Since coming to power in June 2013, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has continued the process of profound economic and societal transformation initiated by his father Emir Hamad.
Since 1999, the Central City Council, an advisory body, has been elected by universal suffrage every four years. The last elections took place on the 16th of April 2019 with the renewal of the 29 councillors, including five women. Qatar is also the Arab country with the highest female employment rate (over 50% – about 35% for Qatari women alone).
The country was spared the wave of protests of the « Arab Spring ». The only protests, posted on social networks, came from outside Qatar. They were more concerned with the forced march towards openness and modernisation of the country (proportion of foreigners in the population, promotion of the role of women, hosting of the football World Cup in 2022) than with the shortcomings of the current system.
One of the vulnerabilities of the emirate lies in the small number of its nationals (12% of the population), which forces the country to resort massively to foreign labour.
Qatar is regularly criticised in the international press for the living and working conditions of its migrant workers, particularly on construction sites related to the football World Cup. Following the signing of a three-year technical cooperation agreement, and in light of the progress made, the Governing Body of the International Labour Organisation dropped the complaint against Qatar for forced labour in November 2017. The ILO office’s support for the reform of labour legislation in Qatar, which began in April 2018, has produced concrete results (creation of recruitment centres for workers abroad; introduction of medical monitoring for the 30,000 workers involved in the stadiums; guaranteed payment of wages by employers).
Following the October 2019 announcements, the Qatari authorities adopted major measures in August 2020 with the introduction of a non-discriminatory minimum wage of QR1000 (€250) and the abolition of the exit visa (applicable to all workers, including domestic workers). These decisions formally dismantle, for the first time in the Gulf, the Kafala system (compulsory sponsorship of expatriate workers by nationals).
During the Arab Spring, Qatar chose to support the aspirations of the « Arab peoples ». This engagement diplomacy fuelled tensions with Gulf neighbours who feared destabilising effects on their regime. Upon assuming power in June 2013, Sheikh Tamim Al Thani chose to refocus government action on domestic challenges and sought to ease these tensions. Qatari diplomacy then evolved towards more consensual positions – even towards the withdrawal from certain issues (Syria, Libya).
Qatar’s foreign policy remains marked by the continuing crisis between Qatar and three of its neighbours (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates) as well as Egypt, which have imposed an embargo on Qatar since 2017. They criticise Qatar for its relationship with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Turkish military presence in the country, Al Jazeera’s editorial line, which is accused of interfering in their internal affairs, and its alleged support for terrorism.
On the Yemen issue, Qatar was excluded from the Military Coalition in Yemen after the outbreak of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis. Since then, Qatar has kept a low profile on this issue while maintaining humanitarian aid.
Regarding the fight against terrorism, the Al Udeid base, inaugurated in 2003, where 9,000 American and coalition military personnel are stationed, is the coordination centre for strikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. At the bilateral level, Qatar and France signed a declaration of intent and a roadmap on the 7th of December 2017 to strengthen cooperation in the fight against terrorism and its financing.
Since the embargo, Qatar has strengthened its relationship with the United States, with which Doha has established a strategic partnership. The pace of cross-visits is steady and Qatar is investing heavily in the US ($45bn announced in April 2018).
Qatar is careful to maintain good neighbourly diplomacy with Iran, with which it shares the largest gas field in the world (North Field/South Pars).
Qatar has a very close relationship with Turkey, which has become a strategic partner as a result of the embargo. Turkey has had a military base in Qatar since 2015.
Qatar’s relations with the African continent (excluding North Africa) are still recent and limited, but are growing thanks to investments in infrastructure or the energy sector and a constant policy of development aid.
Relations with Asia, in particular Japan, South Korea and China, are long-standing, but essentially economic. South Korea, Japan and China account for almost two-thirds of Qatar’s trade surplus (mainly liquefied natural gas) and more than one-third of its trade.
Arms imports to the Middle East jumped by 25% in 2016-2020, compared to the period 2011-2015, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), published on 15 March 2021. The institute speaks of a « strategic arms race between several states in the Gulf region ».
