Last Updated: Friday, 09 October 2015, 08:53 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Qatar : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Qatar : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 9 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Qatar is a peninsula bordering Saudi Arabia and otherwise surrounded by the Arabian/Persian Gulf. It has a population of around 907,000 (CIA World Factbook 2007) of which around 25% are Qataris and 75% migrant workers, (2004 census), some of whom have been settled in Qatar for generations.

Of the total population 40% are Arabs, 18% are Indian, 18% are Pakistani, 10% are Iranian and 14% are from other groups (CIA World Factbook 2007).


Main languages: Arabic, Indian and Pakistani languages, Persian

Main religions: Islam (77.5%), mainly strict Wahhabi Sunnism, and Ithna'ashari (Twelver) Shii Islam, Christian 8.5%, other 14% (2004 census).

Major minority groups: Ithna'ashari (Twelver) Shiis

Qatar has a strong Wahhabi tradition.

As elsewhere in the Gulf, rapid economic expansion was accompanied by a vast influx of migrant labour, outnumbering Qataris four to one. Some groups of migrant workers from particular countries have some cultural activities, private schools and associations but each is largely socially isolated from others and migrant workers as a whole do not form cohesive groups.


Qatar declared itself as an independent sovereign state on 3 September 1971, thus ending its status as a British protectorate since 1916. Qatar's economy had traditionally rested on fishing and pearling, however the discovery of oil in the 1940s transformed its fortunes and it continues to primarily derive its income from oil and gas exports, resources that give it one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world.


Qatar is governed as a traditional monarchy by the Al Thani family. In 1995, the present Amir Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani overthrew the previous Emir, his father, in a bloodless coup. Since then some changes have been introduced including: the adoption of the Permanent Constitution of the State of Qatar through a public referendum and Emir endorsement (2005) which has a section on 'Public Rights and Duties', the introduction of a Municipal Councils for which elections were first held in 1999, provision for a new Consultative Council in the Constitution two-thirds of whose membership will be decided by public elections proposed for 2007, and the merging of the civil and Islamic law court systems in 2003 under the higher court for appeals – the Court of Cessation.

Nevertheless, fundamentally, the political system remains strongly dominated by the Emir as monarch with democratic accountability remaining very much nascent.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

Qatar revoked the citizenship of 6,000 persons mainly from the Al-Gufran branch of the Al-Murra tribe on the charge of them breaking the law prohibiting dual citizenship, due to the charge that they held Saudi citizenship. This also meant that they lost their jobs and benefits. The Qatar National Human Rights Commission has stated that the situation of one-third of these cases has now been resolved.

The political changes introduced since 1995 have focused on the 20% Qatari citizens amongst which no 'minorities' or other groups are recognised. Priveleges such as free education and health are reserved for citizens. Qataris are presumed to be Muslims and apostasy is not tolerated.

There is free practice of Sunni and Shii Islam and there are a number of Shii mosques. Worship amongst migrant worker communities largely takes place in private and is usually tolerated. Registration has been granted Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Coptic and some other Christian groups by the government and six new churches are being built for these communities.

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