QATAR : A God-forsaken Land












Vue aérienne d'une plate-forme pétrolière

Oil, Scotland

L'homme blanc de Jérôme Mesnager

Mesnager, Paris


Endants apprenant le Coran

Turkish koranic school, Berlin


Yachar Kemal

cover KNM




"A God-forsaken land." For years that is what the Arabs called it. And it could not be more appropriate: not a single hill, not one oasis breaks the monotony of this terribly flat, barren desert peninsula, 85 miles long and 40 miles wide, which sticks out to the North on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf. Its coast-line is covered in coral reefs, providing little shelter and no natural ports.

It is easy to understand why Qatar was by-passed by the main stream of civiliztion. Ships that linked Mesopotamia to the Indus or Egypt seemed to have avoided it and preferred to dock at Bahrain or Abu Dhabi where there are a good many traces of the Greek and Sumerian civilizations. And so for centuries Qatar waq forgotten by man and God alike. Only tribes of nomads came from time to time from the borders of Arabia to graze their camels before disappearing again into the horizon.

The Qatar peninsula appeared on European maps only duringthe 19th century. The Danish explorer, Niehbur, mentions it in his 'Description of Arabia' published in 1780, but it was only in 1822 that a European landed in Qatar and it was in 1904 that Hermann Burchardt crossed the peninsula from one end to the other. In 1923 the West coast of Qatar was only a dotted outline on the map. The real history of Qatar begins at the end of the 18th century with the migration of Bedouin tribes from Hasa to Qatar. It was then that the Al-Thani family emigrated - the family at present in power in Qatar, which belongs to the Beni Temim tribe, one of the most famous tribes of Saudi Araba based at the Ibrin Oasis some 125 miles south west of Qatar.

It was at this time that the Bedouin tribes of Bani Hajir and Na'im emigrated and settled on the east coast, and in 1766 the Al-Khalifa from Kuweit, a branch of the Utub tribe, settled at Zubara in the northwest; a second brach, the Al-Jalhimah, settled a little more to the north at Ruwais and a third, the Al-Sabah, stayed in Kuweit where it is still in power.

The Al-Khalifah, who are great sailors and businessmen, acquired virtually the monopoly of the pearl oyster beds off the coast of Qatar and Bahrain and were to make Zubara one of the most prosperous towns on the Gulf; it was from here that with the help of the Al-Jalahimah in 1783 they launched their conquest of Bahrain where they are still in power.

Shortly after the conquest of Bahrain, the Al-Jalhimah, dissatisfied with the division of the booty, withdrew under the leadership of sheikh Rahma bin Jabir to his tronghold in Khaur Hassan to the north of Zubara, which soon became the rallying point of all those who harboured a grievance against the Al-Khalifah - or quite simply wanted to live off the pickings.

Avowing a deadly hatred for his former associates, Rahma bin Jabir was to rove the Gulf for more than forty years, and with the help of the Qawasim of Ras-al-Khaimah and Sharjah gave the name of 'pirate coast' to the Arab shores of the Gulf. 'Lean, skinny and covered with scars and cuts, Rahma bin Jabir was, according to a European who had the privilege of meeting him 'wild and monstruous by nature and the loss of an eye made him even more savage'...

In 1809 Rahma carried out the biggest feat in his career by capturing twenty boats from Kuweit and massacring the crew and passengers down to the last man, one of whom was the son of the Emir of Kuweit.

Rahma died in 1826 as heroically as he lived: completely blind and almost seventy he asked to be led by his eight year old son to the powder magazine and blew up his ship when it was about to be captured by his ennemies.

Great Britain, anxious to protect its trade with India, had already undertaken to pacify the Gulf (the first 'treaty with the Arab tribes' dates from 1820, the firt maritime truce was to be signed in 1835, a 'ten year truce' in 1843 and the 'treaty of perpetual maritime peace' in 1853), but Rahma bin Jabir had always refused to sign a treaty and Qatar, unlike the other emirates, was in fact to remain outside the series of treaties concluded by Great Britain with the other emirates which came to be known as the Trucial System. (It was only in 1916 after the defeat of the Turks that Emir Abdallah bin Jassem Al-Thani signed the treaty which was to link Qatar to England until independence in 1971).

Hostilitie between Qatar and Bahrain were to continue during the whole of the first half of the 19th century and itpipelines was only after 1850 that the Al-Thani family, under the leadership of Mohammed Al-Thani, founder of the present dynasty, and his son Jassem, succeeded in affirming his pre-eminence over the other Sheikhs of Qatar and shaking off for good the remaining traces of Bahrain's control.

