Qatar is a sovereign Arab state, located in Western Asia, occupying the small Qatar Peninsula on the northeasterly coast of the much larger Arabian Peninsula. Its sole land border is with Saudi Arabia to the south, with the rest of its territory surrounded by the Persian Gulf. A strait of the Arabian Gulf separates Qatar from the nearby island state of Bahrain.
Qatar has been ruled as an absolute and hereditary emirate by the Al Thani family since the mid-19th century. Formerly one of the poorest Gulf states, the mainly barren country was noted mainly for pearl hunting. It was a British protectorate until it gained independence in 1971. Since then, it has become one of the region's wealthiest states due to its enormous oil and natural gas revenues. In 1995, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became Emir when he deposed his father, Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, in a peaceful coup d'état. The most important positions in Qatar are held by the members of the Al Thani family, or close confidants of the al-Thani family. Beginning in 1992, Qatar has built intimate military ties with the United States, and is now the location of U.S. Central Command’s Forward Headquarters and the Combined Air Operations Center.
Qatar has proven reserves of oil and natural gas. Qatar tops the list of the world's richest countries by Forbes. In 2010, Qatar had the world's highest GDP per capita, while the economy grew by 19%, the fastest in the world. The main drivers for this rapid growth are attributed to ongoing increases in production and exports of liquefied natural gas, oil, petrochemicals, and related industries. Qatar has the second-highest human development in the Arab World after the United Arab Emirates. In 2009, Qatar was the United States’ fifth-largest export market in the Middle East (after the UAE, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt).