Doha, Qatar – the city that rose from the desert, an Introduction

Qatar was never a rich, flourishing country, until now.

The small nation at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula obtained its independence from British rule in 1971 and today has the highest per capita income in the whole world. This data does not come from flimsy sources but is according to the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and US Central Intelligence Agency.

The rapid transformation of Qatar is most evident in its capital, Doha.

Doha was once a small village under the larger town of Al-Bidda (first mentioned in 1681), it became a separate legal entity only in the 1820s and in 1847 came to be ruled by the Al-Thani family. The same family has continued to rule Qatar from Doha, as hereditary monarchs, till this day. The current Emir, Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani is the eighth emir from the family and took over from his father Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani in 2013.

Present Emir Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani (left) and his father, former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani (right)

From 1820 right till the 1960s, Doha remained a minor port known for its pearl trade. Despite its strategic trading location, its shallow harbour did not allow for larger ships to dock.

Qatar Doha 1951Doha in 1951 (Source)

It was only later in the 1960s that Doha’s fortunes changed. Oil and natural gas were discovered and drilled in the sea around Doha. Fortune arising from Black Gold started to draw into the country. At the same time, a deep water harbour was completed in the 1970s, allowing large ships to dock.

Since then, a whole city has been built from scratch.

doha-1977Doha in 1977 (Source)

Old souqs were torn down and taller buildings took their place, whole villages were bulldozed and cranes moved in to construct the city in the desert.

And the construction shows no signs of abating.


Qatar has since branched out and had great success in other areas with the Al-Jazeera Network formed in 1996 in Doha becoming the top global news network. It has even been linked suggested that Al-Jazeera was responsible for the Arab Spring of the early 2010s.

Another Qatari success based in Doha is Qatar Airways. Founded in 1993, it is today among the top carriers in the world.

Doha and Qatar is an ambitious young country, and much of their recent development has focused on large flashy projects and an inspiring modern skyline.

Qatar Doha 2015Doha skyline today (source)

Among the large projects that have been embarked on are Education City, The Pearl and the sports complex Aspire Zone.

Qatar and Doha in particular is also the site of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Although this particular event has been dogged by allegations of corruption during the vote, questions on the practicality of playing football in an Arabian summer (where temperatures go up to 49 degrees Celcius) and stories of ill-treament of labourers building the stadiums.

The population of Qatar is today 2.2 million, and 92 % of them live in Doha. Yet barely 300,000 are citizens, the remaining are expatriates at all levels. Qataris receive a lot of benefits from the government, free electricity, free education, free healthcare and for some plots of land for investment.

Much of this was built on the foundation of oil money, and one would imagine much has to be done to ensure the long term sustainability of the development after the oil fortune runs out. The economic sustainability and diversification of the Qatari economy seem to be the direction of this nation under the new Emir.

What will the future of Qatar be?

Whatever it is, its something ambitious and shiny, that’s for sure. That’s the impression I got from the new Hamad International Airport (next post).



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