Beranda Opinion English About Qatar

About Qatar


Qatar’s social history is full of intrigue, conflict and violence, in stark contrast to the contemporary image of Qatar as relatively devoid of communal violence and open conflict.

While all eyes are now on Qatar as it is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, not many know about Qatar. This includes Historical issues, socio-political structures, geocultural conditions, portraits of human rights (HAM) and religious systems and practices in this country. So far, Qatar has only been known as a rich and prosperous oil-producing country. In the Arab Gulf region (Arab countries in the Arab or Persian Gulf areas), Qatar’s popularity has been lesser than that of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Saudi Arabia is popular because the monarchy is a place for haj and umrah pilgrimage for Muslims around the world, in addition to the expansion of Wahhabism to many countries through da’wah, education, scholarships and publishing projects. Today, Saudi Arabia is increasingly popular because of its massive cultural modernization and religious moderation movement, while the popularity of the UAE is due to its “liberalization” and modernization practices that have long preceded other countries in the Arab Gulf region.

Qatar’s fate is more or less the same as that of Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, which are also less widely known to the public. This World Cup event can thereby boost Qatar’s popularity in the eyes of the international public.

Community structure

Like other Middle Eastern countries and other parts of the world, Qatar also has its own historical dynamics and social structure. Qatar’s population is dominated by migrants, ranging from 85 to 88 percent. Of the approximate 2.9 million residents of Qatar, there are only 300,000 “native” (Qatari) citizens.

This is more or less the same as the UAE, where around 88 percent of the population are non-Emirati citizens. In terms of numbers, the Bahrainis and the Kuwaitis are also not dominant in their respective countries. Only the Saudis and the Omanis outnumber expatriates.

Although the Qatari population is much smaller than the migrant population who are predominately citizens of South Asian countries (India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), the Philippines or non-Qatar Arabs (Egypt), it is the Qatari group that makes and controls the political system, law, religion, economy, education and sociocultural policies

They are also entitled to enjoy various privileges and state facilities, important positions and “classy” jobs.

The migrant population is only limited to workers. They work in certain sectors, fields and types of work. They were the ones who built the World Cup infrastructure, such as the seven magnificent stadiums, hundreds of hotels, restaurants and roads to welcome soccer fans from many countries.

Then, who are the Qataris? The Qataris are a collection of various clans or ethnic groups that used to inhabit the east Arabian region. They include, among others, Al-Tsani, Al-Khalifa, Bani Khalid, Al-Saud, Al-Ainain, Al-Qawasim, Al-Musallam, Al-Attiyah and Al-Kuwari. Al-Tsani is the most influential, having ruled in the 19th century. Since 1868, Qatar has been controlled by the Al-Tsani family, namely the descendants of Sheikh Tsani bin Muhammad al-Tsamir, a tribal chief on the Qatar Peninsula.

According to the records of the Greek historian Herodotus from the fifth century, originally the inhabitants who occupied Qatar were Canaanite tribes who are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Are they the Qatari ancestors? Nobody knows exactly. What is clear is that various ethnic groups, Sumerians, Persians, Turks, Bedouin Arabs and so on, have lived in succession in the Qatar Peninsula region for thousands of years.


The large number of non-Arab migrants has had an impact on the plurality of languages, religions and cultures in society. Even though Arabic (Qatar dialect) is the official language of the state, English is also widely practiced and has even become a lingua franca, especially in the world of commerce, media, administration, internet, games and daily communication with fellow expatriates and with Qataris.

A number of universities also use English or apply a “dual language” system (Arabic and English). The massive use of English caused the Government of Qatar to worry about the extinction of the Arabic language in the future, so they initiated a symposium on Arabic language preservation. Apart from Arabic and English, other languages are also practiced, such as Persi, Urdu, Hindi and Tagalog.

Like the plurality of languages, religion is also plural. Although Islam is the majority religion embraced by residents (about 67 percent, and the state’s official religion), many non-Islamic religions are also practiced, such as Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. For Islam, the majority of Qataris follow the Sunni-Hanbali-Wahhabi schools of thought, while the rest are Shiites (about 15 percent) and other Islamic groups.

