The history of Qatar is closely linked to the history of the Gulf region and the Arabian Peninsula, which experienced four centuries of rivalry between the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French for control of trade routes to India and the Far East.
The reach of the British Empire diminished after the Second World War, especially following Indian independence in 1947. Pressure for a British withdrawal from the Arab emirates in the Gulf increased during the 1950s, and the British welcomed Kuwait’s declaration of independence in 1961. When Britain officially announced in 1968 that it would disengage politically, though not economically, from the Gulf in three years’ time, Qatar joined Bahrain and seven other States in a federation. Regional disputes however, quickly compelled Qatar to resign and declare independence from the coalition that would evolve into the United Arab Emirates. In 1971, Qatar became an independent sovereign state and a member of the United Nations.
Since 1995, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has ruled Qatar, seizing control of the country from his father Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani while the latter vacationed in Switzerland (he lived in exile in France and in Italy until 2004, when he returned to Qatar). The new emir appears to be much more liberal than his father. Under Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Qatar has experienced a notable amount of sociopolitical liberalization, including the endorsement of women’s suffrage or right to vote, drafting a new constitution, and the launch of Al Jazeera, the TV network known as the “Arab CNN,” which plays a significant role in raising awareness of the country.