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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The future of Qatar?

Arab disco
The New York times carried a fascinating article about the contradictory culture of Dubai two days ago. (You can read the article here, but you will have to sign up first (for free)).

The article explores the nature of Dubai, an Islamic city where you can drink alcohol and party till night. Western freedom lives side by side by mosques open 24 hours a day. Unlike many other Islamic countries, it is a place where people can choose to enjoy the vices of the West or to follow their religion to the full without the repression that exists elsewhere.

Qatar is often compared to Dubai and there are many similarities. Both are exploding with growth, although Qatar is lucky enough to fund its growth with oil revenue rather than with debt. Both are also experiencing a dramatic change in culture.

There is also conflict. There are both conservative and liberal elements in the country: those who want to continue to modernise and extend freedoms to those who want it, and those who want Qatar and Qatar residents to conform more strictly to an Islamic way of life.

Expatriates often experience this first hand. In malls you can see young people dressed in the trendiest and latest fashion, wearing clothes that might once have got you arrested but now seem to do little more than draw the occasional disapproving stare. Yet in the same mall you will also see women covered black from head to toe, some with even their eyes covered.

In Doha, at least outside Ramadan, expatriates can go to bars and clubs and dance and drink to the early hours of the morning. Or you can go to the Islamic Guest Centre and be warned about the dangers of listening to music and of hanging pictures of people or animals on your wall.

For expatriates at least, there is freedom to choose the way you want to live. But there is also a clash of cultures. Only time will see whether freedom and conservative Islam can continue to live together.

The photo of the Arab lady is by Yosita 82
Also see: Qatar's Future: 11 Predictions

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