The Magic of Oil

The chapter on piracy came to an end and the inhabitants of Qatar were henceforth to lead a more peaceful life by pearl fishing until the Second World War. In 1948 - one year before the loading of the first oil tanker at Oumm Said - there were between 18.000 and 20.000 inhabiants in Qatar.

Doha, the capital, was then a sleepy little town which had the reputation of being one of the most drab places in Arabia. Oil was to attract numerous immigrants: Arabs from Palestine and Jordan, Pakistanis and Indians, and the population today is estimated to be around 120.000, most of them living in Doha. A port has been built in front of the Emir's palace and numerous farms - oases of greenery in the middle of the desert - enable Qatar to be self-sufficient and even export fruit and vegetables to the rest of the Gulf, which is a considerable feat if one recalls that the first experimental farm was set up in this desert country in 1963.

In 1956 the Emirate of Qatar opened its first free state primary schools for1.400 pupils. Today there are 39 primary schools for boys and as many again for girls, totalling 15,992 pupils. Pupils in secondary schools number around 5,000. One inhabitant in six, therefore, goes to school. A 'Gulf Univrsity' must be opened without delay in Doha.

At Oumm Said, a dozen miles south of Doha, an industrial town is growing up in the middle of the desert with a 23 million pound fertilizer f actory and a one million pound flour mill beside the oil terminal. Qatar affirms its wish to progress in stages, gradually, without 'rushing' like certain other neighbouring emirates which are not named...

A Bicephalous State

But the enormous transformations which have made this Emirate unrecognisable within ten years could not but have deep political and social repercussions - and this explains what they call abroad the 'coup d'Etat' of February 22 (1972) and in Qatar "the general election by consensus".

This 'bloodless' coup whereby Sheikh Khalifah bin Hamed, Prime Minister and 'joint Emir' of Qatar, removed his cousin SheikhAhmed bin Ali Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, from power, in fact only returned control to the legitimate branch. In actual fact, it was Sheikh Ali, brother of Hamed, who became Emir of Qatar when Sheikh Ahmed died prematurely in 1946 and his son and heir, Sheikh Khalifah, was too young to take his succession. It was agreed within the Al-Thani family that it would be a temporary regency and that on his death power would be returned to Sheikh Khalifah. But Sheikh Ali abdicated in 1960 and gave the throne to his son, Sheikh Ahmed. It is thought that relations between Sheikh Ahmed and Sheikh Khalifah were never very warm. Added to this episode was an unhappy one for Qatar...

Traditionalist, conservative and indolent, Sheikh Ali had no intention of making his country enjoy the benefits of oil, which as discovered in Qatar in 1940. His son, Sheikh Ahmed, hardly did any better. Spending most of his time abroad he was only in Qatar for the month of Ramadan and it was his cousin, Sheikh Khalifah, who virtually governed the country as Prime Minister and 'joint Emir' under a temporary constitution proclaimed in April1970. Qatar was practically a bicephalous state with all the inconvenience
which that entails.

Henceforth, free to act at his will, Sheikh Khalifah announced his intention of "proceeding immediately to a certain number of reforms which had been delayed for too long" and to "a more equitable distibution of national wealth", notably by transferring to the State the share of Qatar's oil revenues which had been allocated to Sheikh Ahmed: quite a sum when one realises that in virtue of the rule of four quarts 25 per cent of the Emirate's oil revenues went into the private purse of the Emir, another quarter served to finance development projects, a third quarter went to the Sheiks of the Al-Thani family and the last quarter to a reserve.

Qatar's budget, which was only 20million pounds this year (1972), should be considerably more next year. Having promised on the evenig of February 22 to "remove elements which had impeded the progress and moderniation of the country" and to take a certain number of "measures for modernising the state and creating a feeling of co-operation and brotherhood between the authorities and the people" Sheikh Khalifah also decided to act quickly by calling a meeting of the advisory assembly, composed of 20 membes appointed by the new Emir, less than two months after the February coup.

