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Monday, October 02, 2006

Qatar Surprise


Things that won't surprise you (much) about Qatar.

1. There is Sharia law. This will account for many of the other non-surprises about Qatar. As far as I know, this only applies to Muslims and a separate code exists for non-Muslims, although I’m not about to try and find out the hard way. This is a mild version of Sharia law, however, and I haven’t seen many involuntary amputees walking about. In fact, flogging is the only physical punishment I have heard about. Unlike some other nearby nations, the only thing you’ll see in football stadiums is football.

2. Sex is illegal (unless you’re married (to the person you're having sex with (gay marriages don't count)), that is). People caught having sex outside marriage can be pretty severely punished here, especially if they are Muslims and therefore under Sharia law. The police won’t be hanging around your hotel room in the Sheraton, though. You only really need to worry about this if you’re working here, and you’re particularly careless or crass about it.

3. Being gay isn’t too popular here. Don’t worry; they won’t chop any parts of your body off. You’ll just be asked to leave on (more or less) the next plane.

4. The internet’s censored. But only for pornography. You can freely get to political, religious and Israeli websites. It’s an understandable and (as far as I know) popular censorship. After all, most countries censor pornography to some extent. And this isn’t some Taliban definition of pornography; you can still visit your Vogue website. When they say pornography, they mean the real thing. The only problem with this censorship is that it tends to catch innocent websites too. Can anyone tell me what’s on funny.com?

5. Magazines are censored. We’re getting a bit more Taliban here, because a bit too much leg is out. The great thing is the absolute care with which this is done. Those be-thighed pages will not be ripped out of your magazine – such discourtesy is not Qatar’s style. No, no; the offending limbs will be carefully coloured in. Don’t you love this place?

6. Petrol (gasoline) is stupidly cheap. It’s about 10p (19c) per litre. You know petrol stations in the rest of the world have those special signs where they can change the price easily? Not here. The price is on a sticker. It never changes.

7. People still wear traditional clothing. This is a black abaya for women, and a white thobe for men. Given the sun around here, the men got the best part of that bargain.

8. You need a car. Boy do you need a car. It is possible to survive without one. I chose the word ‘survive’ advisedly.

9. The standard of driving is awful. If you took the average British white-van man, lobotomised him, and poked his eyes out, he still couldn’t drive worse than this lot. If Keith Moon had been Qatari, he would have crashed before he got to the swimming pool.

10. Religion. The elephant in the room. They take it very seriously. Having said that, I would describe these people as pious rather than fanatical. They are religious in the way that monks are. They don’t want to cut your head off – they want to hand you a leaflet.

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