From Rags to Riches

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The city of Doha sits almost midway along Qatar’s east coast, on the Persian Gulf. Once a small fishing village, today Doha, capital of Qatar, is a hub of real estate development and home to nearly 90% of the 1.9 million people who make up the population of Qatar.

Thanks to riches gained from the export of oil, Qatar is among the wealthiest countries in the world. It has the highest GDP per capita as of 2012, according to the CIA World Factbook. Approximately 14% of households are dollar millionaires, although it relies heavily on foreign labour to grow its economy.

The largest portion of expatriates are from South-East and South Asian countries, mainly Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Philippines, Bangladesh and Indonesia, with large numbers of expatriates also coming from the Levant Arab countries, North Africa and East Asia.

History

Despite being part of the richest country in the world, Doha can look back on humble beginnings. The city was a small and fairly inconsequential fishing and pearling village up until the mid-19th century, when the first Al-Thani emir, Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani, established his capital at Al-Bida, now the port area of town. Residents were modest pearl and sea fishermen. After the introduction of the Japanese cultured pearl in the early 1930s, though, the economy more or less collapsed. The country as a whole descended into poverty, a state which lasted for most of the decade.

Although oil was discovered in the late 1930s, Britain, which had a treaty with Qatar at the time, was preoccupied with World War II. Britain’s involvement was necessary for the exportation of the resource. It wasn’t until 1949 that the extraction of oil and natural gas began, but in less than 20 years Doha had risen to become one of the wealthiest cities in the region. When Britain announced it intended to pull out of the Middle East in 1971, Qatar decided against joining the United Arab Emirates, and Doha was made the capital city of Qatar.

Getting there

Doha is home to Qatar Airways. In Africa, it flies directly to Addis Ababa (newest African route), Alexandria, Algiers, Cairo, Cape Town, Casablanca, Dar es Salaam, Entebbe, Johannesburg, Khartoum, Kigali, Kilimanjaro, Lagos, Luxor, Maputo, Nairobi, Tripoli, Tunis and the Seychelles. Flights from Cape Town connect through Johannesburg; Kigali connects through Entebbe; and Kilimanjaro connects through Dar es Salaam.

Weather

Doha has a hot desert climate. Summer temperatures, between June and August, often soar above 40?C, with almost no rainfall. Winters, December to February, are warm. Average daily highs sit around 23?C, with temperatures rarely falling below 7?C. The area gets about 75mm of rain a year, mostly between October and March.The high humidity and temperatures make it rather uncomfortable outside. Coupled with the conservative nature of the country and its preference for covering up, it’s a good idea to pack cool cotton clothes, or buy an abaya, a loose robe-like dress, in Doha. Not only will these help to keep you cool, but they will also help to avoid getting sunburnt.

Visas

All African passport holders will need to organise a visa prior to travelling to Doha. This can be obtained from the Qatari embassy closest to you.

Getting around

There are two ways of getting around Doha – public transport or a hire car. Hopping on a bus is the cheapest way to get where you’re going. You will need a Karwa smartcard loaded with money, which will pay for your fare. The card costs QR30 ($8) and can be purchased at the Karwa bus station or one of the 86 outlets.

Taxis are plentiful, but it may be hard to find an empty one, especially during peak morning and afternoon periods. It’s best to book your taxi up to a day in advance to make certain you have the transport you need. Mowasalat, the company that operates the buses, also operates taxis and airport service shuttles. Regular taxis can transport up to four passengers and can either be ordered in advance, or found at taxi stands. Airport service shuttles can transport up to six passengers, including bulky luggage. Occasionally, a local driver will offer a ride to people on the side of the road – he will slow down and flash his headlights in offering; beckon him over with a wave in response. It is customary to offer some money at the end of the journey, although sometimes they will refuse to take it.

A metro rail system is under construction, and once completed will link up all major areas of the city. You could also opt to hire a car at the airport. Make sure you’ve booked a car ahead of time to avoid lengthy waits and higher prices. Be sure to get an international driver’s license if you plan on driving yourself.

Culture shock

Qatar is a Muslim country. All drugs are illegal, as is importing pork products, pornography, alcohol and religious books. While it’s not mandatory to wear traditional Muslim clothing, failing to cover up sufficiently is frowned upon. A local may not say anything to a tourist about dressing inappropriately, but they will more than likely judge you in an unfavourable light. Bare shoulders and thighs should be avoided, and men should never go out in public wearing shorts. Bathing suits are permitted only at the beach and hotel pools. Public displays of affection between men and women can lead to arrest. Although it is acceptable to cross your legs, it is not socially acceptable to show the sole of your foot or to point your foot at anyone. You can order alcohol at one of the internationally-branded hotels, but don’t take your drink out into a public space.

Tourist attractions

Explore the Museum of Islamic Art, a collection including metalwork, ceramics, jewellery, woodwork, textiles and glass collected from three continents spanning 1,400 years. It’s a 15-minute drive from Doha International airport and within walking distance of Souq Waqif. Admission is free, as are the film and multi-media guides that will assist you in learning about the changing collections of Islamic art.

The Katara Cultural Village was born out of a long-held vision of Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, to position the country as a cultural beacon of art, theatre, literature and music. It is located on the eastern coast between West Bay and the Pearl and spread over 1,000,000 square metres.

The Qatari Philharmonic orchestra has a number of performances at the Katara. If you’re a fan of orchestral music, have a look at their website for upcoming performances and book your ticket. qatarphilharmonicorchestra.org.

Experience the rush and excitement of a joyride through the desert. Take a luxury SUV over the sand dunes of the Qatari desert on a roller-coaster ride through nature. There are numerous tour operators that will take you on this adrenalin rush.

Souq Waqif is a popular market with small shops and an abundance of restaurants. Stroll through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways and haggle over the price of perfume, jewellery, clothes and souvenirs. If the market isn’t your style, there are a number of modern malls filled with shops and air-conditioning. Given the high summer temperatures and humidity, the malls are wonderful escapes from the heat, and as such are often packed.

The Aspire Tower, also known as Torch Hotel, is a 300-metre tall skyscraper hotel located in the Doha Sports City complex. The tower served as the focal point for the 15th Asian Games hosted by Qatar in December 2006.

Fact File
Population:
1.31 million
Time zone: GMT +3
Plugs: Three-pin square, British style and three-pin round, South African style
Dialling code: +974
Currency: Qatari Riyal; $1 = 3.64 QAR
Language: Arabic, but English is widely spoken
Religion: Muslim

Arab TV

Al Jazeera, the Arab news channel, is headquartered in Doha and owned by the Qatari government. Initially launched as an Arabic news and current affairs satellite TV channel, it has since expanded into a network with several outlets, including the Internet and specialty TV channels in multiple languages and accessible in several world regions. The channel recently launched its English service in the United States, with Al Jazeera America going live on the 24th of August.

The Symbol of Qatar

The Arabian Oryx, a medium-sized antelope, was saved from extinction by a captive breeding programme. A cousin to the African Oryx, or Gemsbok, this species began dying out in the wild in the 1950s. By the late 1970s they were no longer found in the wild, hunted for their hide, horns and meat. The breeding programme started with only 20 animals and by 2006, the population had reached 700. They have since been reintroduced into the Arabian Desert. A Qatari oryx named Orry was chosen as the official games mascot for the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, and has a presence on the tail wings of Qatar Airways.