According to the constitution members are elected by the citzens of Qatar but this was such a revolution of the countr's habits that Sheikh Khalifah deemed it preferable to go through a "transition period which normally should last only one year but could be prolonged if necessary".


perlesIt must not be forgotten that Qatar is of some sort an appendix of Saudi Arabia and constitutes one of the last strongholds of Wahabism, the most puritan and traditional branch of Islam. One must also realise that Qatar, less than ten years ago, had the reputationof being one of the most drab places on earth... and when television made its appearance a little less than three years ago religious leaders made vehement speeches in the mosques denouncing these "dangerous foreigners who want to destroy Moslem society." They even went to see Sheikh Khalifah with the hope of making him come back on his decision to authorise the opening of a television station. But Sheikh Khalifah pointed out that progress was inevitable, and that anyhow the inhabtants of Qatar could watch programs from other Emirates on their TV sets and it was therefore worth having one's own television network which could be controlled.

'A Great Step Forward'

One of the foreign advisers of Sheikh Khalifah, who still plays an effective role while awaiting the 'qatarisation' of certain posts, remarked: "The new Emir plays a stabilising role between the conservative and traditional elements, who are small but influential, and the progressists who are much more numerous but carry little weight." Like the 400 or so students finishing their studies abroad. Sheikh Khalifah who deposed his cousin with the 'moubaya' or consent of the Al-Thani family of course, has nevertheless to act with prudence and neither neglect the weight of a family which numbers 700 Sheikhs, so they say, nor the influence of the reigious leaders whose prestige does not always go hand in hand with the official post they occupy or their comparative youth. Sheikh Khalifah, therefore, considers that the reforms which he has just carried out constitute "a great step forward if one takes into consideration local traditionalism."

Opening on the World

If there is one domaine where Sheikh Khalifah is free to act at his will it is that of foreign policy. It was typical of the old Emir to have independence proclaimed in Geneva on September 3 of last year (1971), and for months Qatar's independence remained theoretical: the Emir sent no ambassadors abroad and Great Britain was pratically the only country to open a mission in Doha (thereby changing the status of its ex-'political agency'.)

The coming to power of Sheikh Khalifah was to result in an intense diplomatic activity with the appointment of ten ambassadors and the presentation of credentials by ambassadors from the United States, Italy, France and India. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq hve also opened embassies in Doha. But it is within the Gulf that Sheikh Khalifah intends concentrating his activities and he has hopes of reviving the 'great federation' that broke up with the independence of Bahrain and Qatar. The new Emir, however, avoids any question on the subject saying that "it is better not to raise the reasons for the federation's failure in order not to compromise the chances of reviving it."

In fact everybody is well aware that the moment is not particularly oppportune for a revival of discussions between Qatar and the 'Union of Arab Emirates' (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Oumm al Qiwain, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah) given the special ties which linked the old Emir to the Dubai Emirate (Sheikh Ahmed married the daughter of Sheikh Rachid of Dubai).


Sheikh Khalifah feared at the time of the coup last February tat the Union Sheikhs would react in the same way as they did at the attempted Sharjah coup by sending their forces to reinstate Emir Ahmed, or worse still his son, Sheikh Abdoul-Aziz. It was to prepare to such an eventuality, it is rumoured, that the Saudi Arabians, at the request of Sheikh Khalifah, mobilised several thousand men on the frontier between Saudi Arabia and Qatar where they were kept at the ready to intervene if the need arose. (This concentration of troops was observed with a certain anxiety in Abu Dhabi where it was wondered at the beginning whom it was intended for.)

One hopes, however, that these personal considerations will disappear with time and that
discussions on the federation will be renewed in the near future. Qatar and Bahrain have always regarded the Oman coast Emirates (formerly the coast of the pirates and the truce) with a certain condescension showing openly their disdain for the 'Bedouins' of Abu Dhabi and the other Emirates. The opening of the road between Doha and Abu Dhabi and the devlopment of trade between Qatar and the other Emirates (in spite of their proximity very few of Qatar's inhabitants have been to Abu Dhabi or the other Emirates) should contribute to erasing prejudices and permit the renewal of negotiations on a federation whose constitution might be less ambitious, particularly by not asking the Sheikhs to give up such a large part of their sovereignty like the very 'federalist' plan of which Qatar is an ardent defender.

Qatar and its Wealth

"Up till now we were happy to remain mere tax collectors - to receive the royalties paid by oil companies operatig on our territory," Ali Jaidah, Director of Qatar's Department of Oil, stated. "but now our problem is to determine just how far we ourselves can go in the oil business as independents with the share of our retrurns from the Japanese contract and by way of OPEC and the famous 20%."

