, which was owned by Anglo-Dutch, French, and U.S. interests. High-quality oil was discovered in 1940 at Dukhan, on the western side of the Qatari peninsula. Exploitation was delayed by World War II, and oil exports did not begin until 1949.
During the 1950s and 1960s gradually increasing oil reserves brought prosperity, rapid immigration, substantial social progress, and the beginnings of Qatar's modern history.
When the U.K. announced a policy in 1968 (reaffirmed in March 1971) of ending the treaty relationships with the Gulf sheikdoms, Qatar joined the other eight states then under British protection (the seven trucial sheikdoms--the present United Arab Emirates--and Bahrain) in a plan to form a union of Arab emirates. By mid-1971, however, the nine still had not agreed on terms of union, and the termination date (end of 1971) of the British treaty relationship was approaching. Accordingly, Qatar sought independence as a separate entity and became the fully independent State of Qatar on September 3, 1971.
Qatar achieved full independence in an atmosphere of cooperation with the United Kingdom and friendship with neighboring states. Most Arab states, the U.K., and the United States were among the first countries to recognize Qatar, and the state promptly gained admittance to the United Nations and the Arab League. Qatar established diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. and China in 1988. It was an early member of OPEC and a founding member of the GCC, whose rotating presidency it holds until December 1997.