Qatar: Tiny soft power giant built on gas wealth

Qatar: Tiny soft power giant built on gas wealth

The country was a British protectorate for 55 years until 1971, when it refused to join the United Arab Emirates and emerged as an independent state

A file photo taken on February 6, 2017 shows the Ras Laffan Industrial City, Qatar's principal site for production of liquefied natural gas and gas-to-liquid, administrated by Qatar Petroleum, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital Doha. Credit: AFP File photo

Qatar, a key US ally in the Middle East and the home of the Al Jazeera news channels, holds its first legislative elections on Saturday.

Majority-Sunni Qatar weathered a major diplomatic crisis and three-and-a-half year boycott by its Gulf neighbours which only ended in January, to emerge as a key broker in Afghanistan.

Here are some key facts about the peninsula nation, which is rich in gas and oil.

Qatar is one of the smallest Arab states, a desert peninsula with a population of 2.5 million, most of whom are foreigners.

The country was a British protectorate for 55 years until 1971, when it refused to join the United Arab Emirates and emerged as an independent state.

Qatar has been ruled by a monarchy, the Al-Thani family, since the mid-19th century.

The current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, rose to power in 2013 after his father Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani abdicated.

Read | Afghanistan: Watch Qatar, Turkey closely

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of supporting terrorism and fostering close ties with their regional rival Iran -- charges Doha denied.

The stand-off, which included the closure of air and sea links, lasted more than three years before links were officially restored in January.

Qatar is the world's largest producer and exporter of liquefied natural gas. It walked out of the OPEC oil cartel in 2019 at the height of its fall out with its neighbours.

But low energy prices because of the pandemic are likely to wipe out its budget surplus this year.

Qatar has also suffered from the boycott by its Gulf neighbours, which led it to double its defence spending.

Created in late 1996 by the Qatar government, the Al Jazeera satellite television channel, which has nearly 80 bureaus across the world and broadcasts in several languages, was a key player during the Arab Spring, which Qatar fervently supported.

This earned it the wrath of many of its neighbours, with opponents saying it was too open to Islamists.

They also see it as an arm of Qatar's diplomacy.

The Qatar Investment Authority, the emirate's sovereign wealth fund, has spent lavishly and has snapped up some of Britain's best-known landmarks and businesses, including the luxury store Harrods and London's Shard skyscraper.

The state owns Paris Saint-Germain football club and the beIN Sport channels, a subsidiary of Al Jazeera.

In November 2020, Qatar flung open its property market to foreigners, the latest in a series of measures designed to diversify away from fossil fuel and attract foreign capital.

Since being controversially chosen to host the 2022 football World Cup, Qatar has invested in massive infrastructure projects employing foreign workers.

International rights groups have raised concern around working conditions, with many labourers coming from poor countries in Asia and Africa.

Qatar announced several reforms of its labour law, which are criticised for being patchily applied.

Qatar has a close military and economic alliance with Washington, the key guarantor of its security, along with Britain.

It is home to the biggest US military base in the region, Al-Udeid airbase, which recently underwent a multi-billion dollar expansion by the Qataris.

The country also hosted talks between the US and Taliban, who are now back in power in Kabul.

It also played a key role in the evacuation of foreigners and Afghans at risk from the Taliban.

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