An evening at the ‘Souq Waqif’ in Doha.
“Here, it is very peaceful” A Qatari immigrant from Bangladesh tells me. “The government looks after its people, there is very little crime, and there is much order in society.”
I arrived in Qatar in almost unbearable heat– peaking at 50 degrees. Even many locals found it unbearable. Yet for me, this was a minor detail compared to what I experienced. Stepping into a nation that has garnered a reputation for ultra-conservatism, and for hosting regressive human rights policies, I was shocked at how the reality differed from how many would perceive it.
And upon leaving, my worldview had certainly changed.
I can concur with the views of others, at how peaceful and mellow the society is. This year, Qatar was actually ranked the world’s second safest country. It also has a lower crime rate than many Western nations. Certainly, it greatly contrasted with views that many would have — that I would be decapitated or imprisoned just for being a Westerner.
Upon stepping into the city of Doha, I experienced nothing but warmth and friendliness — from native Qataris and immigrant workers.
This echoed throughout my journey across the land — from the renowned Souq Waqif (Arabic for ‘Standing Market’), to the Katara cultural village, and near enough everywhere else I visited. From men wearing Conservative Islamic attire, to those who seemingly weren’t as religious, I was greeted by many, and engaged in many enlightening conversations. Thus, showing a common element of humanity between all these people.
Along with the many other Islamic countries I have visited, I can strongly attest that the views that the whole of the Arab/Islamic world is hostile is a warped misconception. Rather, this is a political tactic pushed by Britain and other colonial powers, to justify their campaigns, by painting them as ‘needing civilisation’. And it still lingers today, evidently to justify the fruitless and counter-productive ‘War on Terror’. Sadly, many do see this ‘us against them’ narrative as legitimate.
Even so, there are some concerning issues within Qatar, that I witnessed. The conditions for some workers, particularly migrant workers, are very inadequate, and sometimes abusive. From a vast number of countries in Africa and Asia, many relocate to Qatar to seek a better life, or better wages for their families back home.
Some report being disregarded by the government. In the headquarters of the state-funded Doha bus company, I saw warnings displayed on a notice-board, threatening drivers with salary dockings if they were late, didn’t register their money immediately, or for a list of other discrepancies. This was clearly more than a threat, as I spoke to a Kenyan bus driver, who said this happened to him on numerous occasions.
Inequality is clearly an issue, despite the fact that Qatar boasts the highest GDP per capita in the world, largely owing to its lucrative oil supply, and other natural resources. Many construction workers are hit hard. I spoke to a few construction workers, who told me they were working over 10 hours a day — something almost inhumane given the temperature.
Construction is a big business. If one walks around Doha, they will see in many parts, what resembles just a big construction site. Obviously this is largely for the 2022 football World Cup. Clearly, the Sheikdom is very much money/profit-driven.
Despite these problems, caused by a ruling elite that is obviously riddled with corruption, the visit was eye-opening. I was previously sceptical of these misconceptions of the gulf world being dangerous, and experiencing the land for myself shattered any possibility of them emerging. For a country that many would fear to visit, especially out of fear of their personal safety, it was a very pleasant experience. I would happily visit again very soon.