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With the imminent start of the first “Arab World Cup”, let’s discover together the rich and varied history of Qatar, the country that will host them
At the origins of Qatar
The very first archaeological finds in Qatar date back to an era between the lower and middle Paleolithic, however this area began to acquire its importance starting from about 8000 BC, when it began to be exploited permanently for its maritime resources and its wells, so much so that at the time it became a particularly coveted place by the nomadic tribes of the Najd and al Ahsa (both in Saudi Arabia) for their pastures. At the time the Qatar peninsula was not permanently inhabited, but was mainly used seasonally and this continued for many centuries; however there were more and more populations who went here for the fishing, the palms and pearls and it is no coincidence that remains of civilization have been found Dilmun (mainly active in Bahrain) and of the Cassites.
According to tradition, the latter would have been the first inventors of purple, which later became famous thanks to Tire, so much so that the first official production was based on the island of al Khor, in the north-east of the country. Around the 7th century BC the Dilmun civilization and Qatar were conquered by the Assyrians, but regarding this period there is no archaeological remains, this has led historians to assume that at that time the peninsula was uninhabitable due to unfavorable climatic conditions. However already in the 5th century B.C. Herodotus will publish the first written testimony regarding the Qataris, defining them as “maritime Canaanites”.
From Alexander the Great to Islam
With the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, Hellenic hegemony was imposed throughout the Middle East, also touching the Persian Gulf and today’s Qatar, which remained under this influence until about 250 BC, when the Seleucids lost their authority over the area in favor of the Parthians. Just under their domination, the Qataris began to be considered as an autonomous and distinct population, so much so that for the first time they were called “Catharrei” by Pliny the Elder and Claudius Ptolemy drew their map for the first time.
In 224 these lands passed to the Sassanid Empire, which began to increasingly exploit their maritime resources such as pearls and dyes. This period was very important for the affirmation of Christianity, which here soon became the majority religion of the country, building monasteries, new settlements and even giving life to various saints such as Isaac of Nineveh. In 628 the first Muslim missionaries arrived here and were so successful as to convert a large part of the area to Islam; however, it should be emphasized that the definitive change of faith took place over several centuries and in the meantime Qatar continued to be the homeland of monks and saints.
The golden age of Islam and the arrival of the Portuguese
With the exploits of the Umayyads, the peninsula, also due to its strategic position, became a key point for the pearl trade. However, this did not translate into greater calm and stability but, on the contrary, led to an increasingly convinced affirmation of Kharigism, a particular Muslim current that stands halfway between Sunnism and Shiism (currently present only in Oman in its Ibadi form), which saw in the commander Qatari ibn al-Fuja’a one of its greatest exponents.
With the arrival of the Abbasids, things initially got much better and in a very short time Qatar became one of the favorite destinations for all world trade, so much so that artifacts from India, China and even Thailand; it is no coincidence that the citizens of this area were known for their splendid public and private buildings. With the decline of the new dynasty, however, the Qarmatians began to make their way, a particularly violent Ismaili Shiite current known for its ferocity, which characterized Bahrain and Qatar between 899 and 1077; after them came the Usfurids and the Kingdom of Hormuz. The latter was then conquered by the Portuguese, who exploited it to create their own dominion in the Persian Gulf, and were then expelled by the Dutch and British, who freed the field for the affirmation of the Banu Khalid clan.
The arrival of the British and the beginning of national dynasties
With their exploits, the city of Zubarah became increasingly important, so as to welcome an ever-increasing number of Arabs from today’s Iraq (especially Basra) and Kuwait. However, it must be said that this tribe saw the current Bahrain as its main center and this meant that in Qatar there were above all their subordinates. This facilitated Saudi-Wahhabi penetration more than ever, which in the course of a few years even managed to conquer the country and assert its dominance; naturally this attracted the ire of neighboring countries such as the Ottoman Empire and Oman, who in 1811 managed to drive out the Wahabis and re-establish the rule of the Banu Khalid.
In 1820 the British stipulated the General Maritime Treaty with most of the states of the Arab emirates overlooking the Persian Gulf, including Bahrain and, consequently, Qatar. This was essential to ensure the safety of the goods of the East India Company and was also an opportunity to place a large part of these lands under the British yoke; however, it must be said that it was under the British that slavery was definitively abolished.
The Birth of Qatar
The arrival of the new invader did not reassure spirits, so much so that from that moment Qatar began to desire its independence more than ever, to the point that countless revolts broke out on the peninsula. In addition to these, there was also an ever-growing fear that the Saudi-Wahhabis would decide to invade Bahrain, which they did in 1851. Between that year and 1863, there were endless skirmishes and treaties between the two countries, which weakened the political authority of the al Khalifa, transforming the country into a reality placed the two different domains and increasingly fomenting their desire to be free from external influences.
