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Friday, November 28, 2008

Famous Visitors

It seems that Qatar is gaining more and more recognition, with a string of celebrities visiting the country. In addition to a lot of local royalty, the opening of the Islamic Museum also saw De Niro, who will be returning with a duplicate of the Tribeca Film Festival next November.

World Leaders are arriving for a major UN conference - including one Qatar probably won't be boasting about: Robert Mugabe. They will be rather more pleased that the top two tennis players in the world, Federer and Nadal, will be coming here in 2009 to battle out the Qatar Open. In fact, it is perhaps a mark of how much attention that Qatar - and the Islamic Museum - is getting at the moment that hardly anyone noticed the four famous visitors below.

Celebrities in QatarOriginal Image By Amar


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Change in the Weather

We stepped out as usual this morning, planning to head to the Corniche for our usual Friday morning picnic - only to stop in surprise.

Instead of the usual sunshine we found an overcast sky already spotting rain.

We headed down to the Rumeila Park hoping to take shelter in the trees if it poured.

Water at Rumeila Park

Despite or because of the gloomy skies everyone was enjoying the park.

"Lovely weather," said a couple of passerbys. In a country where there are only a few millimetres of rain a year, residents look forward to a bit of drizzle just as the Brits look forward to their few rare days of sunshine.

The play ground at Al Bidda
Certainly this young girl was having a whale of time, scooting along the pathways of Al Bidda park with the Doha skyline the background...

Having fun in the park.
Also see: Qatar Weather | Desert Cold | Qatar Rain | Doha Fog


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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Qatar Tribune Online - How Does it Rate?

The Qatar Tribune has finally launched its website:

The Tribune's front page.
The website, while not exactly cutting edge design, is more attractive than either the Gulf Times or the Peninsula. The Gulf Times' unattractive new design looks a mess on Firefox, while the Peninsula seems stuck in the 90's, and also has problems with Firefox.

The Gulf Times front page.Web Standards

The website looks clean. Unfortunately, it is breaking current web standards. (So does Qatar Visitor, actually - we'll be addressing those in our redesign next year!)

For example, the pictures have no alternative text - meaning search engines can not identify the pictures and that the image will confuse text browers.

Headlines for the Web

Will the papers writers and editors make any compensations to the web? As This Boring Headline is Written for Google explains, writing headlines for readers and for writers are too different things.

Above, for example, we have written Qatar Tribune Online - How Does it Rate? rather than How Does The New Qatar Tribune Website Rate? The most important keywords - Qatar and Tribune - are placed at the beginning of the headline to make it easy for Google to identify the topic.

Early headlines are not great: Five Steps to N-free World is not going to make it easy for search engines to identify the topic. Nuclear Free World in Five Steps would have been better!

Writing for the Web

Web users are in a hurry. It is also harder to take in information from the screen than from papers.

That's why web paragraphs are short.

The long, paragraph free blocks of text on the front page do not bode well for today's impatient web reader.

Navigation

Navigation could be better. I would say that both the Gulf Times and The Peninsula, with their sidebar navigation menus, have a superior navigation.

There are too few stories on the front page, and too much information for each story. It is easier to click through to a story than it is to turn a page - and harder to flick through a website looking for things of interest.

And there is no search box - many internet users are still not aware of the site search function on Google, and so will not be able to find what they want.

Conclusion

The Tribune is a new company in a declining industry trying to make headway against more established papers. This was an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage against two newspapers which haven't got great websites.

What the Peninsula and The Gulf times have got, however, is an established presence and thousands of backlinks. With a poor navigation system, The Tribune will struggle to compete.

Qatar Newspapers: Which is the Best?


Qatar Writers - Free Service

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Spiderman to Scale La Cigale

This has just popped into my inbox - Spiderman is to scale La Cigale! Not the comic book character, of course, but the famous Frenchman, Alain Robert. Although La Cigale shouldn't present too much of a problem for a man who has climbed the Eiffel Towers, it should be a sight worth seeing.

The climb, which will take place at seven o'clock on the 6th and 7th of December at 7.00 pm, will be viewable to everyone from the main parking lot (which is where, La Cigale tells me, you will get the best view), and there will be no fees to watch.