"We also want to paticipate at all levels in industry as shown by the building of the fertilizer plant, in which we hold 63% of the shares, the plan for a factory liquefying natural gas from Dukhan and the building of a small refinery of 6.000 barrels a day. And it is to face these tasks and achieve our policy of diversification that Sheikh Khalifah founded the "National Petroleum Company of Qatar" last April. 'Diversification' is the order of the day in Qatar. But if Sheikh Khalifah affirms his will "not to accept dependence on oil alone" it is probably because he is well aware that reserves are limited - 15 to 20 years it is said - and of the seriousness of a mortgage which weighs on a country whose conomy depends to such a point on one industry

Black Gold

Discovered in 1940 by Petroleum Development (Qatar), an affiliate of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), oil was only drilled in Qatar after the interruption of the Second World War, and it was only in 1949 that the first tanker loaded with oil from Qatar left for Europe from the Oumm Said terminal to the south of Doha.

Today Qatar is the seventeeth oil producer with a little more than 20 million tons per annum, which puts it far behind Kuweit (144 million tons) and Abu Dhabi (44 million) but clearly ahead of Dubai (6,3million tons) and Bahrain (3,6 million).

Three companies are actually in operation in Qatar, The Qatar Petroleum Company on-shore, Shell off-shore and the Qatar Oil Company, also off-shore, which is a Japanese company not yet at the production stage.

The Qatar Petroleum Company (QPC), known up till 1953 under the name of Petroleum Development (Qatar), is an affiliate of IPC and is owned jointly by BP (23,75%), Shell (23,75%), the Compagnie Française des Pétroles (CFP) (23,75%), Mobil-Esso (23,75%) and Gulbenkian (5%).

New Techniques

The oil extracted from the Dukhan fields which stretch over an area 30 miles long and 3 miles wide in the West of Qatar peninsula, is chanelled by way of a pipeline 60 miles long to the Oumm Said terminal, the only place on the coast where tankers over a certain tonnage (250,000 tons) can dock.

It is now 23 years since oil has been flowing from Dukhan and the 600 employes living in the camp have more than just maintenance work and surveillance on their hands: more than 150 million tons of oil have already been extracted from Dukhan and a fall in production is feared due to exhausted reserves. The QPC engineers, however, place great hopes on the technique of water injection to maintain pressure - and production - at a constant level.

One fact is certain, QPC's production, which has maintained a steady 8 to 9 million tons per annum since 1960, increased last year to 10,3 million tons. Oil extracted from Dukhan is one of the best in the world and its price is higher than that of other Gulf and Middle East producers. Its price was also considerably increased after the Teheran agreements (February 1971). Already at 96 cents barrel it should be more than 1,5 dollars,in 1975.

Natural Gas

QPC has also accepted to develop activities in Dukhan by financing the building of a 27 million pound factory for liquefying natural gas in which it will share the profits with the Emir of Qatar. Liquefied by freezing in Dukhan the gas will be piped to the Oumm Said terminal where it will be cracked and loaded. The factory's output, which should go into production in 1974, will be around 800,000 tons a year. Already a shareholder in QPC, Shell also operates independently in Qatar through one of its affiliate, the Shell company of Qatar, created in 1954 which took over an off-shore concession abandoned by an American company, the Superior Oil Co. Its exlorations were to be more fruitful than Superior's and oil began to flow in 1964 at Idd El Chargi and in 1966 at Maydan Mahzan to the Halul terminal, a small island about 60 miles north east of Doha. Following the 1969 agreement between Abu Dhabi and Qatar on maritime limits the Bul Hanine fields which had been previously given to Abu Dhabi Marine Areas were returned to Qatar and Shell.

Increased Production

Situated 25 miles to the south east of Halul terminal these fields should be producing some 60,000 barrels a day by next month with two production wells. Two other wells which are being drilled should be finished by August and three others before the end of the year - reaching a depth of 9-10,000 feet. Output at Bul Hanine should reach 150,000 barrels a day by the beginning of next year, which will almost double Shell's present output (and the sums paid by the company to the Emirate; it is clear why the maritime limits and desert frontiers are the subject of such ardent discussions between the various Emirates.)

If the Qatar Petroleum Co. and Shell of Qatar are 'old companies' operating in conditions similar to those of IPC - the two companies obtained 75 years concessions: QPC's dating from 1935 and Shell's from 1952 - they operated in complete independence of the local government right up until the OPEC asked to participate. The company created in march 1969 by a consortium of Japanese companies, the Qatar OilCo. operates under totally different conditions.

