Country Listing

Qatar Table of Contents


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 Dubayy), in the absence of foreigners (the Indians were forced out in the late 1800s, leaving Qatar the only gulf amirate 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 Dubayy 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