Anytime Fitness, Hastings, MN, has signed an area development agreement with the Qatar-based Almuftah Group.

This is the first expansion in the Middle East for Anytime Fitness, which last year announced plans to open franchises in Japan, the United Kingdom and Ireland. The announcement of the Qatar agreement, scheduled for release on Monday, comes on the heels of last week’s report about the expansion featured in Minneapolis-based Finance & Commerce.

Initially, three Anytime Fitness clubs will open in Qatar, a peninsula nation situated in the Persian Gulf with a population of approximately 1.7 million people and the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. The clubs will be owned and operated by Almuftah Marketing, a division of the Almuftah Group, a privately held company based in Doha, Qatar, that operates other business ventures, including restaurant franchises Pizza Hut, Arby’s and TCBY.

“The Almuftah Group is a successful and forward-looking business enterprise which is keenly in tune with evolving consumer tastes in Qatar and the Middle East,” John Kersh, vice president of international development for Anytime Fitness, said in a statement. “We are very enthusiastic that our partnership will provide greatly expanded access to quality health and fitness facilities for the Qatari population.”

The first Anytime Fitness club in Qatar is expected to open by July in Al Wakrah, Qatar, and will serve as the main base of operations for all of the Almuftah Group’s future clubs.

“Our long-range goal is to open an Anytime Fitness club in each town in Qatar, to make fitness accessible to everybody,” Ali A. Almuftah, director of the Almuftah Group, said in a statement. “We’re also planning to open new clubs in the neighboring countries in the Middle East region.”

Almuftah says the Qatari government’s focus on sports and recreation, including a winning bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, will help increase the public’s interest in health and fitness.

“It is Almuftah’s dream to build Anytime Fitness clubs throughout Qatar, and we are working hard to achieve this dream,” Almuftah says.

Anytime Fitness, which recently surpassed 1 million members worldwide, now has almost 1,500 clubs open in eight countries: the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, England, India and Japan. Clubs also are expected to open soon in the Netherlands and Poland.

Anytime is not the only club company making a foray into the Middle East. Last year, Gold’s Gym International, Irving, TX, announced plans to open franchises in four Arab Gulf states, including Qatar.