Friday, May 10, 2013

"Qatar? Where's that?" A Brief History and Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

In 1994 Qatar's Emir Khalifa bin Hamad al Thani takes an ill-advised vacation and his son Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani moves into the Royal quarters.

It's a quiet, non-confrontational coup that changes everything for this tiny country in the heart of the Gulf. Overnight, wealth moves from palace coffers into the hands of the people. Land grants are issued. Deals are made. Hotels are built.

Seventy short years ago, Qatar was little more than a vast expanse of sand. In the winter, Bedouin families roamed the desert as camel and goat farmers. In the summer, they took to the sea, in search of fish and pearls. They ate rice and fish and drank water imported from Bahrain. The country was steeped in poverty made more troubling by the crash of the pearl industry (brought on by the advent of the Japanese cultured pearl market).

Until 1939, when oil is discovered.

Qatar's first schools appear in 1954. Now, modest homes replace goat hair tents. Sedans motor over newly paved streets. Foreigners, mostly British, wander the marketplace. The Corniche chisels a semi-circle around Doha Bay and the Sheraton Hotel steps into the sky.

February 2012 skyline with Sheraton Hotel on far right

Growth is related to oil production needs as wealth is tightly controlled by those in power.

Until, just twenty years ago, when Dad gets the pink slip.

With HH the Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani at the helm, lots of stuff happens, seemingly all at once. Infrastructure redesign, systems reorganization, international diplomacy, publicity, an airport. Stadiums are built. World class sporting events are held.

But the building boom really begins when Qatar wins its bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Now there is Construction with a Capital C. Architects, engineers, plumbers, the Cable guy. Cranes march across the sky. Estates replace homes that replaced goat-hair tents. Ferraris replace Fords that replaced camels. There are nannies, maids, cooks, a full time house boy to dust the foyer. There is the zig zag building, a bullet shaped tower that changes color, a high rise shaped like a sail. Burger King, McDonalds Chili's, Marriott, The Ritz, Gordon Ramsey. A shiny new souq. An airport.

A brand spanking new downtown (our "Doha What/Why"), under development.

December 2012, National Archive (shown here under construction) will overlook souq

Unofficial reports state that there are three times more expats living in Qatar as there are Qataris. Many of these foreign workers, like Bob, are temporary residents - in country until the job is done. Others are permanent guests attracted by the promise of work: hotel receptionists, clerks, drivers, servers and more.

Today Qatar is the wealthiest country in the world, per capita. And becoming wealthier: a new natural gas field was just discovered.

UPDATE: In July 2013, the country welcomes a new Emir.

It seems Qatar's story is just beginning…

Commonly Asked Questions:

Where is Qatar?

The country is a peninsula that extends from Saudi Arabia into the Arabian Gulf. United Arab Emirates to the south, Kuwait to the north, Iran across the water. The country shares a channel with Bahrain.
Do they speak English there?

Yep. English is more commonly spoken in Qatar than any other language, including Arabic.

Do you have to cover?

The country follows Shari'a law which means modesty is expected from everyone, residents and guests, men and women. At this time ladies are asked to cover from shoulders to knees when in public and to wear hijab (and sometimes abaya) when visiting sacred areas.

Is it safe?

They say you could leave your purse on a curb in downtown Doha, return a week later and it'd still be right there waiting for you, undisturbed. Consequences for bad behavior are swift and severe.

They say.

There are places a woman should not go unescorted - like wander into the workers' camps alone - or pretty much anywhere late at night.

Looking for a political response? Qatar is respected in the area as a sort of Switzerland of the Middle East. This means that countries in conflict are - peacefully - represented…everywhere. We follow the rules, keep a low profile. And we feel safe.

Arabian or Persian Gulf?

The answer depends upon which side of the water you're standing. The Qatar/Saudi Arabia/UAE side prefers the term "Arabian Gulf." The Iran/Iraq/Pakistan side says "Persian Gulf." When in doubt, omit the adjective.

Do you like it there?

Yes! We're studying the language, learning the culture, seeing the country, exploring. While we miss our family and friends so far, far away - we're having a great, grand adventure!

Do you get to travel?

Qatar's location makes it easy and (relatively) inexpensive to zip off to some fantastic places. We've been to UAE, Italy and Greece, with plans to visit England, France, Ireland, Turkey, Oman.

What about church?

Islam is the official religion of Qatar so mosques are the most visible religious structures. It is allowed to worship other faiths recognized by Islam. We attend services every week in a beautiful, unadorned building inside a Religious Compound that serves Catholic, Protestant, Eastern and Orthodox belief systems.


Peggy said...

What an interesting post!! There are SO many people who have asked me where Qatar is... and then don't know the questions to ask. You not only answered questions --I now feel like I know what questions to ask!!! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Very informative! You are a good ambassador for the country and its culture. I hope they appreciate you! Once you mentioned that people over 70 were not granted visas. Could you elaborate on the rationale for that regulation?