Qatar - A Blossoming Arab State!
Thursday, September 13th, 2007
This low lying state is on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula and comprises Qatar and numerous offshore islands. The Qatari Peninsula juts 160 kilometres into the Arabian Gulf from Saudi-Arabia with much of the country consisting of low, barren plains covered with sand.
After being dominated by the Persians for many, many centuries and then by the Ottoman Turks, it became a British Protectorate after Turkey withdrew in 1916. Unlike most of the nearby Emirates, Qatar decline to become part of either the United Arab Emirates or of Saudi Arabia. In 1971 it became an independent sovereign state and after a longstanding dispute with its neighbour Bahrain over the legal ownership of Hawar. This specific island was in the year 2000 designated as belonging to Bahrain.
Qatar has an hereditary monarchy with an Emir, who is also both head of state and prime minister. As a result of a national referendum in 2003, it was agreed to have an advisory council of 45 members of whom 30 were elected by Qatari citizens and 15 were appointed by the Emir. Since the late part of the 20th century, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani has ruled after seizing control from his father. In recent times, the Emir has given his subjects a notable amount of liberalisation, including the enfranchisement of women and a new constitution. In 1996 Al Jazeera, the controversial Arabic satellite television channel, was launched and recently an English television news station was set-up. Whilst Arabic is the official language of the country, English is also spoken by a large number of the population.
Qatar only began issuing tourist visas in 1989 and after a slow start it has begun to reap the benefits of its new openness with visitors being made very welcome when staying in the glitzy hotels. The best time to visit is during the winter months when the days are generally warm and the evenings are pleasantly mild. During the summer months the average temperature is hardly ever below 35 degrees Celsius and it is quite common for the temperature to rise in excess of 50 degrees. The humidity averages 90 percent at this time of year and can add to the discomfort whilst sandstorms are an added irritant.
Located in the heart of the country is the capital city of Doha, where over eighty per cent of the population live within the metropolis and its suburbs. It is also the economic centre and home to an area known as Education City devoted to every level of learning. This includes specialist universities as well as campuses of several well known American universities such as Virginia Commonwealth, Texas A and M, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown and the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. There are also a number of exclusive private schools, many affiliated to famous ”public schools” from the United Kingdom, (exclusive fee paying private schools in Britain are referred to as public schools).The Qatari Government is very strongly focused on education, which has also led to the development of organisations such as the Qatar Foundation, which operates from within Education City. In 2004 the Qatar Science and Technology Park was established, thereby linking the universities with industry. Children have free education starting at the kindergarten and going on to university, whilst all citizens also have the availability of free medical facilities when required.
Doha continues to be going through a construction boom with a number of international architects designing innovative new buildings such as the Doha Villa, the Qatar Sports Tower and the Weill Cornell Building, as well as a number of sports venues in the capital and surrounding locality. In 2004, the Aspire Sports Academy was launched with the aim of creating world class athletes. It is part of the Sports City Complex, which also includes the Khalifa International Stadium, the Hamad Aquatic Centre and the Aspire Tower. The Moto GP Motorcycle Grand Prix is held annually at Losail International Circuit, which is located just north of the metropolis.
The economy was initially focused on fishing and pearling, but in the 1930’s these industries were faltering. However, the nation’s economy was subsequently completely transformed by the discovery of oil and as a result, the Qataris enjoy a very high standard of living with all the amenities of a modern and thriving nation. It is also one of the least taxed sovereign states in the world, including a zero rating for income tax! The headquarters of the country’s largest oil and gas companies are in Doha and with the enormous growth of the population there has been a boom in the property market resulting in sky high real estate prices.
There are plenty of things to see and do in the expanding capital city, including lovely walks by the sea where you can admire the sights of the developing skyline. There are excellent malls for shopping with most of the world’s top branded goods available – all tax free! There is also fine dining and clubbing or the opportunity just to relax.
On the cultural trail there are a number of interesting museums dotted around Doha and sightseeing includes visits to old forts and beautiful mosques. The Corniche is an attraction in itself with its many fine buildings and its famous mosque with a spinning minaret. One of the most prominent landmarks is the imposing Government House Building, which was opened in 1969.
Other places to visit outside
of Doha include:
The small town of Umm Sal al Mohammed, located 25 kilometres from Doha is worth a visit if only to see the fort with its two towers. Nearby is a small mosque with an old minaret that has now been restored and some mud brick fortifications.
Al-Shahaniya is a good place to see camels roaming around the desert and to enjoy camel racing in a purpose built stadium. It is fun to drive alongside the 18 kilometres track during the race.
Jebel Dukham is the country’s highest point and is located in the west, where there is a range of low limestone outcrops, stretching from Zikrit through to Umm Bab on the southern border and reaching to about 90 metres. This area also contains the country’s main onshore oil deposits and the natural gas fields are located offshore to the north-west of the peninsula.
Historically Al-Zubara holds an important place in the history of Qatar because in the 18th century it was the largest and most important region in the country. All that remains today is a fully restored fort, which has been converted into the Al- Zubara Regional Museum.
The Khor Al-Adaid ( inland sea), which lies in the south eastern region, is without doubt a major tourist attraction. It is an enormous salt water inlet, jutting into the desert and surrounded by masses of towering sand dunes. The best time to visit is during the late afternoon, but to appreciate the area fully be daring and arrange to camp overnight!
A number of the acclaimed international hotel chains have fine hotels including the Sheraton, Marriott, Ritz Carlton, Intercontinental and Mövenpick to name but a few!
Most of the hotels offer a number of sea base activities such as water and jet skiing, paragliding and fishing.
Because of the rapid growth of Qatar Airways and because of the vast increase of passengers, the international Airport is too small to continue as the hub for the national airline and to also serve flights by many of the other airlines. Therefore, the authorities are proceeding with the building of the New Doha International Airport, close to the existing one, with the first phase due for completion in 2008 when it hopes to handle up to 25 million people annually. The final phase should be completed by 2015, when the capacity will then be up to 50 million passengers yearly.
As one of the newer Emirates in the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar is certainly on the map for the adventurous traveller and should be included for a stay when contemplating a visit to this region of our interesting and diverse world!
Text: David Garson
Translation: Ursula Geike-Garson