Qatar is a country I keep coming back to in my mind as one that I never could quite wrap my senses fully around. What makes Qatar what it is, in many ways, is defined by all of the things it isn’t – combined with the onslaught of what it wants to become. Qatar, aside from being the Middle East’s fastest growing nation, a peninsula sitting on the southeast end of Saudi Arabia, has the world’s highest GDP. More than 75% of the population lives in the capital city Doha, and more than 60% is foreign born in a country that only became sovereign in 1971. Since that time Qatar’s monarchy, fueled by more oil and natural gas per capita than anywhere else, is speeding to establish its place in the changing global economic dynamic.
A Focused Vision Forward
So much of what you see in Qatar is some part of its future. There isn’t much immediate evidence of anything that came before, or the nomadic tribes roughly brought together with the introduction of Islam around 700 A.D. Once that happened and in between visits from various conquerors like the Ottomans and Persians, Qatar acted as a linchpin to commerce in the Persian Gulf.
Much of this history is covered in great detail in Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, 3 floors and 45,000 square meters encompassing one of the most interesting and visually impressive museums I have ever visited. It’s new too, built in 2008 – sitting along a mostly artificial concrete corniche – and is subsequently one of the best places to take photos of new Doha while learning about the old one.
Building A Base Upon A Foreign One
One of the reasons it’s tough to get a sense of Qatari essence is that so many of the 1.5 million people, including 71% of all women in the country, are foreign born. Of those, more than half have arrived within the last 10 years. (With numbers doubling in 2005, then again in 2010.) They’re mostly coming for work, to build that future that Qatar has envisioned for itself. The skyscrapers, World Cup 2022 stadiums, and modern bazaars like Souk Waqif that Qatar’s government is hoping will give Dubai a run for it’s money in the coming years.
Extremely reminiscent of Dubai, Doha at times almost feels too much like it, except a bit rougher around the edges. The immigrant neighborhoods and communities are more apparent in Doha but there isn’t much else to set it aside on the surface from it’s shiny neighbor to the east.
The Future Is In The Stuffing
The path to a culture’s heart is often through its kitchen and there are many culinary roads in Qatar to follow. They’ll take you to places like Morocco, Yemen, and Nepal albeit in a controlled manner. Foods aren’t fusing together in abundance yet as they tend to do when diverse counter tops cook in close proximity. It’s these various paths that are the roads to Qatar’s essence, not where it’s going, but in the footsteps of all those who have built and are building its future.