Qatar is the leading country in the Middle East and is the 29th safest country in the world according to the Global Peace Index 2021 (it was 31st in 2019) but is under pressure from its neighbours, which is boosting the defence and security market (cyber in particular).
|Pop.in M||GDP per cap. (USD)||GDP growth in 2019 (%)||GDP growth in 2020 (%)||Business Envt Score|
15%: Expected growth in information systems between 2015 and 2021
USD 11.6 billion: 2021 defence budget
Main suppliers (March 2021)
- United States: 47%
- France: 38%
- Germany: 7.5%
The Prime Minister of Qatar is also the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Defence is also the Deputy Prime Minister, a sign that security is a top priority in the Emirate. Defence and security remain the largest item of expenditure for the Qatari government ($11.6bn, i.e. 21.7% of expenditure and 6.5% of the GDP). The provisional budget for the year 2021 also retains the sectoral priorities set out in the Qatar National Vision 2030: 13% of spending is on ‘Municipalities’, i.e. infrastructure, environment and agriculture; 7% on culture and sports; 6% on transport and communications; education (9% of spending or 2.7% of the GDP) and health (8% of spending or 2.4% of the GDP).
The National CyberSecurity Committee (NCSC), under the Ministry of Transport and Communications, established a National Cybersecurity Strategy in 2013 to develop standards and a legal framework for the development of secure services and to increase the country’s capacity to detect and address issues relating to cyberattacks and data protection. A public agency under the Ministry of Interior, the National Center for Cybersecurity, and a warning centre, Qatar’s Computer Emergency Response Team (Q-CERT), have also been set up to protect the country.
Trends, impacts of Covid-19 and developments
In a context of diplomatic crisis with its Gulf neighbours and repeated cyberattacks (Al-Jazeera, Qatar News Agency, Oredoo), strengthening security is a crucial issue in Qatar. The geopolitical climate, the influx of tourists linked to the hosting of the 2022 World Cup and the development of industrial, tourist, logistical and sports infrastructures require the implementation of security and defence solutions to deal with these risks.
With the crisis, the country’s trade surplus in raw materials fell by 41.3% in 2020 due to the fallout of the pandemic, and the drop in global energy demand. Imports fell more slowly by 11.5%, from $29.39 billion to $26.02 billion.
The Middle East homeland security market is expected to more than double in the next five years, from USD 9.6bn in 2017 to USD 19.7bn in 2022, according to data from Frost & Sullivan.
The Ministry of Interior signed contracts worth USD 107.2 million at Milipol Qatar in March 2021.
The Qatari State has built a new camp in Duhail, including 350 buildings and housing, among others, the Internal Security Force Counter-Terrorism Unit « Lefdawiya », the National Command Centre, several directorates of the Ministry of Interior, a central prison, offices and housing for an investment of 3.5 billion USD. Launched in 2012, it should be fully operational at some point in 2021.
The Ministry of Interior also has several projects under construction: the Al Fazaa Police Headquarters in Mesaimeer; the Shamal Security Complex; the Passport and Expatriate Management Department in Al Duhail and two police stations in Umm Salal and Al Sailya.
Qatar’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) production and export industrial complex is set to be expanded by 67% by 2026. More broadly, the petrochemical industry is the economic lifeblood of Qatar and the security of this critical infrastructure is paramount.
The expansion of Hamad International Airport to over 400,000 metres with 64 new checkpoints is also underway.
3 new, exclusive economic zones totalling 27 km² should focus on airport and shipping logistics.
Finally, Qatar is undertaking the development of the new city of Lusail, a Smart-City of 450,000 inhabitants at the gates of Doha. Along with Msheireb Downtown in Doha, it is the second smart city site currently under construction.
In terms of investments, the priorities for 2021 remain more or less the same as in 2020: to complete the projects required for the 2022 World Cup on time, to develop real estate programmes for Qatari citizens and to support the diversification of the Qatari economy. The level of Qatari gross debt would have decreased in 2020 (-4.3% to $104.9bn, or 58% of the GDP), thanks to the early repayment of loans to Qatari creditors.
Qatar continues to be motivated by the sustainable and smart city project, as part of the Qatar National Vision 2030 programme, including sustainable mobility for the Doha Metro, the Lusail tramway and a number of electric shuttles.
