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Qatar is a peninsula bordering Saudi Arabia and otherwise surrounded by the Arabian/Persian Gulf. It has a population of around 907,000 (CIA World Factbook 2007) of which around 25% are Qataris and 75% migrant workers, (2004 census), some of whom have been settled in Qatar for generations.

Of the total population 40% are Arabs, 18% are Indian, 18% are Pakistani, 10% are Iranian and 14% are from other groups (CIA World Factbook 2007).

Qatar declared itself as an independent sovereign state on 3 September 1971, thus ending its status as a British protectorate since 1916. Qatar’s economy had traditionally rested on fishing and pearling, however the discovery of oil in the 1940s transformed its fortunes and it continues to primarily derive its income from oil and gas exports, resources that give it one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world.

Main languages: Arabic, Indian and Pakistani languages, Persian

Main religions: Islam (77.5%), mainly strict Wahhabi Sunnism, and Ithna’ashari (Twelver) Shii Islam, Christian 8.5%, other 14% (2004 census).

Major minority groups: Ithna’ashari (Twelver) Shiis

Qatar has a strong Wahhabi tradition.

As elsewhere in the Gulf, rapid economic expansion was accompanied by a vast influx of migrant labour, outnumbering Qataris four to one. Some groups of migrant workers from particular countries have some cultural activities, private schools and associations but each is largely socially isolated from others and migrant workers as a whole do not form cohesive groups.

Qatar is governed as a traditional monarchy by the Al Thani family. In 1995, the present Amir Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani overthrew the previous Emir, his father, in a bloodless coup. Since then some changes have been introduced including: the adoption of the Permanent Constitution of the State of Qatar through a public referendum and Emir endorsement (2005) which has a section on ‘Public Rights and Duties’, the introduction of a Municipal Councils for which elections were first held in 1999, provision for a new Consultative Council in the Constitution two-thirds of whose membership will be decided by public elections proposed for 2007, and the merging of the civil and Islamic law court systems in 2003 under the higher court for appeals – the Court of Cessation.

Nevertheless, fundamentally, the political system remains strongly dominated by the Emir as monarch with democratic accountability remaining very much nascent.

Minority based and advocacy organisations

National Human Rights Committee of Qatar
Tel: +974 44 4012

Sources and further reading

Beardwood, M., The Children’s Encyclopaedia of Arabia, London, Stacey International Publishers, rev. ed., 2006.

Chaddock, D., The Business Travellers’ Handbook to Qatar, London, Stacey International Publishers, rev. ed., 2006.

Cordesman, A. H., Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE: Challenges of Security, Boulder, Westview Press, 1997.

Ferdinand, K. and Nicolaisen, I., Bedouins of Qatar (Carlsberg Foundation’s Nomad Research Project), London, Thames & Hudson, translated from the Danish, 1993.

International Business Publications USA, Qatar Country Study Guide, 2006.