On the one hand, its concession is only valid for35 years, but, most important, provisions are allowed for the Emirate of Qatar "to have the right to possess half of the shares when oil is discovered in commercial quantities"; which goes much farther than OPEC's 20%. The terms of the agreement can also be revised in order "to take into account a change of circumstances in the formulation of concessions," or quite simply be repealed.

Drillings began in January 1971 about 60 miles off the coast of Qatar. The first well - Arab 1 - drilled to a depth of 11,503 feet has shown to be promising. Three other wells were drilled in 1971 and three more in 1972. The results are promising, but the company refuses to give a production date.

Lastly there are the El-Bunduq fields whose revenue has to be shared on the terms of the 1969 agreement between Qatar and Abu Dhabi: drilling has been entrusted to Abu Dhabi Marine Areas (2/3 BP and 1/3 CFP). In 1970 BP made over a third of its shares to a Japanese consortium and a new company was formed, El Bunduq Co., which should begin producing at the rate of 50,000 barrels a day by the beginning of next year.

The least one can say is that Sheikh Khalifah can foresee an optimistic future: from 80,000 tons in 1949, production went up to 5 million in 1955 and 21 million in 1971. 1972 should see a further increase in production thanks to the Bul Hanine fields and the arrival of the Japanese on the scene.

On a par with this is the state's revenue which was practically nil in 1950, went up to 20 million pounds in 1962, 38 million in 1967, 50 million in 1970, 82 million in 1971 and should top 100 million this year. The constant progression of oil revenues has entailed a considerable increase in imports, which increased from 252 million rials in 1969 to 305 million in 1970 and 515 million in 1971 (4 million pounds.)

A certain number of factors dominate Qatar's foreign trade: It is resolutely oriented towards the West and increasingly dominated, so it seems, by Great Britain, in spite of the 'withdrawal' of British forces from the area. Exports from Great Britain, which increased from 59 million rials (5 million pounds) in 1969 to 73 million rials (6,3 million pounds) in 1970, and 193 million rials (16,8 million pounds) in 1971, give it a clear pre-eminence over other exporters and assured it of 37,45% of imports in 1971.

Japan, which was still in third position in 1969 and 1970 after the United States, is now in second position. Among the communist countries, China takes first place with a little less than 8 million rials (a little more than 700,000 pounds) and 1,51% of imports. Other communist countries such as Czechoslovakia and USSR take 28th place, and Hungary and Rumania, 32nd and 33rd.

Qatar's trade with other Gulf states is fairly limited; imports from Dubai, Bahrain, Iran, Kuweit, Saudi Arabia and Iraq represent, in fact, little more than 7% of total imports in 1971, whilst only 10% of Qatar's imports are re-exported to other Gulf countries.

Statistics from Qatar's Chamber of Commerce show that British imports are mainly composed of industrial equipment for the building of the fertilizer and cement factories (97 million rials out of a total of 193 million) and that Great Britain's dominant position in the market could be compromised after the termination of these industrialisation projects. France has already won the contract for the new water supply factory, a project worth 3 million pounds. Countries like Japan, the United States and Italy rely on consumer goods and in the long-term their policy could pay-off better.

While the air conditioner market is fought out mainly between the United States (5,5 million rials) and Jap an (800.000 rials), the latter has the virtual monopoly of transistor radio sets (1,5 million rials in 1971, the West Germans selling only 100,000 rials worth) and television sets (also 1,5 million rials, the West Germans selling only 90,000 rials worth).

Statistics from Qatar's Chamber of Commerce also show that the Japanese who sold 361 cars in Qatar in 1970, followed closely by West Germany (326) and France (301), took second place in 1971 with 560 cars behind West Germany (705); France (249) was replaced in third position by the United States (453).

Italy is assured of a comforable position thanks to the sale od refrigerators (1 million rials in 1971), gas cookers (400,000nrials) and electrical machines (1,5 million rials) of which it has virtually the monopoly.

The foreesable increase of the Emirate's revenues and the important public investment expected from Sheikh Khalifah's government are certainly going to entail large increases in imports and it will be interesting to see to what extent the revaluation of the Yen will compromise the expansion of Japanese exports.

(Africa, 12 August 1972)







Portrait d'une femme des ïles d'Aran

Aran Islands


Jeune femme élève sous-officier en tenue camouflée

Ahmet Altan


Overview of the Tigris valley avec les ruines du vieux pont

Hasankeyf, Turkey


Commando, Turkey






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Droits de Reproduction strictement reserves © Chris Kutschera 2016