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Qatar: The Merchant Families
Country Study > Chapter 5 > Government and Politics > The Merchant Families


The merchant sector in Qatar differed from other gulf Arab countries before the exploitation of oil in its small size (Doha was an insignificant port compared with ports in Kuwait, Bahrain, or Dubai), in the absence of foreigners (the Indians were forced out in the late 1800s, leaving Qatar the only gulf emirate without Indians until the 1950s), and in the dominant role of a single family, the Al Thani. Although there were merchants before oil, there was no merchant class as in Dubai or Kuwait. Two important families before oil were the Darwish and the Al Mana, who made their living through trade, pearling, and smuggling and who competed for favor with the ruler. The Darwish and the Al Mana maintained their influence by trading loans and advice to the shaykh for monopolies and concessions.

With the arrival of Petroleum Development (Qatar), the Darwish reaped huge profits through their monopoly on supplying labor, housing, water, and goods to the oil company. This monopoly ended, however, when workers, small merchants, and antiBritish Qataris used Abd Allah Darwish, the patriarch of the Darwish family, as one of several convenient targets for an antiregime strike in 1956. By this time, however, with oil revenues growing, the shaykh could remove himself from financial dependence on the merchants, who lost a measure of political influence.

A series of citizenship and commercial laws promulgated in the 1960s helped to channel economic benefits in the direction of Qatari nationals in general and the merchants and ruling family in particular. Only Qataris were permitted to own land, for example, and companies were required to be at least 51 percent Qatari owned. In the 1970s, some laws were enacted that worked against merchant interests by limiting prices and profits.

As they had before the discovery of oil, the Al Thani continued engaging in trade and in other enterprises. Sometimes they used their family connections to win lucrative contracts for themselves or for firms in which they had more common business partners, such as the Jaidah, the Attiyah, and the Mannai families.

Data as of January 1993

Last Updated: January 1993

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Qatar was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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