Originally governed as part of Bahrain, the place became a hotspot for commercial activity, being a good place to stop between the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Ocean. Later it became a protectorate of the Ottoman Empire until the Ottomans wanted to turn protecting into conquering, when they were expelled for good from the area.
In the last parts of the 19th century and the early 20th century, Qatar approached the British to help them dissociate from the Al Khalifa clan of Bahrain, essentially turning themselves into a protectorate from one country to another. In 1971, it became an independent state.
Today the country is an absolute monarchy led by Hamad ibn Khalifa Al Thani, who deposed his father Khalifa ibn Hamad Al Thani in a bloodless coup (he had already been practically running the country before anyway) and has continued the modernization progress started by his father, including womens suffrage and a new constitution. It is the only other country in the world to adopt Hanbali Sunni Islam (specifically, the Wahhabi movement) as its state religion (other Sunni Persian Gulf countries adhere to Maliki school). Nevertheless, it is way more liberal than fellow Wahhabi-adhering Saudi Arabia. It is also, surprisingly, one of the few Arab states willing to take Israel to the negotiations table.
Qatar is a huge tract of desert, so most of the cities are on the coast. It is also, like fellow Persian Gulf countries, full of oil, which earns it the distinction as the country with the highest GDP per capita adjusted according to purchasing power parity (i.e. living costs) at $124,000; for comparison, the United States ranks eleventh at $59,000. Adjusted by nominal value, its ranking drops to sixth at $60,000 per capita, still the highest in Asia and just ahead of the US.
Its recent economic growth has been driven in many ways by immigrant labour from India and the Greater Middle East, to the point where four-fifths of Qatar's 2.6 million people are foreign workers with temporary residence. Sadly, these foreign workers have not been treated over well, with many being forced to sign contracts in languages they do not speak, being prohibited from forming trade unions, and work in poor conditions. The International Trade Union Congress and the Guardian estimate, for instance, that at least 4,000 workers will die building the World Cup infrastructure - more than players who will take to the field. The average per capita annual wage for an immigrant worker is $2,500, whilst the average per capita annual wage for the natives is $102,000. This has led some commentators to compare the nation with ancient Sparta; a clique of sybarites and dilettantes secured in power by vast slave labour.
Football fans may know the country as the future host of the 2022 World Cup, a selection that is widely believed to have been influenced by cash. Fans of sport in general (especially in Asia) may also remember the capital, Doha, as candidate city for the 2020 Olympic Games, and was host of the 2006 Asian Games, best known as the games whose opening ceremony featured Mohammed ibn Hamad, a son of Sheikh Hamad and captain of Qatar's equestrian team, galloping with his horse carrying the Torch up the stands to light the cauldron perched atop the bleachers. Also, much like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar is attracting motorsport, having become the first nation in the Arab World to host a Grand Prix motorcycle race in 2004.
Al Jazeera is also based in Qatar.
The Qatari flag