You may also want to check out his Spiderman's website, Spiderman.

Click on the image for the full size flyer.


Spiderman Flyer

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La Cigale: A Review

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Qatar Visitor on Forbes

One of our website images - on Forbes. Credited to us in very small writing.



You can read the article here: The World's Best Malls.

Also see Qatar Shopping.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

The Financial Crisis in Qatar

Financial Crisis? What Financial Crisis?

Hold UT was asking about the financial crisis on our forum today (see Finance-Crisis in Qatar), to which my wife, looking over my shoulder, said:

Financial crisis? Do we have a financial crisis in Qatar?

I am not reporting this to boast or gloat - I don't think we are perfectly secure in Qatar, although I'd rather be here than in the UK right now - but the majority of people are not feeling the crisis yet.

This is not the case in real estate, which despite office vacancy rates of just 1% has been experiencing property prices drops of up to fifty percent.

This is likely to continue: on a single page Qatar Today is reporting a 40% drop in demand for property - and a predicted 150% increase in office space!

Nor, with the price of oil falling to around $50 a barrel, does everyone believe the almost daily reassurance in the papers here.

No Credit Crunch for the Qatar Government

On the positive side we have a government who has a huge reserve of cash - and it is not afraid to use it.

It is pouring billions into the country's infrastructure, and according to one businessman I spoke to planned projects over the next few years are likely to mean an increase in the expat population rather than a decrease.

Natural Gas: Qatar's Saviour?

It's also worth remembering that Qatar is not wholly dependent on its shrinking oil reserves, and future revenue is likely to come from Natural Gas.

Natural Gas is still just coming on line, and the country that will turn America into the largest Natural Gas importer in the world is still producing at a fraction of its potential.

Furthermore, Natural Gas is often sold via long term contracts, meaning that the income provided is likely to be more stable than petrodollars.

So my main worry is real estate - and the huge borrowings companies that will have been made to finance their frenetic building.

But the average person on the street, like my wife, is barely aware of it. Hopefully, they'll stay that way.

Also see: Doing Business in Qatar | Job Vacancies in Qatar


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The Opening of the Islamic Museum

Al Jazeera movie focussing on the recent opening of the Doha Islamic Museum.




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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Plunging Property Prices

Qatar Real Estate: Much of it is still under construction
Qatar Buildings

Both the Gulf Times and the Peninsula have carried stories on falling property prices: last Thursday the Gulf Times related that prices had fallen 30 %, while the Peninsula today stated that real estate prices had decreased by almost 50% in the suburbs. Quite a fall over the weekend, then!

While this must be devestating news for property investors, there may be cheer for those renting properties, some of whom have spent tens of thousands of pounds over the years. According to the story in the Peninsula, rental prices have fallen by 20% already, with an apartment previously available for QAR10,000 now available for QAR8,000.

Even as I write this post the sound of building drifts in through my open window from half a dozen directions - the same noise that keep me awake at night. With huge numbers of properties under construction or nearing completion, there is not much hope for a rapid recovery in prices. In fact, this initial drop may just prove to be the beginning.

Building in Qatar takes place round the clock
Night building

Also see: Buying Property in Qatar
Find out more about prices in Qatar on our Qatar Forum
Search for property to rent with Qatcom Property Search

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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Islamic Museum Opens


The Islamic Museum finally opens today - although plebians like us will still have to wait a while for the privilige to see inside! The opening ceremony takes place tonight at 6pm, and it might be worth heading down to see the ceremony - one rumour is that all the buildings on the Corniche will be turning of their lights to make the museum more visible. There will also be a show by performers from more than twenty countries.



Links:

Museum Opening Marks Milestone - detailed article by Fran Gillespie in the Gulf Times.
Historic Moment - Peninsula
Smart Art Mart - The Economist

Movies






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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Baby left behind!


One of our forum members was devastated recently when she had to leave her baby behind in the Philippines. 

The young mother was on maternity leave in the Philippines. She made extensive enquiries into the visa situation for a baby and was told repeatedly that she did not need to have a visa for a new baby. 

