Oil is the mainstay of the economy and accounts for about 75% of Qatar's export earnings and 70% of government revenues. Oil and natural gas reserves are extensive, but the government is working on a long-term project to diversify the economy. Today, Qatar produces fertilizers and steel, as well as oil.

Of the existing labour force, 69% work in the service sector, 28% in industry and 3% in agriculture. Agriculture and fishing are subsidized by the state, but account for only a small fraction of the economy. Most food is imported.

Qatar's labour laws give preference in hiring first to Qataris, then to other Arabs, and finally to other foreigners. Foreign workers are strictly controlled. Their visas stipulate that they must work for a specific Qatari sponsor at a designated job. Foreigners are not permitted to own a business or a property in Qatar, except in partnership with a Qatari who owns more than 50%.

There are no trade unions, but workplace-based organizations, known as workers' committees, deal with grievances, and there is a labour court to help settle employment disputes. The government encourages Qataris to join the industrial work force. Nevertheless, at present, the majority of labourers and middle-level workers are still foreigners.

If a Qatari citizen's salary is below the level necessary to support a family, the government will provide assistance. Foreign workers are not permitted to bring their families to Qatar unless the government determines that their salaries are high enough to support a family.

Women make up 7% of the work force. Those who work outside the home are often employed as teachers, nurses or clerks. However, women are being encouraged to move into new areas, including politics. In 1999, six women ran for office in Qatar's first municipal election. None of the women won, but their participation in the election was an important breakthrough.

   Did you know?
Because the early afternoon is the hottest part of the day, offices and shops are usually open from 7:00 a.m. to noon and from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. or later. The Qatari weekend is Thursday and Friday rather than Saturday and Sunday.