In the September of 1971, Qatar officially became an independent state for the first time in almost exactly a century. This monumental and historic event coincided with Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani’s ascension to the throne, heralding a bright new era of Qatari prosperity. The new Emir was not only a symbol of the nation’s nubile sovereignty, but he had also been instrumental in obtaining the prized autonomy that led to the country becoming the thriving and affluent state that it is today.
Although the new Emir was in large part responsible for dismantling the apparatus that allowed Qatar to become a truly independent nation, the country’s colonial past began long before Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani was born. Throughout the 1800’s the coastal nations of the gulf had dealings with the British, who required safe passage through their waters to enable their exploits in India with the East India Tea Company, but it was in 1872 that the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into the Arabian peninsula forced the Qataris to surrender their sovereignty. The Hakim at the time had hoped the presence of the Ottomans would help to strengthen his position, but relations between the two parties deteriorated, and twenty years later, a military force was sent to Doha to arrest him. The Qataris defeated the Ottoman force, marking the de facto end of their rule over the peninsula.
However, it was not long until Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani’s grandfather, Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani, signed a treaty making Qatar a British protectorate. This meant that in exchange for Britain’s military protection, Qatar relinquished its autonomy in foreign affairs and the power to cede territory, as well as a few more loosely enforced provisions suppressing slavery, piracy, and gunrunning. It would be another sixty years before Britain made the decision to withdraw from everywhere east of Suez, marking the opportunity for Qatar and other gulf nations to establish themselves as independent nations.
At the time, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani was serving as deputy Emir and Prime Minister, and he played a major part in plans to form a federation of Emirates after the British withdrawal from the area, to the point that he was elected Prime Minister of the proposed union. However, after the uncovering of foreign powers’ interference in the affairs, proceedings fell apart and Qatar declared itself an independent state in the second half of 1971. This was universally seen as an opportunity for a fresh beginning for the infant nation, and in the February of 1972 Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani was crowned Emir of independent Qatar.