Qatar has been ruled as an absolute monarchy by the Al Thani family since the mid-19th century. Formerly a British protectorate noted mainly for pearling, it became independent in 1971, and 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 seized power from 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. (