Qatar is an absolute monarchy that has been ruled by the al-Thani family since the mid-1800s. It is currently headed by Sheikh Hamad, who ousted his father, Sheikh Khalifa, in a bloodless coup d'etat (a takeover of a government) in June 1995. Although autocratic (ruling through absolute power), the ruling family has been committed to building the state and developing its resources. Since taking over, the widely popular Sheikh Hamad has embarked on an ambitious political and economic reform program to modernize the state and address the decline in economic performance that began in the early 1990s. In 1999, the first municipal elections in the country's history were held, followed by the establishment of a constituent assembly in mid-1999 entrusted with the task of drawing up a permanent constitution and providing for an elected parliament. Sheikh Hamad has also allowed greater political freedoms. Despite these efforts, however, ultimate authority continues to rest with him and his circle of advisors. The sheikh remains the source of absolute authority and enjoys the power to dissolve the Consultative Council (a 35-member advisory council appointed by the sheikh) and rule by decree, powers given to him by the 1970 provisional constitution.
Qatar is a welfare state , where health care and education are almost free. Since 1998, the government has moved to introduce small charges for these services, especially for health care, in an effort to boost the govern-ment's budget by reducing spending. However, most utilities in 2001 continue to be heavily subsidized by the government, and education remains entirely free. Qataris do not pay taxes and the government's budget continues to rely heavily on oil revenue.