The World Cup, the oil & gas, and Al Jazeera are some of the things we immediately associate with Qatar, but besides these what is Qatar famous for?
Located on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia to the south. As it’s a Peninsula, the rest of Qatar is surrounded by the Persian Gulf. Bahrein is relatively close, but it is separated from Qatar by the Gulf of Bahrain. Doha is the capital and largest city.
Qatar is a very small country with only 11,581 km2 of land area and a population of 2.8 Million people, most of whom are foreigners (more about that below). It’s a country that suffered a huge transformation in only a few decades, going from being a pearl divers country to the richest country on Earth.
But, without further ado, let’s dive in and explore what is Qatar famous for?
Things Qatar is famous for
Oil & Gas
What is Qatar famous for? Oil… and Gas! Qatar is one of the main producers of oil and natural gas in the world. As of 2014, the energy sector was responsible for more than half of the country’s economy, which also means that Qatar is very dependent on these sectors.
In fact, the energy sector is the main reason why Qatar is such well-known and talked about – almost everything is financed by oil and gas exports. Qatar is the 4th largest natural gas producer worldwide, and its gas fields account for about 13% of the world’s resources. As for oil, it is the 17th largest produced and the 11th top exporter, which is still remarkable as it is a small country.
Oil production in Qatar started in 1940 with the discovery of the Dukhan Field, while natural gas was discovered about 30 years later. These findings in the energy production sector changed the country’s economy, financed major projects, and made possible the huge leap in the quality of life of its citizens, which takes us to the next thing Qatar is famous for – money, all the money!
All the Money
Qatar went from pearl hunting villages with no education and health to being dubbed the “richest country in the world.” While it is discussable and depends on the year and how you measure it, Qatar is surely one of the wealthiest places on earth, and it isn’t shy about showing it.
In 2015 and 2016, Qatar was indeed the wealthiest country globally, according to many international organizations, but the decrease in oil and gas prices and the sanctions imposed by its neighbors had some effect on the economy, making it lose the first spot.
According to the International Monetary fund, in 2022, Qatar is the 4th richest country in the world, only trailing behind Luxembourg, Singapore, and Ireland. However, as Qatar’s economy depends heavily on oil and gas, it will probably rise again in rank as both oil and gas become more expensive.
Pearls and Pearl diving
Before the Oil and Gas and the consequent richness that it brought, Qatar used to be known as a Pearl diving country, as it was the country’s main economic sector and export. The whole Persian gulf was a pearl hunting region, with the industry flourishing in Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain during the nineteenth century and early twentieth.
The pearls were hunted in the gulf and traded to Europe, North America, and India. When the Japanese invented a process of producing pearls on marine farms. This made the pearl markets plunge and pearling not so profitable. Luckily, Oil and then gas were discovered in Qatar, which substituted and largely surpassed pearls as the country’s (and region’s) major export.
Pearling was really important in the past, and it’s part of Qatar’s history and culture. Many people still associate Qatar with this activity and good. Furthermore, pearl diving still exists today, but it’s a touristic activity.
We have talked about the oil and gas, the wealth, and the pearls, but there is something else everyone associates with Qatar, and that’s the sand and desert. Located in the Arabian Peninsula, most of Qatar consists of desert, sandy desert.
The desert in Qatar is an extension of the Arabian Desert, usually called the empty quarter or Rub’al-Khali. One of the most famous features of the Qatari desert is the Khōr al-‘Udeid in the south of Qatar, also known as the Inland Sea, where the sea enters through the desert, and there are huge sand dunes surrounding it. It is a UNESCO heritage site.
We have mentioned above that almost 3M people live in Qatar, but only about 350 000 are indigenous Qataris. All the others are recent immigrants from many different countries. So more than 80% of the population is foreign, which is an astonishing number. Only the UAE has similar figures. Native Qataris are usually divided into three ethnic groups: Bedouin Arabs, Hadar, and Afro-Arab.
Most immigrants in Qatar come from low-income countries like India (700 000), Bangladesh (400 000), and Nepal. (400 000). In fact, there are more people from each of these countries living in Qatar than Qataris, which is a fascinating fact. Many of these immigrants are working in construction and in domestic services.
There are also many westerners living in Qatar, but the numbers aren’t so large. There are about 40 000 North Americans, 20 000 English, and less than that from any other western country.
As most immigrants in Qatar are men, Qatar also has a unique men/women ratio. Men represent about 75% of the population and women only 25%, making it a 3 to 1 ratio, the largest of any country in the world.
Controversy with human rights of immigrants
When talking about the immigrants in Qatar, the topic of how they are treated and the human rights violation always comes up (as it should), so this is also something Qatar is known for, unfortunately.
