The official name of Qatar, pronounced Cutter, is the State of Qatar. Like many other Gulf countries, it is a combination of an ancient past and 21st century technology and architecture. It is a country in transition that has retained its traditionalism, while in the process of modernizing.
The overriding influence on life in Qatar, past and present, is Islam. The Qataris remain faithful to their roots; Islam and tribal and family ties are very strong. The tenets of Islam are integral to all aspects of daily life, both social and business.
Until the discovery of oil in the middle of the 20th century, Qatar had few inhabitants and relied on trading, pearling, and fishing. Many of the prominent Qatari families, including the ruling al-Thani family, are former pearl merchants.
The economy of Qatar is subject to centralized state control. The government owns or directly controls the country's mineral wealth, major manufacturing enterprises, banks, and insurance companies.
After years of relying almost entirely on oil, Qatar's continued prosperity now depends on modernization and diversification, as well as on the efficient, cost-effective and timely export of natural gas. The government continues to work towards these goals.
Politically, Qatar became fully independent from Britain in 1971. Today it is a constitutional monarchy, with the emir as the head of state. This position is passed on within the al-Thani ruling family.
The highest executive body in Qatar is the Council of Ministers, which is comprised of both elected and appointed officials. The Council of Ministers initiates legislation, which is then referred to the Consultative Assembly, or Majilis Al Shura, for further discussion. The Emir then ratifies legislation submitted to him by the Majilis Al Shura.
Laws are announced by the emir, as are elections to the legislative assemblies.
Islamic Holy Law, the Sharia, is the fiber of life in Qatar as it is throughout the Arabian peninsula, where it was born and continues to flourish. The call to prayer can be heard from the mosques five times a day, starting at daybreak.
In accordance with the tenants of Islam, some public institutions, such as schools, are segregated by sex or offer special days when only women can attend. There are also family sections in restaurants for women only. Social functions, such as weddings and teas, are often segregated with men and women in different rooms. Qatari women can vote in public elections, and may drive cars.
Expatriates will find some aspects of the society exotic and colorful.
In public, women wear veils to cover their hair and part of their faces, as well as heavy black robes called abayas to cover their bodies. Many of the older, more traditional women wear a face mask called the batula. They also wear large head scarves called hijabs. Qatari men wear long white thobes, floor-length robes. They wear sandals and a three-part head covering called a ghutra.
Foreign visitors and residents may find some of the Islamic influences restrictive, particularly for women in a publicly male-dominated society. However, they will also find that Qatari people have the traditional Arab values of hospitality, family honor, and generosity.