Human settlement in Qatar dates back to 50,000 years ago. Settlements and tools dating back to the Stone Age have been excavated on the peninsula. Mesopotamian artefacts from the Ubaid period (ca. 6500-3800 BC) have been discovered in abandoned coastal settlements. Al Da’asa, a settlement on the northeast coast of Qatar, is the most important Ubaid site in the country and probably housed a small seasonal camp.
Kassite-Babylonian material from the second millennium BC found on the Al-Khor Islands testifies to trade relations between the inhabitants of Qatar and the Kassites in present-day Bahrain. Among the finds were 3,000,000 crushed snail shells and Kassite clay shards. Qatar is believed to be the earliest known site for the production of shell dyes, due to a Kassite purple dye industry that existed on the coast.
In 224 AD, the Sasanid Empire gained control of the territories around the Persian Gulf. Qatar played a role in Sasanid trade activities, contributing at least two commodities: valuable pearls and purple dye. Under Sasanid rule, many of the inhabitants of eastern Arabia were converted to Christianity after the Mesopotamian Christians spread the religion eastwards. During this time, monasteries were built and more settlements were founded. During the latter part of the Christian era, Qatar comprised a region known as “Beth Qatraye” (Syriac for “region of the Qataris”). The region was not limited to Qatar; it also included Bahrain, Tarout Island, Al-Khatt and Al-Hasa.
In 628, Muhammad sent a Muslim envoy to a ruler in eastern Arabia named Munzir ibn Sawa Al Tamimi, asking him and his subjects to accept Islam. Munzir complied with his request, and so most of the Arab tribes in the region converted to Islam. After accepting Islam, the Arabs led the Muslim conquest of Persia, which led to the fall of the Sasanid Empire.
Early and late Islamic period (661-1783)
Qatar has been described as a famous centre for horse and camel breeding during the Umayyad period. In the 8th century, it began to benefit from its commercially strategic location on the Persian Gulf and developed into a centre for the pearl trade.
During the Abbasid period, the pearl industry developed significantly around the Qatari peninsula. Ships sailing from Basra to India and China stopped in Qatar’s ports during this period. Chinese porcelain, West African coins and artefacts from Thailand were discovered in Qatar. Archaeological finds from the 9th century indicate that Qatar’s inhabitants used their greater wealth to build higher quality houses and public buildings. Over 100 stone houses, two mosques and an Abbasid fort were built in Murwab during this period. However, as the caliphate’s prosperity declined in Iraq, it also declined in Qatar. Qatar is mentioned in the book Mu’jam Al-Buldan by the 13th century Muslim scholar Yaqut al-Hamawi, who alludes to the fine striped woven cloaks of the Qataris and their skill in improving and finishing spears.
A large part of eastern Arabia was controlled by the Usfurids in 1253, but control of the region was seized by the Prince of Ormus in 1320. The pearls of Qatar provided the kingdom with one of its main sources of income. In 1515, Manuel I of Portugal vassalised the Kingdom of Ormus. Portugal conquered a significant part of Eastern Arabia in 1521. In 1550, the inhabitants of Al-Hasa voluntarily submitted to Ottoman rule, preferring it to the Portuguese. After the Ottomans had only an insignificant military presence in the area, they were expelled by the Bani Khalid tribe in 1670.
Bahraini and Saudi rule (1783-1868)
In 1766, the Utub tribe of Al Khalifa migrated from Kuwait to Zubarah in Qatar. At the time of their arrival, the Bani Khalid exercised weak authority over the peninsula, not hiding the fact that the largest village was ruled by a distant relative of the Bani Khalid. In 1783, the Qatar-based Bani Utbah clans and allied Arab tribes invaded Bahrain and annexed it from the Persians. The Al Khalifa asserted their authority over Bahrain and extended their domain to Qatar.
