The State of Qatar occupies a long, narrow peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf. The peninsula is about 200km [12mi] long, with a greatest width of 90km [56mi]. The land is mostly flat desert covered by gravel and loose, wind-blown sand. Sand dunes occur in the SE. There are also some barren salt flats. The highest point, on a central limestone plateau, is only 98m [321ft] above sea level. Qatar also includes several offshore islands and coral reefs. Fresh water is scarce and much of the water supply comes from desalination plants.
The weather from May to September is extremely hot and dry, with temperatures soaring to 49°C [120°F]. Sand and dust storms are common. Winters are mild to warm, with the weather generally sunny and pleasant. The total annual rainfall seldom exceeds 100mm [4in]. Most of the rain occurs in winter.
In the 18th century, three Bedouin tribes established trading settlements along the coast of the peninsula. Since the mid-19th century, members of the Al-Thani family have been the leaders of Qatar. Between 1871 and 1913 the Ottoman Turks, with Qatar's consent, occupied a garrison on the peninsula. In 1916 Qatar agreed that Britain would take responsibility for the country's foreign affairs. Oil was struck in 1939, but exploitation was delayed by World War 2. Commercial exploitation began in 1949, leading to the rapid development and modernization of the country's infrastructure.
In 1968 Britain announced that it would withdraw its forces from the Gulf. Qatar negotiated with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates concerning the formation of a federation.
Qatar became fully independent on 3 September 1971. In 1972, because of rivalries in the ruling family, the deputy ruler Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani seized power from his cousin Emir Ahmad in a coup. In 1982 Qatar, together with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates united to form the Gulf Co-operation Council.
In 1990, following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Qatar agreed to allow foreign troops on its soil. In 1991 Qatari troops were involved in the Gulf War military campaign to free Kuwait. In 1995 Qatar signed a security pact with the United States. A bloodless coup occurred in 1995 when the heir apparent, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, deposed his father. A counter-coup failed in 1996.
In 1996 the Al-Jazeera satellite television was launched in Qatar. It soon won a worldwide reputation for tackling controversial issues, especially those connected with the Arab world. In 2001 it became famous when it became the first station to air recorded statements by the al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and, from 2003, it covered the conflict in Iraq graphically.
Qatar is an emirate, ruled by the Emir and his appointed Council of Ministers. Municipal elections in 1999 heralded moves towards democracy. A new constitution introduced in 2004 provided for a 45-member Consultative Council. This Council consisted of 45 members, two-thirds of whom would be elected by the public and one-third appointed by the Emir. The new constitution came into force in 2005 with elections expected by 2007. In foreign affairs, Qatar resolved long-standing boundary disputes with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in 2001. In 2003, the US Central Command forward base on Qatar became the main centre for the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The people of Qatar enjoy a high standard of living that derives from oil revenues. The country has a comprehensive welfare system, and many of its services are free or highly subsidized. Oil production has given Qatar one of the world's highest per capita incomes and accounts for more than 80% of the country's export revenues. Qatar has about 5% of the world's proven oil reserves and more than 15% of the world's proven natural gas reserves.
Besides oil refining, they produce ammonia, cement, fertilizers, petrochemicals and steel bars. Wells have been dug to develop agriculture and products include beef, dairy products, fruits, poultry and vegetables.
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