Elections in 1999 for a 29-member municipal council were the first in which Qatari women were allowed to vote and stand for office.
A constitution providing for limited democratic reforms came into force in 2005. The new basic law provided for a legislature - the Advisory Council - with 30 elected members and 15 members appointed by the emir.
The emir says Qatar will hold its first national legislative elections in 2013.
Coincidence? Al Jazeera coverage parallels Qatari interests.
At the same time that Al Jazeera was proving its chops, Qatar also dove head first into regional affairs. As rotating head of the Arab League during the revolution in Libya, Doha leveraged its natural gas wealth and its negotiating skills to arm rebels and secure a United Nations Security Council resolution to protect civilians. Today, Qatar is spearheading efforts to win similar international support for the opposition in Syria.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are paying salaries to rebel forces fighting in the Syrian revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, an Arab diplomat said on Saturday.
"The payment has been going on for months and the agreement was made on April 2 by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with logistical organisation from Turkey where some Free Syrian Army factions are based," said the official, who requested anonymity.
Qatar was long seen as the Switzerland of the Middle East – a small, neutral country friendly to everyone from Iran to the US Central Command, which it hosts.
The fact that Qatar had good relations with nearly everyone made it invaluable when the Arab Spring began. It also had other assets: cash, ambition, and Al Jazeera, the popular satellite TV network funded by Qatar's emir.
FEW sovereigns have shown more diplomatic ambition this year than the emir of Qatar. Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has brokered a peace deal between the Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, acted as linchpin in America’s negotiations with the Taliban, spurred Libya’s resurrection and led the international charge to oust the Syrian regime.
No wonder the 60-year-old is dubbed the “Arab Kissinger”.
But for a country that inspires equal parts irritation and admiration, it has an impressive résumé: It has proved decisive in isolating Syria’s leader, helped topple Libya’s, offered itself as a mediator in Yemen and counts Tunisia’s most powerful figure as a friend.
In any event, Qatar punches far above its weight: witness its recent proclaimed triumph in Libya. Its muscle, in the form of weapons, cash, fuel, airlift, six fighter-bombers, 100-plus field advisers and vigorous diplomacy, bolstered NATO’s bombers and drones and—more than any other Arab country—helped oust Colonel Qaddafi, even as Al Jazeera’s relentless coverage speeded his messy slide to extinction.
While cheerleading the Arab spring, Qatar has interposed itself, with mixed diplomatic success, in conflicts as far away as Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Things aren't as rosy for Qatar's uneducated residents. Human rights groups have constantly criticized the treatment of migrant workers here. Last summer, the US State Department put Qatar on a "watch list" for laws that it says promotes human trafficking. And according to one study, the average laborer works 60-hour weeks and make about $3,945 a year.
Oil wealth and the worldwide development of markets of for its huge natural gas reserves have made Qatar by some counts the wealthiest country in the world per head of population. It has used the money to invest heavily abroad, especially in Britain where it owns Harrods and large property stakes.
Qatar is one of the smallest - but richest - countries in the world, and has now emerged as a rising star of the Middle East, says The World Tonight's Robin Lustig in Doha.
It is a tiny nation with a population of just 1.7 million inhabitants, only 300,000 of whom are citizens. But put it in a list of countries measured according to per capita income, and Qatar comes top.