How Qatar Got So Rich So Fast [PHOTOS]

Lots of countries have fossil fuels, but few have done as well as Qatar to take advantage of them.

While Venezuela, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, and others have fallen victim to the resource curse, when an abundance of resources leads to economic distortions and limited growth, Qatar has done much to reinvest energy money and diversify its economy.

Support from the U.S. as well as decades of proven reserves have also fostered stability.

The tiny peninsula has the highest per-capita GDP in the world at $US98,800 — and even that number may vastly understate the actual wealth of Qatar’s 280,000 citizens. Qatar has enough money to build a huge metropolis in the desert and to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup, allegedly through millions of dollars in bribes.

We’ve gathered photos to tell the incredible story of Qatar.

Qatar has been ruled by the Al-Thani family since the early 1900s when it became a British protectorate. On July 17th, 1913, Shaikh Abdullah Bin Qassim Al-Thani (center-left) became the ruler of Qatar.

At the time, Qatar's primary industry was pearling and fishing. The country was marked by widespread poverty, malnutrition, and disease from the collapse of the pearl trade in the 1920s.

In 1945, American GIs try their hand at diving for pearls with professional pearl divers in Bahrain, one of Qatar's neighbours.

In 1939, oil was discovered at Dukhan. Development on the field was slow until 1949, due to World War II. While the oil discovery was significant, it was nothing compared to the natural gas reserves found 30 years later.

In 1951, Qatar produced 46,500 barrels of oil per day, amounting to $US4.2 million in revenue. The discovery of off-shore oil fields and their development by Shell led to an increase in Qatar's production to 233,000 barrels per day.

Doha's commercial district in 1968.

New revenue from oil exports flooded the pockets of the ruling family and Qatar began a slow modernization process. The country's first school, hospital, power plant, desalination plant, and telephone exchange all opened in the 1950s.

An aerial view of Doha, Qatar in the 1940s.

Oil revenues steadily increased through the 1960s as the Al-Thani family strengthened its grip on power by installing relatives in high government positions. All Al-Thani family members were granted extravagant allowances.

A Qatari tanker in 1971 offloading oil offshore.

Qatar gained its independence in 1971 after Great Britain announced that it was removing all of its military obligations east of the Suez Canal.

The mouth of the Suez Canal in 1951.

On February 22, 1972, Khalifa ibn Hamad deposed his father Emir Ahmad ibn Ali, who was hunting with his falcons in Iran. Khalifa ibn Hamad cut the expenditures of the royal family and increased spending on social programs, housing, health, education, and pensions.

This is the Amiri Diwan or presidential palace in 1971. The grounds are not even complete yet.

In 1971, the world's largest natural gas field, the South Pars/North Dome Gas-Condensate field, was discovered off the coast of Qatar. Petroleum production was still running high at the time, so the field was not developed.

Thanks to the North Field, Qatar has the largest natural gas reserves in the world after Russia and Iran. Qatar's reserves are estimated to be 896 trillion cubic feet.

A Qatari Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) tanker ship is loaded up with LNG at Raslaffans Sea Port, northern Qatar.

The crash of oil prices in the 1980s, along with the emir siphoning off oil revenues, stalled the Qatari economy. The crisis led Qatar finally to develop the North Field in 1989, though even then production was slow.

By 1995, the situation in Qatar had not improved. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani took the throne in a bloodless coup from Emir Khalifa bin Hamad, while the emir was in Switzerland. Sheikh Hamad set a whole new direction for the country.

One of Sheikh Hamad's first moves was to fast-track the development of the North Dome field. Production was ramped up and Qatar began exporting liquid natural gas for the first time.

To accommodate increased production and demand, Qatar began building new liquid natural gas plants. Over the last 15 years, 14 liquid natural gas plants have been built in partnership with international oil companies.

Source: Bloomberg

In the late 1990s, Qatar entered into production sharing agreements with numerous international oil companies. The new companies began using horizontal drilling methods to reverse declines in oil production. Qatar's partnership with Maersk Oil resulted in the world's longest horizontal well.

In 1996, Qatar built the gigantic, billion-dollar al-Udeid air base, which has served as a logistics and command facility for the U.S. Military. The partnership with the U.S. military has given Qatar an unprecedented level of security.

In 1997, Qatar began long-term agreements to provide massive amounts of natural gas to Spain and Japan. Over time, Qatar further diversified its clients.

Thanks to steady oil production and high natural gas production, Qatar's GDP has skyrocketed over the last 15 years.

Qatar has amassed a sovereign wealth fund of $US170 billion dollars thanks to revenues from oil and natural gas. It has begun to invest it like a hedge-fund.

This is the Amiri Diwan or presidential palace.

Source: SWF Institute

In 2003, Qatar established the Qatar Investment Authority to recycle oil and gas income into other income streams. QIA has made big investments in Barclays Bank, Credit Suisse, Harrods, Porsche, Volkswagen, and a majority stake in the Paris Saint-Germain football team.

Qatar has become one of the largest holders of real estate in London through the QIA. Qatar owns The Shard, western Europe's largest skyscraper, as well as large parts of Canary Wharf and other parts of the city.

The Qatar Financial Centre was built in 2005 to develop Qatar's financial services industry. The country believes that it can become a financial services leader for Gulf states thanks to its relative stability and large base of capital.

In 2006, Qatar passed Indonesia to become the largest exporter of liquid natural gas in the world with revenues from oil and natural gas amounting to 60% of Qatar's GDP. But more competition was coming, with liquid natural gas production booming in places like United States and Australia.

This Qatari tanker is the largest in the world.

In December 2010, Qatar was selected as host for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Qatar promised to build 12 state-of-the-art stadiums that would employ cooling technology so players could escape the heat. Qatar has positioned itself as a sporting hub for the region, hosting or planning to host numerous global sporting events.

The skyline has changed dramatically in recent years. Here's what Doha looked like in 1977.

There have been widespread allegations of horrific working and living conditions for the migrant workers who are building the World Cup sites and other projects. It is not the first time that Qatar has been criticised for treating migrant workers like second-class citizens.

A bathroom at a migrant camp outside Doha.

Earlier this month, it was also alleged that Qatar spent $US5 million on bribes to secure the 2022 World Cup bid.

Ex-FIFA VP Mohamed Bin Hammam, often referred to as the Qatari Machiavelli, is said to have spent millions on bribes and gifts to secure Qatar's bid.

Can Qatar become the Hong Kong of the Middle East or will it fail to escape the resource curse or get dragged down by regional instability? It's one of the hottest questions in the world right now.

Meanwhile, it's good to be Qatari ...

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