Qatar with the capital city of Doha is a small country (11500 km2) in the Persian Gulf. It’s a parliamentary absolute monarchy ruled by Al Thani dynasty. Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has been leading the country since 2013.
- First of all – the dress code. It’s advisable to dress modestly. It’s particularly directed to women – they don’t need to cover their hair but they are expected to have their arms and legs covered (knees minimum). Transparent materials won’t do, neither will tight dresses. What does it mean in practice? What kind of clothes to pack? Simply take some T-shirts and light materials pants with you. That will let you stay out of trouble and feel comfortable. It’s worth having light long sleeve or shawl on hand, to use for example vhen visiting a mosque, in the mall, restaurant or a hotel (also because of strong air conditioning). Don’t worry you won’t look strange fully dressed in summer. All local women cover their bodies as much as possible, wearing black abayas when leaving their homes. It’s a dress made of different materials, usually lightweight, like chiffon, that protects women’s body from mans eyes. And sun at the same time! Underneath they wear normal clothes, pants, dresses. And when they are back home they just take the abaya off and are just like any european women. As for men – sleeveless shirts and shorts stay home. Qatari men, cover their bodies just like women – they wear long sleeve, ankle-long, white thawbs.
- Knowing local temperatures it’s difficult to imagine wearing long sleeve and pants but in the summertime, believe me, you will stay inside only, where salutary air conditioning will let you survive. It is set to very minimum, that’s why long sleeve might be useful. While we were enjoying livable temeperatures inside, in the middle of September it was 42° outside. Almost unberable. Sun shone right above our heads and there was not even one cloud on the sky. It was hard to stay outside for more than 30 minutes. In the shade. If you dare, do it either early in the morning or late in the evening. During the day remember to wear some kind of hat or anything else that will cover your head and use filters, especialy for white faces! For kids factor 50.
- Coming back to musilm contry rules – there is an opinion that public hugging and kissing should be avoided. And that is correct – keep the pessionate kisses for the privacy of your hotel room. What is more Sharia punishes any realations with a person not being your husband or wife and does not allow to stay not married people in one hotel room. That is just to know. In practice nobody will ask you for marriage certificate so if you are not married as long as you stay out of trouble that won’t be an issue.
- Another thing is with alcohol. It’s totaly forbiden to be brought to Qatar. Whole luggage of arriving people is being x-rayed at the exit from the airport to check if they are not carrying any alcohol. But its not that there is no alcohol in the country at all. Alcohol is accessible in some hotels and bars, the only thing is that the prices are rather high. Considering the fact that Qatar is a cultural mix and some of the nations coming there to work might not be so strict about alcohol there is one, ONE!, liquor store in Doha. What is more to shop there one needs a licence from employer to buy alcohol and cannot spend more than 20% of their income. So heavy drinkers are definitely not Qatar’s problem.
- Above mentioned cultural mix is a fact. As Qataris are rich enough not to work at all, there is a big labor market for imigrants. People from all over the globe come to work for the wealthiest nation (highiest GBP per capita). Among others we will find there imigrants from India, Pakistan, Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal and Indonesia. Mostly for simple jobs like housemaids for ladies and construction workers for men.
- And honestly speaking there are only imigrant workers visible on the streets, it’s only them who walk outside. Streets are rather empty. People just drive from their air-conditioned homes to air-conditioned work places or shopping malls. Public transport in Qatar barely exists as most of people, even imigrants, afford having a car. Gas is so cheap that it’s not a big financial effort to drive a car. Taxi is an alternative way of transportation, however it’s not as simple as in Europe. There is not enough taxis in Doha and they are not easily accesible. Catching a taxi on the street is almost impossible. The best way to ensure the cab is there when you need it is to order it a day in advance! So forget any spontaneous actions short before the flight thinking „I will be back by taxi, its just 15 minutes drive”. Nothing more wrong. You will be surely late and miss your flight. Only around shopping malls is there more cabs but no one will guarantee you would catch one.
- Basic free entartainment is to come to the port by the Oyster and Pearl statue and enjoy the view over the city. In the evening tens, maybe even hundreds, of cars are coming to the bay taking their owners to admire the beautiful view of the city skyscrapers.
Cars are parked along the coastline and, when the temperature allows, their owners sit outside chating with their friends. Men of course. Sign of the place is that the car engines are all the time on to keep the inside nice and cool. Some even don’t get out of the cars not to get sweat. That might be not so bad option, firstly – you don’t get sweat, secondly – you don’t breathe that air full of exhausts from all of those cars next to yours. This is the place where workers get relieved after the whole day of work. Only part of them of course, because for many outside jobs night is a normal work time. Construction sites try to work during the day but it’s so hot that it’s dangerous for the people.
And there is a lot of people working outside. Doha is one big construction site. Looking around you will see cranes in all directions.
As this is one of the fastest developing cities in the world the construction sites are not surprise. Neither is work round the clock. Imagine only that Qatar developes that quickly that developers do not build one building, a residential area but just plan a small city. Such ongoing project – Lusail – will really become a separate city and provide home for over 200 000 pople. That shows the pace of Qatar’s growth. Of course real estate prices follow that pace and reach astronomical figures.
- Together with the city grows Qatar ambition. And in 2022 as a first Arab country Qatar will host FIFA World Cup. The facilities are now being built. The main stadium will be in that newly built city Lusail, 23 km from the center of Doha. This new object will have the capacity of more than 80 000 people and airconditioning able to keep 20 degrees Celcius inside using only solar energy. All of the 12 proposed objects are either to be built or reconstructed. The pressure to surprise and amaze the world leads to many organisational problems and controversions. So it turns out that a muslim country in the desire of world wide suceess can allow football fans to drink alcohol. Nobody have seen the World Cup without alcohol so far therfore there will be special alcohol zones arranged for fans. Not so widely discussed but still an issue is Qatar’s declaration of conducting medical tests to reveal homosexuals and ban them from entering the country. Sharia does not accept gay relations therfore Qatar’s law considers them illegal. The most interesting is what kind of tests Qatar authorities want to run!
And the biggest controversion, reffering not only to World Cup preparation but to all developers in the country is modern slavery. The kafala system, work system for imigrants, indeed is very much like slavery. Workers coming to Qatar are dependent to their sponsors – employers who very often take their passports away and pay much less than agreed or pay nothing at all. Without a passport they are not able to leave or get any other job. The only option is to stay and work in tough conditions often beging for food and hoping to get properly paid or get the passport back. It is claimed that hundreds of workers already lost their lives in World Cup preparation. FIFA together with human rights organisations fights such practice. Hopefully they succeed and change local practice, not only for this occasion but as a way of thinking.
Ending with this sad point we don’t want to discourage anybody from visiting Qatar. It’s definitey worth visiting and seeing the old wooden boats in the harbour, visit Museum of Islamic Art, shop at the old souk, step on the artificial island The Pearl and feel that unbearable heat. Best time for Europeans to go there is from December to February.