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Qatar - Overview

Area: 11,437 sq km

Population: 863,051 (July 2005 est.)

Capital: Doha

Government: Traditional monarchy

Ethnic groups: Arab 40%, Pakistani 18%, Indian 18%, Iranian 10%, other 14%

Main languages: Arabic (official), English commonly used as a second language, Urdu

Religion: Muslim 95%

Time: GMT +3

Qatar is an Arab state located on a peninsula bordering the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Bahrain, with Saudi Arabia to the south. It consists almost entirely of flat desert landscape, with towering sand dunes and some rocky outcrops. However, the capital and main towns have had many palm trees and flowers planted, giving them a more lush appearance.

Oil is Qatar's main natural resource, and that which has driven the rapid development of the economy since the 1970s. The country also has significant natural gas resources. These energy resources have given Qatari nationals one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, and funded many major government initiatives such as real estate projects, a science park and the television channel Al Jazeera, which broadcasts worldwide. Most of the basic industries and services are state-owned, with the exception of construction and retail.

The government of Qatar consists of its monarchy - the ruling Al-Thani family and its head, the Emir. There are no political parties or elections, but the country is governed according to Islamic law and customs. The Emir has absolute power, and governs through a process of consultation with leading citizens.

Qatar has a very large and diverse expatriate population working mainly in the oil, gas, construction, defence and IT sectors. Non-Qataris account for some four-fifths of the population. Many of the non-nationals are low-skilled guest workers from countries such as India, Pakistan and the Philippines, but there are also large numbers of western expatriates. Around three quarters of the population live in the capital of Doha, on Qatar's east coast.

Doha is becoming a key business and commercial centre of the Middle East. A small city, it is located on the shores of an attractive horseshoe shaped bay. The city has been developing rapidly in recent years, and now has many modern high-rise buildings mixed with more traditional Islamic architecture. Similarly, modern shopping malls with major western retail outlets are interspersed with traditional souks. The development of Doha was given a major boost when Qatar was selected to host the Asian games in December 2006, and construction and planting work is now proceeding at a rapid pace.

Although a Muslim country, Qatar is less extreme in the observance of Islamic laws than neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, expatriates should respect Islamic customs by dressing conservatively. Women should cover their shoulders and avoid wearing short skirts or shorts in public, although swimsuits and shorts are acceptable on the beach, at hotels and within expatriate compounds. Alcohol is prohibited unless consumed in the international hotels, or if purchased privately from a special agency in Doha, on possession of a licence.

Qatar is reportedly a very safe city in which to live, despite the ever-present threat of terrorism due to its Middle Eastern location. There is hardly any petty crime, although women might experience minor harassment from local men unless they cover up with an Islamic abeya, the traditional long black cloak and headscarf. There are severe penalties for drink driving and other alcohol-related offences, and for drug use or possession, including heavy fines, imprisonment or deportation. Homosexual activity is considered to be a criminal offence here.

Read more about this country

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