Qatar has the world’s 3rd largest reserves of natural gas only after Russia and Iran. Its oil reserves are similar in size to those of the United States of America, but they last much longer as production levels are only one-sixth of the country’s rate. Its population, according to most reports, is the richest in the world.
It is enormously influential in an otherwise very conservative region, thanks to its Al Jazeera TV satellite networks broadcasting in Arabic and English to the whole world.
Qatar is an absolute monarchy, headed by the Emir, who comes from the Al-Thani family. While the country has modernised rapidly under the leadership of former Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, there are still questions over the treatment of foreign workers from other parts of Asia, which is described by many human rights organisations to be exploitative and slave-like. As in most other countries in the region, demands for reform and more democracy on the one hand, and a growing Islamist movement calling for a “purer” (i.e. more conservative) interpretation of the Koran and Islam on the other, are an important domestic political factor.
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