Especially for Christians, the government has donated land for church construction. Inevitably, there are quite a number of churches in Qatar of various Christian denominations (Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Syro Malabar, Marthomite and so on). And there is a Krishna Temple in Doha for Hindus.

Cultural practices are also plural, such as art, music, clothing and sports. Although the state adopts the strict Hanbali school of thought and Wahhabism is practiced by the majority of Qatari citizens, the style and character of Hanbalism and Wahhabism in Qatar is quite moderate in matters of the dress code, appreciation of art and music and relations with non-Muslims (although in certain issues it is very strict, for example regarding the LGBT community).

The development of the world of education is no less interesting. Qatar built an “Education City” in Al-Rayyan specifically to accommodate foreign universities. A number of foreign universities have established branches in Qatar, such as Georgetown University, Northwestern University, Texas A&M University and Virginia Commonwealth University. Although Islam is the official and dominant religion, majors in Islamic studies programs are very limited. Those that dominate are majors in non-religious programs, such as business, economics, science, engineering, Artificial Intelligence and so on.

Socio-political history

Qatar’s social history is full of intrigue, conflict and violence, in stark contrast to the contemporary image of Qatar as relatively devoid of communal violence and open conflict.

Both before and after Islam was born in the 7th century, Qatar became a place of conflict and struggle for various interest groups between tribes living in Qatar and Arabia with foreign ethnic groups. For centuries, a number of foreign ethnic groups, such as the Sumerians, the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the Turks, the Bahrainis, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and the French wanted to control the maritime trade routes that passed through the Arabian Gulf. In the 19th century, the Netherlands and England bombarded Qatar with canons. Qatar was involved in a “sea war” with Bahrain and Dubai (the UAE had not yet been established at that time).

Meanwhile, the mainland Qatar region has also become an arena of struggle over a number of pastoralist Bedouin Arab tribes/clans with nomadic patterns, such as the legendary Al-Murrah tribe. At the end of the 18th century, the Al-Saud clan from Arabia successfully invaded Qatar (and Al-Hasa) and defeated the dominance of the Bani Khalid clan. This tension between tribes/clans, among other things, prompted Britain to intervene to ensure peace; worried that their trade interests would be disturbed.

However, the peace agreement (general treaty of peace) did not last long. Qatar returned to turmoil until finally the Al-Tsani clan emerged brilliantly as a fraction of the Bani Tamim tribe in Arabia under the command of Jassim bin Muhammad al-Tsani, who was known as the founder of Qatar. He solved socio-political problems and the conflict between Arab tribes, who inhabited Qatar, with Britain, Turkey (Ottoman), Bahrain and Dubai. Since then, the prestige of the Al-Tsani clan has grown stronger and stronger. Like the Al-Saud clan in Saudi Arabia, the Al-Tsani clan until now controls Qatar’s social, political and economic systems.

Marginalized society

Qatar also has a dark side. Discriminatory attitudes and social injustice are rife, not only against migrant workers, but also against a group of Qatari Arabs themselves. For example, a number of tribes and clans, such as the Al-Murrah, the Al-Ghufran and the Syaml al-Hawajir are facing serious problems, because the government has revoked their citizenship status and civil rights. Now there are thousands of members of these tribes who hold a stateless status, such as the Rohingya, the Kurds and the Darfur. Many of them live in exile in several other countries in the Middle East and have been imprisoned and tortured to a point of asking the United Nations for assistance.

The tragedy that befell a number of tribes stems from their disapproval of the Emir of Qatar in 1995, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Tsani, who took power from his own father (Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim al-Tsani) through a coup while he was in Europe. The father tried to reclaim his throne with the help of several tribes/clans, but failed. As a result, the father was kicked out of Qatar. In 2004 he returned to Qatar. The current Emir of Qatar (Tamim bin Hamad al-Tsani) also overthrew his father in 2013.

Note: this article was fist published by Kompas, 17 December 2022.

Artikulli paraprakConnecting worlds: Filipino and Indonesian sojourns to Saudi Arabia
Artikulli tjetërThe Refugee Dilemma in the Middle East
Antropolog Budaya di King Fahd University, Direktur Nusantara Institute, Kontributor The Middle East Institute, Kolumnis Deutsche Welle, dan Senior Fellow di National University of Singapore.


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