I get to see Qatar from the back seat of my chauffeur driven car on my two hour round trip into work from the capital, Doha, each day. There is a lot of flat desert. It’s an offshoot of the Saudi Arabian peninsula - mucky brown earth in most directions. The rest of its territory, surrounded by the Persian Gulf, is separated from nearby Bahrain by the Gulf of Bahrain, a gulf off a gulf. The highway is lined with signs abjuring citizens to do this or avoid that.
The FIFA World Cup 2022 will be held in Qatar, making it the first Muslim and Arab country to host the event. There were plenteous building sites - the new stadia , extremely close to each other. It's not a very big country, with a population of about 2.5 million, (plus almost as many expats.) It's hard to imagine the English football fans whooping it up here.
I was working in a huge town complex founded by RasGas. The school was built to serve the expat employees and was huge too. The teachers were keen and fun. They taught me to pronounce names like the locals. Qatar (ca-tar - emphasis on the second syllable) and Qatari (cattery). So much for the BBC.
Qatar has been ruled by the House of Thani, since Mohammed bin Thani signed a treaty with the British in 1868, which recognised its separate status. Following Ottoman rule, Qatar became a British protectorate in the early 20th century, until gaining independence in 1971. The country has the world's third-largest natural gas reserves and oil reserves. and consequently the third-highest GDP per capita. enabling it to wield disproportionate influence in the world, when related to its size.
Doha, the capital of Qatar, feels very modern and yet somehow alien. In the evenings I stroll along the corniche, and watch the amazing futuristic sky scrapers light up in turn, against the dusky bay. These are added to daily. There's plenty of building work her, too, in this futuristic and rapidly expanding city. Past the Al-Fanar Islamic Cultural Centre, a huge wedding cake topped edifice, which offers crash courses in Islam. The night air is still balmy at thistime of year - and baking hot during the day. A pearl monument - a giant oyster shell - marks the entrance to the dhow harbour at the northern end of the Corniche. Before Qatar found oil, pearling was one of its main industries.
There is a small tourist area, with a Bedouin tent and camels and the Souq Waqif, which is both modern in parts and more atmospheric - some little side streets with local cafes and shish. Even groups of men dancing in the street. The most fascinating area is the falconry quarter. Whole sections of hooded birds, roles reversed, waiting to be preyed on by human buyers.
There is alcohol to be had in the bigger hotels - on presentation of your passport. But I am happy with the lemon and mint sherbet that the locals drink.
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