After Saud ibn Abd al-Aziz was sworn in as Crown Prince of the Wahhabis in 1788, he set about expanding his empire eastwards towards the Persian Gulf and Qatar. After defeating the Bani Khalid in 1795, the Wahhabis were attacked on two fronts. The Ottomans and Egyptians attacked the western front, while the Al Khalifa in Bahrain and the Omanis launched an assault on the eastern front. When the Wahhabi Emir learned of the Egyptian advances on the Western Front in 1811, he reduced his garrisons in Bahrain and Zubarah to reposition his troops. Said bin Sultan of Muscat seized this opportunity and raided the Wahhabi garrisons on the east coast, setting fire to the fort at Zubarah. After that, the Al Khalifa were virtually back in power.
As punishment for piracy, an East India Company ship bombarded Doha in 1821, destroying the city and forcing hundreds of residents to flee. The residents were unclear about the reasons for the bombardment, and as a result, Qatari rebel groups began to emerge, fighting against the Al-Khalifa and seeking independence. In 1825, the House of Thani was founded with Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani as its first leader.
Although Qatar had the legal status of a dependency, there was a mood of resentment among the population against the Al Khalifa. In 1867, the Al Khalifa, together with the ruler of Abu Dhabi, sent a massive naval force to Al Wakrah to crush the Qatari rebels. This led to the Qatari-Bahraini naval war of 1867-1868, in which Bahraini and Abu Dhabi forces sacked and pillaged Doha and Al Wakrah. However, the Bahraini hostilities were a violation of the Anglo-Bahraini Treaty of 1820, and the joint raid as well as the Qatari counterattack prompted British political agent Lewis Pelly to force a settlement in 1868. His mission to Bahrain and Qatar and the resulting peace treaty were milestones because they implicitly recognised Qatar’s distinctiveness from Bahrain and explicitly acknowledged the position of Mohammed bin Thani. The British protectorate not only rebuked Bahrain for its breach of the treaty, but also asked to negotiate with a representative from Qatar, a role for which Mohammed bin Thani was chosen. The results of the negotiations provided the nation with a new sense of political identity, although it did not receive official protectorate status until 1916.
Ottoman rule (1871-1915)
Under military and political pressure from the governor of the Ottoman vilayet of Baghdad, Midhat Pasha, the ruling Al Thani tribe submitted to Ottoman rule in 1871. The Ottoman government imposed reformist (Tanzimat) measures regarding taxation and land registration to fully integrate these areas into the empire. Despite the disapproval of the local tribes, Al Thani continued to support Ottoman rule. However, Qatari-Ottoman relations soon stagnated and suffered another setback in 1882 when the Ottomans refused to support Al Thani in his expedition to Abu Dhabi-occupied Al Khor. Moreover, the Ottomans supported the Ottoman subject Mohammed bin Abdul Wahab, who attempted to oust Al Thani as Kaymakam of Qatar in 1888. This eventually prompted Al Thani to rebel against the Ottomans, whom he believed were trying to seize control of the peninsula. He resigned as Kaymakam and stopped paying taxes in August 1892.
In February 1893, Mehmed Hafiz Pasha arrived in Qatar to claim unpaid taxes and to stir up Jassim bin Mohammed’s opposition to the proposed Ottoman administrative reforms. Fearing that he was facing death or imprisonment, Jassim retreated to Al Wajbah (10 miles west of Doha) accompanied by several tribesmen. Mehmed’s demand that Jassim disband his troops and swear allegiance to the Ottomans was refused. In March, Mehmed had Jassim’s brother and 13 prominent Qatari tribal leaders imprisoned on the Ottoman corvette Merrikh as punishment for his disobedience. After Mehmed rejected an offer to release the prisoners for a fee of 10,000 liras, he ordered a column of about 200 troops under the command of Yusuf Effendi to advance on Jassim’s fortress of Al Wajbah, marking the beginning of the Battle of Al Wajbah.
Effendi’s troops came under heavy gunfire from a larger force of Qatari infantry and cavalry shortly after their arrival in Al Wajbah. They retreated to the fortress of Shebaka, where they again had to retreat from a Qatari assault. After retreating to the fortress of Al Bidda, Jassim’s advancing column laid siege to the fortress, which led to the Ottomans conceding defeat and agreeing to surrender their prisoners in return for the safe overland passage of Mehmed Pasha’s cavalry to Hofuf. Although Qatar did not gain full independence from the Ottoman Empire, the outcome of the battle forced a treaty that would later form the basis for Qatar’s emergence as an autonomous country within the empire.
