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Clash Of Cultures In Booming Qatar

Clash Of Cultures In Booming Qatar

As Qatar modernises itself for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, conservative traditionalists express concern.

Qatar is spending massively to modernise its capital ahead of the 2022 World Cup, leading conservative Qataris to worry about how this will affect the Islamic nature of the Gulf state.

Trucks can be seen speeding around Doha’s business district, carrying building materials for the $150 billion makeover that will give the city a new metro, airport, seaport and roads.

In the busy years leading up to the soccer tournament, Doha will see an influx of foreign companies, professionals and workers. With them will come a fresh flood of foreign cultures and lifestyles, and that is causing concern.

“This is the real challenge for us: to maintain our culture while building the country we will become,” said 33-year-old Abdulrahman, who like other Qatari citizens preferred to be identified only by his first name.

Exploiting its immense natural gas resources has in just over 15 years transformed Qatar into one of the world’s wealthiest nations, with a per capita annual income for its 250,000 citizens of well over $90,000.

Though led by a ruling family viewed as highly progressive by Gulf standards, the fact remains that most Qataris are very conservative.

For them, concern that Western norms will start to infiltrate society is a continuous and pressing reality, especially given the fact that they are an extreme minority in their own country, which is home to some 1.7 million people, many of them workers from south Asia.

“We welcome the expats, and we want them here. But we will not permit any disrespect to our religion or culture,” said Salma, a 25-year-old Qatari.

“This is your home, for now. But it is our home forever, and we will not bend to your ways.”

Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, 60, and his second wife Sheikha Mozah have gained a reputation as modernisers in recent years and raised the country’s profile significantly with the launch of the Al Jazeera television network and successful hosting the 2006 Asian Games, as well as their role in initiating the country’s World Cup bid.

The street protests which swept four Arab heads of state from office since early last year and strengthened Islamists throughout the Middle East have not been seen in Qatar, thanks partly to its staggering wealth but also to its foreign policy: because Qatar aggressively aided the Libyan rebels, its government is seen as on the “right side” of the Arab Spring.

But the government cannot ignore the fact that much of the Qatari population may be resistant to the changes brought by rapid expansion.

“It’s a very delicate line they must balance. But the one thing the government cannot do is appear un-Islamic. It’s game over if they do,” said an analyst specialising in security issues, who like other analysts not named in this article asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of the topic.

So far, the policy has been working.

“The pace of economic expansion in Qatar over the last decade is almost without precedent. It is remarkable that the traditionally conservative society has handled these changes as well as it has,” said one Doha-based economist.

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