With a migrant labor force of more than 2 million workers, Qatar depends almost exclusively on its foreign workers, as more than 90% of workers are immigrants. Qatar relies on the Kalafa system to govern and monitor its migrant employees.
The Kalafa system requires all foreign workers to have a sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. This may sound like a good idea, but it gives employers excessive control over their employees without legal repercussions, including preventing them from changing jobs, escaping abusive situations, and even leaving the country by taking away their passports.
Human rights organizations heavily criticized this practice for being the main reason for the exploitation of workers where employer consent is required to change jobs, leave the country, get a driver’s license, rent a home, or open a checking account. Many situations are so extreme that has been described as “modern slavery”.
World Cup 2022
The 2022 FIFA World Cup is one of the main reasons why Qatar is known for in the last years. It is the first world cup held in the Arab world and only the second held in Asia, after the 2002 in Japan and South Korea.
The FIFA World Cups are one of the largest and most viewed sporting events globally, only beaten by the Summer Olympic Games. It is usually a summer event, but this time it will be held from November 20th to December 18th, making it the first time it is held in winter. This happened because Qatar has extremely hot weather in summer, and it would be unfit for playing football.
However, the Qatar world cup has also been in the news for bad reasons since 2011, when allegations of corruption among FIFA officials. There have been accusations of corruption related to Qatar’s bid and right to host the event. In 2015, Switzerland (that’s where FIFA is headquartered) opened investigations relative to corruption and money laundering related to the Qatar World Cup bid.
Finally, besides the corruption allegations, there’s also a huge controversy about the deaths that occurred during the construction of the stadiums, the use of migrant workers (as explained above), the women and LGBT rights in Qatar, and many other things. Qatar’s organization of the world cup has been used as an example of sportswashing, but with all these controversies, we are not sure if it’s been successful at all.
One of the most famous companies in Qatar is Al Jazeera. Established in Doha in 1996, it is the largest Arabic-language radio and TV broadcaster. It is state-owned by the state of Qatar, but it maintains editorial independence. They were not the first, middle eastern broadcaster, but they are clearly the most successful.
One of the most important moments in Al Jazeera growth and popularity happened after the 9-11 attacks when it received and aired videos of Osama Bin Ladden. This was one of the first times that Al Jazeera came to the attention of the west, and it continued when its footage was routinely used during the Afghanistan war.
Al Jazeera continued to grow and become the most popular channel in the region due to the quality of its content and the less constraint it suffered than almost any other Arab broadcaster. Al Jazeera became so important and popular that it is said to have played a critical role in the Arab spring as it helped propel insurgent emotions from one capital to the next.
Al Jezeera is now appreciated globally, providing alternative views and showing underrepresented voices by traditional mainstream western media.
What is Qatar famous for? For us frequent travelers, one of the first things that comes to mind is Qatar Airways, the flag carrier airline of Qatar. Founded in 1993, it is a relatively new company, but it grew exponentially in the last two decades to become one of the most popular in the world.
Based in Doha, Qatar Airlines is a five-star airline and one of the best airlines in the world. It focuses on quality, comfort, excellence in service, and it has one of the most modern fleets.
Today, Qatar Airlines flies to over 150 destinations in Asia, Africa, Europe, America, and Oceania. It has more than 200 aircraft and employs more than 40 000 people globally. It is a member of the Oneworld alliance since 2013.
PSG and other investments
Besides the huge, worldwide famous companies, Qatar is also known for its foreign investments in different industries and real estate, some of them iconic assets.
Among Qatar’s investments, there are plenty of real estate in Europe, the USA, and the Pacific, but also strategic and long-term investments in retail, health care, banking, automotive sports, investment banking, trade, raw materials, tourism, and much more.
These investments are primarily done through the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the country’s sovereign wealth fund. The main idea behind these huge investments is to diversify the risk from the oil and gas prices and create long-lasting wealth. In 2021, the QIA held assets with a global value of about $450 billion in more than 40 countries.
Established in 2005, it is the 11th largest national wealth fund in the world. Some of the most well-known brands and companies bought or co-owned by QIA include:
- PSG – one of France‘s most famous football clubs that became a European powerhouse with Qatar’s investment;
- Valentino Fashion Group – one of the most famous luxury brands in Italy;
- London real estate – HSBC tower, the Shard skyscraper, the Olympic Village, the Harrods store, the Savoy Hotel, and the Canary Wharf;
- They are also large shareholders in many companies like the London stock exchange, the Empire state building in NY, St. Petersburg Airport, British Airways, Sainsbury, etc.