Almost 80% of Qatar’s population resides in Doha. The entire territory outside of it is desert, so I don’t blame them. Calling it the capital city is an understatement; Doha IS Qatar. It’s is the standard Arabic success story. Find oil, get rich, begin rapid development, live a good life. You’d think that this region is homogenous, that they all love each other. That’s what I thought but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Qatar has always been the black sheep of the Arabic family. Some say it’s because they’re quite progressive. The others would say it’s because of their enormous gas and oil deposits. Qatar, as it currently stands, is the richest country in the entire world.
Neighbouring countries (mainly the Emirates) blocked trade with Qatar, aimed to “corner them economically”. Imagine trying to trip someone and he does a pirouette showing you the middle finger. Ironically, it opened Qatar up to the rest of the world. They pushed reforms that made them irresistible to tourists and investors. They modified their monarchy to be a little bit democratic. They removed the need for visas from the majority of visiting countries. They pushed down on the infamous slave work scandal around the Gulf. They invested their huge fortune abroad, built their foreign relations. Uncle Sam having one of his most important bases in Qatar was also a factor. Or maybe it’s just that people just like Doha more than Dubai?
In 2010 Qatar scored the right to host the 2022 World Cup. They’re really big on football there. They bought PSG and secured Neymar as the ambassador of their National Bank. First thing I thought was that 12 years is a hell lot of time for preparations. But then I realized how much of an infrastructure they have to raise. Doha already has one of the best airports in the world and they’re only getting started. Building sites are everywhere you look. Like the stunning Al Bayt Stadium designed to resemble a seashell. It’s a human tragedy though how many people lost their lives during the construction works. The death toll of immigrant workers from Asia is beyond all imagination. An article in the Guardian revealed that at least 6.500 workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, died between 2011 and late 2020 (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/23/revealed-migrant-worker-deaths-qatar-fifa-world-cup-2022). The story published in February 2021 gained worldwide attention and the findings fuelled the opinion of many criticasters that the event should be boycotted. Or even better: completely cancelled.
Many years before it already turned out that migrants working on the construction of the stadiums were abused and exploited. Many are being subject to forced labour. They can’t change jobs, they can’t leave the country and they often wait months to get paid. It’s modern slavery, full stop. And it’s for good reasons that Amnesty International renamed the event as “Qatar World Cup of Shame” (https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/03/qatar-world-cup-of-shame/). Although I am passionate about football and I will be sitting in front of the tellie at the end of 2022 I tend to agree with those who say that the tournament should not have been organised by Qatar in the first place. Cancellation of the event is no longer an option though; the financial interests at stake are simply too high. And a boycott by some critical countries is not feasible either. I just hope the multimillionaires on the pitch make an impressive statement and demonstrate the same commitment and solidarity as they showed regarding Black Lives Matter during the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship.
The good thing about Qatar is that they’re preserving their traditional architecture as well. I love those traditional homes that look like they were sculpted in the sand. Those fit surprisingly well with the skyscrapers and other futuristic monuments. Museum of Islamic Art is such a fusion, one of the most beautiful buildings in Doha. It’s the final stop at the Corniche seaside promenade, which is a landmark on its own. Some of the pieces contained in the Museum are over 1400 years old, including jewellery, carpets (likely magic carpets), glass, pottery, and some ancient tomes.
If you’re looking into Doha’s history then the Katara Cultural Village should be your first stop. It’s not only an open-air museum but also a hub for various events. They got a functional amphitheatre, cinema, conference centre, et cetera. There are even plans for an upscale shopping mall. You can do your shopping at a traditional souk in the meantime. You can even chill at a nearby beach if you feel like it. Keep in mind that Qatari are still kind of orthodox when it comes to clothing. Suit up and hit the Souq Waqif market, the iconic traditional bazaar in Doha. It’s also quite the nightlife spot. Locals and tourists sit around smoking shisha, dining, drinking, and talking. This souk truly radiates that classic Arabian Nights spirit which is now so hard to come by.
You might feel more comfortable around Pearl Qatar. It’s an artificial island because insanely rich countries have a soft spot for artificial islands. It is also the only piece of land where foreigners can own real estate. The island looks like a “pearl necklace”, hinting Qatari pearl diving history. It’s ridiculous, like something you’d make in a city-building video game. A shopping mall here, a lake there, a Roman coliseum, and a Spanish villa around the corner. Everything is seemingly out of whack but it somehow works. What if it’s the future of mankind? Artificial continents for when our current ones get obliterated by climate change? Plan your visit for January if possible. It’s when the annual Qatar Motor Show takes place and it’s a real treat for car lovers. I’m not one of them but I can appreciate juicy curves when I see them.