Qatar: A tiny country asserts powerful influence

The Arab Spring is spreading, but not to Qatar, a tiny, oil-rich country wedged between Saudi Arabia and Iran. What keeps the peace in Qatar?

(CBS News) Qatar is a sliver of a country wedged between Saudi Arabia and Iran, yet Qatar has avoided the chaos, violence and killing of the Arab Spring. There have been no protests, no unrest. Ironically, many Arab leaders believe the engine behind the region's violent revolution is Al Jazeera, a 24-hour satellite television network based in Qatar. The man behind Al Jazeera, the man who created the influential channel, is the emir of Qatar, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Why are Qataris so tranquil? Maybe it's because Qatar's 250,000 citizens are, quite literally, the richest people in the world and very content with their lives in this oil-and-gas-rich speck of a nation. Bob Simon reports.


The following script is from "Qatar" which originally aired on Jan. 15, 2012 and was rebroadcast on July 1, 2012. Bob Simon is the correspondent. Harry Radliffe, producer.

The Arab revolution has taken many twists and turns since it started a year and a half ago and has left chaos and murder, and some hope, in its wake. But one country has been untouched by all that, the tiny speck of a nation called Qatar, wedged between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

As we first reported last January, there have been no protests or demonstrations there. That might be because the 250,000 Qatari citizens are the richest people in the world and there are no taxes. There isn't much democracy either, but Qataris don't seem to mind. The same family has ruled them for 150 years and life couldn't be much better.

Today, Qatar is not only wealthy, it's powerful, admired or feared by everyone in the Middle East. That's because of its television network, Al Jazeera, which has been the engine of the Arab Spring. The man behind it, the man behind everything there, is His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani: the emir of Qatar.

The emir is the master of everything he surveys. All around him revolutions are swirling, regimes are teetering, dictators falling. Yet his desert country is an oasis of tranquility.

Bob Simon: You are surrounded, emir, by revolution. We call it the "Arab Spring." How have you managed to avoid it?

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani: We started our "Qatari Spring" a long time ago.

To be precise, 17 years ago, when the emir overthrew his father in a palace coup and started creating a country which could startle anyone living anywhere else.

Bob Simon: I think Americans are going to be shocked about a few things here: That there are no taxes. That electricity is free. Health care is free. Education is free. Sounds like a paradise.

Bin Khalifa: Well, I welcome you in this paradise.

The emir's "paradise" is rising from the sands along the western edge of the Arabian Gulf. In Doha, Qatar's capital, entire new neighborhoods have been built on land reclaimed from the sea. And the buildings have one thing in common: Bling.

Doha's skyline looks like it was designed by architects who didn't talk to each other, didn't like each other, and engaged in experiments they could never get away with at home. And a Qatari can live anywhere without ever leaving home. A virtual Venice is around the corner. Rodeo Drive is down the block. And there are world-class restaurants in the ancient Arab souk, which was built five years ago.

Fahad al Attiyah, one of the royal family's army of advisers, took us for a drive.

Simon: You were born here?

Al Attiyah: Yes, born in Qatar.

Simon: There wasn't any of this?

Al Attiyah: There wasn't, yes.

Bob Simon: Nothing?

Al Attiyah: Nothing.

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