In 1867 the Qatari War of Independence began which, although in fact saw the Qataris losers against the forces of Bahrain and their Emirati allies, forced the British to intervene on the field and to impose the Anglo-Bahraini Treaty, in which I know recognized for the first time the existence of Qatar as a semi-autonomous reality and outside the domains of the Al Khalifa, appointing the Al Thani as the ruling family.
The Ottoman parenthesis
In 1871 the Ottomans expanded into the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, settling in al Ahsa and starting to have designs also on Qatar, being immediately welcomed by the inhabitants. However, the honeymoon did not last long as the Sublime Porte was more interested in increasing its dominion rather than favoring the Qataris and consequently not only did it not provide them with the means to regain possession of a border area with the United Arab Emirates, but began to support the Saudi-Wahhabis against the then Sheikh of Qatar. This resulted in the Battle of Wajbah in 1893, which ended in victory for the Al Thani; this did not eliminate Ottoman suzerainty over the area, but it gave it such a strong blow that it became completely independent in 1913.
The next ruler had strong sympathy for the British and this prompted him in a short time to have the country returned to the General Maritime Treaty, transforming it into a de facto protectorate. However, this agreement was not synonymous with greater stability, as the existence of Qatar was still threatened by the Saudis and the Bahrainis, with the Europeans proving extremely reluctant to enter the internal politics of the country; however everything changed with the discovery of oil.
The discovery of black gold
In 1935 the black gold will finally undergo a period of rebirth which, however, did not start off with the best auspices. In fact, a few years later the Great Depression broke out, which was fatal for their precious pearl trade; moreover, due to the war, the demand for oil dropped more and more in favor of basic foodstuffs, creating endless problems for the country. As if that weren’t enough, in 1948 the designated heir to the throne died and this brought Ali bin Abdullah al Thani to command who, with the resumption of the oil trade in 1949, will be the first to lead the country in this new historical phase.
However, the new sheikh turned out to be particularly unfit to reign, so much so that he placed more and more power in British hands and remained as little time as possible in his kingdom. With the growing popular and internal tensions within the family, in 1960 he abdicated in favor of his son Ahmad bin Ali, who initially proved not much better than his father at calming the discontent, soon bringing Qatar into an atmosphere of constant social tension. After some initial difficulties, thanks also to the suggestions of his cousin Khalifa bin Hamad, things straightened out and laws were actually promulgated which also protected the people and not just the royal family.
Union with the United Arab Emirates and independence
In 1968 the United Kingdom decided to withdraw its forces from all the territories beyond the Suez Canal and this generated considerable concern in the small emirates of the Persian Gulf, which already met in February of that year to try to form those which will then become the United Arab Emirates. Initially Qatar and Bahrain were also included in the speech but then, due to a whole series of problems related, among other things, to ministries and the capital, the Al Thani decided to break away and form the independent state of Qatar in 1971; it will be the last major measure by Ahmad bin Ali, who will soon after be deposed in a peaceful coup in favor of his cousin Khalifa bin Hamad.
Unlike his predecessors, the new sheikh no longer focused only on the royal family, but also began to initiate important reform and social justice policies. In 1995 Khalifa bin Hamad himself will be deposed in a peaceful coup by his son, Hamad bin Khalifa, but this time everything did not go as smoothly as in the past. In fact, the old sovereign opposed the initiatives of his son and this gave rise to a counter-coup the following year, which however ended in nothing. Even more than his father, Hamad initiated heavy social reforms such as greater protection of the press and the promulgation of the Constitution of Qatar.
Political crisis and present
With the outbreak of the Arab Spring, Qatar will abandon its traditional role of mediator to give active support to many of the demonstrations, thanks also to the power of Al Jazeera, the most important media in the Arab world, founded in 1996 by the Emir of Qatar. This will draw the ire of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which had great strategic interests in these territories. In 2013, Hamad’s son, Tamim bin Hamad, became emir, but this in no way helped to calm the spirits of those countries which, on the contrary, began a real “bloodless war” with the Al Thani from 2017.
With Trump’s approval, from 2017 the 3 countries already mentioned, together with Egypt and other realities, launched a particularly large economic, political and physical blockade on the Qatari peninsula, preventing it from transiting through their territories, trading with them and being in any way active protagonist of the Persian Gulf policy. This caused a huge amount of problems for the country, which was forced more and more to historical allies such as Turkey and Iran, but failed to fully absorb the causes of this decision. After an extremely tense period, in 2021 countries finally reopen their borders to rivals, although it is not yet 100% clear whether this is the result of a collective agreement or, more likely, many individual agreements between the various states.
Qatar will be the first Arab country to host a World Cup, with the competition starting on November 20 and ending on December 18, 2022.
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