The small Persian Gulf state now known as Qatar was known as a maritime trading post for centuries, with commerce taking place between nearby Arabian territories and South Asian countries like India. Qatar’s profile was first raised in the modern global economy when then-European colonizer Great Britain discovered petroleum and other hydrocarbons within that country in the early 20th century. While Qatar became a British protectorate during World War I, oil exploration didn’t actually begin until after World War II (during the 1950s). When large oil deposits were discovered at that time, Qatar’s economy was eventually transformed, especially after being granted independence from the British in 1971.
Since then, Qatar’s local ruling family, the Al Thanis, has presided over its country becoming one of the wealthiest in the world, boasting the highest GDP per capita in the world in 2012. The country’s proven oil reserves of 15 billion barrels acts as the basis of the country’s long-term economic stability. Qatar currently uses its oil wealth to invest in various sectors – from education to health care, culture, sports, and even the media (it launched the TV news network “Al Jazeera” in 1996).
Geographically, Qatar is located on a small finger-like peninsula towards the middle of the northeast coast of the much bigger Arabian Peninsula. With Saudi Arabia sharing Qatar’s southern border, the rest of the country is surrounded by the Persian Gulf. The nearby island state of Bahrain is separated from Qatar by a strait in the Persian Gulf. Qatar’s strategic location in that region explains the heavy U.S. military presence in that country, which existed since 1992 (defending vital oil tanker routes, in the event of attacks from hostile countries like nearby Iran).