With a score of 6,035 in the 2019 Artificial Intelligence Readiness Index1, compared to 8,674 in the US, 9,069 in the UK, 8,608 in France and 7,445 in the UAE, 4,717 in Morocco and 3,492 in Egypt, Qatar is positioned on this disruptive innovation.
Although the country does not yet have a national strategy for artificial intelligence, numerous recommendations from the academic world are encouraging Qatar to invest heavily in the field.
Phase 2 of the Doha Metro, scheduled to open in 2026, is the most important opportunity in the rail transport sector. With the creation of a 4th metro line (Blue Line) and the extension of existing lines with the construction of 60 new stations, the scale of the project is such that many contracts are and will be available.
The Gulf Railway project – also known as the GCC Railway – designed to link the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) by means of 2,177 km of railway is currently at a standstill, given the blockade between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the other. This project, which would include 283 km of railway in Qatar and is estimated to cost more than USD 250 billion, could return to the agenda if relations between the GCC countries are restored. The dynamism of the sector, which will reach a first milestone in 2022 with the hosting of the Football World Cup in Qatar, makes the rail and urban transport market attractive.
The TASMU Smart Qatar programme led by the Ministry of Transport and Communications, launched in 2017, is entering its 2nd phase and the development of an intelligent transport system is on the agenda. Electric buses, the creation of 17 public transport infrastructures (depots, bus stations, etc.), 3,000 intelligent bus stops, WiFi relays and bus boats are just some of the projects for which foreign companies are invited to compete.
With the aim of reducing CO2 emissions by 10%, the Qatar Investment Authority has launched a project called « Project Qatar Mobility » for autonomous shuttles with Volkswagen. This partnership demonstrates the Qatari authorities’ appetite for these innovative means of transport.
The National Strategy for Traffic Safety 2018-2022 led by Ashghal (Public Works Authority) aims to build 1,543 km of roads, 2,000 km of footpaths and 1,028 km of cycle paths by 2022. The aim is to improve road safety, reduce urban congestion and promote soft mobility.
Aeronautics and space
Qatar’s ambition is to be independent in the space sector and thus to operate its own satellites, starting with telecommunications. Es’Hail Sat, the Qatari satellite company, was established in 2010 to develop Qatar’s presence in space. It has since launched two satellites, Es-Hail 1 in 2013 and Es-Hail 2 in 2018, which allow the retransmission of certain television channels in the region. In February 2019, the company inaugurated the first Qatari teleport. With a surface area of more than 50,000 m2, this state-of-the-art infrastructure allows for the control of satellites and supports the broadcasting and encryption of data.
Qatar has announced that it will own and operate 4 satellites by 2022. Two more satellites are expected to be launched by that date.
In June 2019, the Qatari Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) published the « Aviation cybersecurity guidelines » in collaboration with the Department of Cybersecurity of the Ministry of Transport and Communications outlining the strategy to enhance the security of the infrastructure that is aviation. Complying with the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, this perspective offers opportunities in the field of infrastructure security, auditing and consulting.
After asking Eutelsat to contribute to the launch of its first satellite, Es’Hail Sat, which has since launched a second with the participation of the Japanese company Misubitshi and the American Space X, aims to double the number of its satellites in operation by 2022.
Qatar has undertaken the integration and migration of TETRA to LTE. This new, faster and better network requires the best data protection solutions. The same applies to the development of fibre optics and satellite communication (VSAT).
The National Command Centre of the Ministry of the Interior is currently working on a new unified geospatial infrastructure system, renamed « NJM » , to facilitate communication between the command centre and the emergency services (police and medical emergencies).
The improvement of the information and communication system of the Directorate General of the Coast Guard is also an immediate challenge: Biometric voice data system, audio analysis and user identification as well as an information system dedicated to operations and maintenance management are sought after technologies.
The migration to Tala2 Project is expected to connect all monitoring systems to each other and to offer the latest analysis, connectivity and energy saving solutions.
- Equipment for training centres, police stations, rescue centres
- Secure communications systems
- Audio identification
- Digitalisation of the battlefield
- Biometrics, facial recognition
- Anti-drone systems
- Network cameras
- Critical infrastructure security
- Protection of maritime approaches with anti-submarine and anti-mine action
- Individual and collective police equipment (law enforcement…)