Qatar: A story of unrivaled success
Until June 27, 1995, Qatar was known to very few visitors as the country of roundabouts. These roundabouts were built when there were fewer cars and less activities in the country. Whenever we mentioned Qatar's capital, Doha, we always talked about roundabouts. But, shortly after 1995, the state of Qatar became a country that the whole world talked about.
I was a witness since my childhood to what Qatar was and what Qatar is now. I was born and raised in a city which is located about 100 km from the state of Qatar. During my early age, I saw many of the Qataris spending time and doing shopping in Al-Ahsa. Many Qataris, including members of the Qatari royal family, owned houses and palm tree plantations in this Saudi city. At the same time, there were many people from Al-Ahsa who go there to visit friends and families. The Qataris are known for their law-abiding behavior. They are very polite, friendly, kind and generous people. People loved to meet them and to deal with them. On Dec. 1, 2012, I wrote an article in Arab News titled (When the Saudi city promoted Qatar Airways). The Saudi city is Al-Ahsa. It is the place where Saudis and Qataris had very close social connections which they still maintain.
When I was a young boy, one of my favorite places was the library. I used to spend time in my school’s library and on weekends and vacation I would go to Hofuf public library or a library called Almaktaba Alqataryah (Qatari library). The Qatari library is a reflection of the closeness of relations between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Qatari library was a gift from Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah Al Thani who was the ruler of Qatar from 1949 to 1960.
I have been to Qatar at a very early age because of its proximity to my hometown even though going there wasn’t all that fun. The country had no visible infrastructure. And in the 1970s, Qatar’s most visible and known modern building was the Sheraton Hotel. The hotel picture was posted on Qatari TV station during the intermission as the most notable sign of Qatari modern development. When we used to drive to the Qatari capital, Doha, the Sheraton was the highest structure on the seaside which was called the corniche. In other words, Qatar’s landmark was the Sheraton Hotel. This is why when the Qatari municipality started to build the new roads, it built roundabouts as intersections instead of using the traffic light intersection. The population was less than a million and the number of cars was negligible. In the past, the world never talked about Qatar or mentioned Qatar. Now Qatar is not the country of roundabouts, it is a country that is talked about. Qatar was the country that set the Arab media style when they founded Al Jazeera satellite news outlet and with this small broadcasting TV station, the media in the Arab world changed forever.
During 18 years of Sheikh Hamad Al Thani’s rule (1995-2013), Qatar transformed from a country with no voice in the world political arena to a country that now draws global attention. Qatar became in 18 years one of the fastest developing countries in the world. Now the citizens of Qatar have the highest per capita income in the world with an annual income of around $ 100,000 with no income tax and Qatar has a gross domestic product of more than $ 150 billion. Health care and education is free. So, what happened to the most famous landmark in Qatar, the Sheraton Hotel? It simply became invisible in the breathtaking Doha skyline dotted with high-rise buildings. Qatar became the most attractive market for investment and the center of many social, political and sports events. When the world saw its performance during the Asian Games and Asian cups, the world was ready to see it being selected as the country to host the 2022 world cup.
On June 25, 2013, the world had its attention focused on Qatar. Qatar Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani abdicated in favor of his son Sheikh Tamim in a smooth transition handing power to the younger generation to rule one of the richest countries in the world. Oil and gas are the main source of income of Qatar. Petroleum accounts for more than 80 percent of the government income. Qatar is the third in the world in terms of natural gas reserves. The Qatari government succeeded in its plans to diversify its economy and develop petrochemical industry. Massive plants were built near the seaport which produce petrochemicals, fertilizers, steel and aluminum. Qatar now is known for having the largest liquid natural gas condensing and exporting facilities in the world. With this huge income, Qatar became a financial center and one of the most important financial centers for Islamic finance. Qatari stock market is one of the most lucrative in the world. The Qataris were able to have a very successful economy.
Qatar is now at a crossroads. The power transition came when Arab Spring is still in full swing in some countries and the young emir now is leading a country which had played a major part in the Arab Spring. The young emir is highly educated. He attended schools in the United Kingdom at a very early age and did his military training at Sandhurst. Sheikh Tamim held many positions while he was the crown prince. He was the chairman of many social and sports committees. The world is watching what the new Qatari leader will do because the country had its own way of doing politics. Whether there will be changes in the way the Qataris do their business or not is yet to be seen.