Freedom of the press
Qatar, a former pearl-fishing centre and once one of the poorest Gulf states, is now one of the richest countries in the region, thanks to the exploitation of large oil and gas fields since the 1940s. Dominated by the Al-Thani family for almost 150 years, the mainly barren country was a British protectorate until 1971, when it declared its independence after following suit with Bahrain and refusing to join the United Arab Emirates. In 1995 Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa deposed his father to become emir and since then he has introduced some liberal reforms.
Ruling monarch Sheikh Hamad - who became emir when he ousted his father - advocates greater political openness. Elections in 1999 for a 29-member municipal council were the first in which Qatari women were allowed to vote and stand for office.
Qatar is one of the wealthiest countries in the region because of oil; the government has encouraged diversification. The population is small. Foreigners - including labourers attracted by a construction boom - outnumber natives. Oil money funds an all-embracing welfare state, with many services being free or heavily subsidised. Possessing more than 15% of the world's proven gas reserves, Qatar has ambitions to become a global energy giant.
Qatar owns the forthright satellite TV station al-Jazeera which has attracted a growing audience as well the displeasure of some neighbouring states. Press freedom has been extended and the Qatari satellite TV station Al Jazeera has become one of the most important broadcasters in the Arab world.
Population: 628,000 (UN, 2005)
Major language: Arabic
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 71 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Riyal = 100 dirhams
Main exports: Oil, gas