British rule (1916-1971)
The Ottoman Empire fell into disarray after losing battles on various fronts in the Middle East during the First World War. Qatar participated in the Arab revolt against the Ottomans. The revolt was successful and Ottoman rule in the country continued to decline. The United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire recognised the right of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani and his successors to rule over the entire Qatari peninsula. The Ottomans renounced all their rights to Qatar and after the outbreak of World War I, Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani (who was pro-British) forced them to give up Doha in 1915.
As a result of the partition of the Ottoman Empire, Qatar became a British protectorate on 3 November 1916. On that day, the United Kingdom signed a treaty with Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani to place Qatar under its Trucial System of Administration. While Abdullah pledged not to enter into relations with other powers without the prior consent of the British government, the British guaranteed to protect Qatar from any aggression by sea. On 5 May 1935, Abdullah signed another treaty with the British government granting Qatar protection from internal and external threats. In 1939, oil deposits were discovered for the first time. However, exploitation was delayed by the Second World War.
The British Empire’s sphere of influence began to wane after World War II, especially after the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947. In the 1950s, oil began to replace pearling and fishing as Qatar’s main sources of income. Oil revenues began to finance the expansion and modernisation of Qatar’s infrastructure. In the 1950s, pressure for a British withdrawal from the Persian Gulf Arab Emirates increased. When Britain officially announced in 1968 that it would withdraw politically from the Persian Gulf within three years, Qatar joined with Bahrain and seven other Trucial States to form a federation. However, regional disputes quickly forced Qatar to withdraw and declare independence from the coalition, which eventually became the United Arab Emirates.
The State of Qatar concluded a general maritime truce with the United Kingdom in 1868. A general treaty was concluded between the two on 3 November 1916. The General Treaty reserved foreign affairs and defence for the United Kingdom, but allowed for internal autonomy. On 3 September 1971, the “special treaty arrangements” that were “incompatible with full international responsibility as a sovereign and independent state” were terminated. This was done under an agreement between the ruler of Qatar and the government of the United Kingdom.
In 1991, Qatar played a significant role in the Gulf War, particularly during the Battle of Khafji, in which Qatari tanks rolled through the streets of the city providing fire support to Saudi Arabian National Guard units engaged against Iraqi Army troops. Qatar allowed coalition forces from Canada to use it as an airbase to launch aircraft on CAP missions and also allowed US and French air forces to operate on its territory.
In 1995, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani took control of the country from his father Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, with the support of the armed forces and cabinet, as well as neighbouring states and France. Under Emir Hamad, Qatar experienced a moderate degree of liberalisation, including the launch of the Al Jazeera television channel (1996), the endorsement of women’s suffrage or the right to vote in local elections (1999), the drafting of the first written constitution (2005) and the inauguration of a Roman Catholic church (2008). In 2010, Qatar was awarded the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, making it the first country in the Middle East to be selected to host the tournament. The Emir announced that Qatar would hold its first national parliamentary elections in 2013. They were to be held in the second half of 2013, but were postponed in June 2013 and could be delayed until 2019.
In 2003, Qatar served as the headquarters of the US Central Command and was one of the main launching points for the invasion of Iraq. In March 2005, a suicide bombing killed a British teacher at the Doha Players Theatre and shocked the country, which had not previously experienced acts of terrorism. The bombing was carried out by Omar Ahmed Abdullah Ali, an Egyptian living in Qatar who is believed to have links to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2011, Qatar joined NATO operations in Libya and reportedly armed Libyan opposition groups. It is also currently a major arms supplier to rebel groups in the Syrian civil war. Qatar is seeking a peace deal for Afghanistan, and in January 2012 the Afghan Taliban said they would set up a political office in Qatar to facilitate talks.
In June 2013, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani became Emir of Qatar after his father handed over power in a televised speech. Sheikh Tamim has made it a priority to improve the welfare of citizens in the country. This includes the establishment of an advanced health and education system and the development of the country’s infrastructure in preparation for hosting the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar participated in the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen against the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was overthrown in the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.