However, upon arrival at the airport Qatar Airways informed her that she could not take the baby with her:

According to them, there was one incident 3 weeks back that the baby was sent back to the philippines simply because the airport immigration denied the baby to enter here in qatar. Qatar airways personnel informed me that the immigration captain on duty told them i should be under my husband sponsorship for them to allow my baby(less than 3 months old) to enter qatar without needing a visa.
All the advice we have received states that young mothers can bring new born children into the baby. However, after this incident it is probably better to play safe, and get a visa for your child prior to entry. 

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Party on the Pitch

Sorry - know this is a bit late but we have just been sent the flyer below! So just in case you haven't yet made plans for your Saturday...



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Qatar Environment: Solar Powered Mat

Qatar may have a long way to go before it becomes environmentally friendly, but it may be just that little bit closer after one of its citizens invented a solar powered mat.

Camping is a popular hobby in Qatar, but most people have put aside the hardships of the past, when the Bedouin would rely on camel dung to start up fires, and cook in the hot sand below the fires. Instead many now rely on generators to power luxuries from ovens to televisions.

Camping in Qatar is not what it used to be...

Now, thanks to Qatar's Mohamed al-Sada of the Qatar scientific club, these generators can be powered by the electronic mat he has invented. The mat, which takes five minutes to install, can power a heater, air conditioners, a television, home theatre, 10 laptops and mobile phone chargers.

Mohammed al-Sada stated that he had been inspired by the Green Qatar Goal set by the Emir. We hadn't actually heard of this green goal - but rest assured we will be doing some research into it!

This is a great invention by Qatar, and one the country can be proud of. The price, however, may deter the casual camper - the mat weighs in at a cool QAR250,000.


Also see:
Becoming more Environmentally Conscious?
Turning the Desert Green Qatar (Don't take this one too seriously!)
Desert Greenhouse
Camel Farms and Desertification


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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Marriage in Qatar

A girl shows off her Henna markings.
Our latest article covers an area we have long felt to be a gaping hole in the culture section of our website - Qatar Weddings. As men, who have never been and will never go to a women's wedding in Qatar (yes, the men's wedding is seperate) we felt unqualified to even try and write about the subject. Fortunately, Mohana Rajakumar, editor of Qatar Narratives and organiser of the Doha Writer's workshop, came to our rescue with this superb article about a world that the men amongst us can never enter.

A quick aside about the image: this was a photograph by Trey Ratcliff of a girl he saw in Qatar. The girl, whose name was Ameena, and who is from Bahrain, was enroute to her honeymoon, and was still wearing the traditional henna tattoes that girls have have done prior to getting married. Trey was gracious enough to allow us use of the image. If you want to see other superb examples of his work visit his blog: StuckInCustoms.com.

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Qatar's Future

Image of Doha with crystal ball imposed over it.
What will the future hold for Qatar? Gazing into our crystal ball, Qatar Visitor came up with these ten predictions...

1. Qatar will become richer - much richer. Not in the immediate future - gas and oil prices will fall, reducing the revenue available to Qatar, but it will become richer in the long term. After buying up all the shares in the world at rock bottom prices during the coming depression, Qatar will be able to live off dividends long before its fossil fuels run out. America will survive on Qatar handouts, while collections of food and clothing will be made for the poor and hungry in Europe.

2. As wealth increases, the quality of life will fall. As more money enters the country, more people will buy cars. Continued road building will fail to keep up with the growth in traffic. The eight children most families here seem to have will grow up and want a Land Cruiser each. People will spend more and more time in their cars, stuck in traffic, and less time with their families. On the rare occasions people venture outside, they will have to wear oxygen masks.

3. There will be public transport. The public transport will be world class. No one will use it except for the poor, who will find it very useful, and a few mad expats. Everyone who has a car will continue to drive.

4. There will be more cities. They might not be cities in the the sense that we have them in other countries (i.e. with more than ten people living there), but they will be called cities. If you have been in Qatar for a while you will understand this.

5. The real estate bubble will pop. People always say a bubble is not going to pop, and it always pops. There will be another bubble a few years later.

6. Inflation will decrease - in the short term. However, this will be associated with recession, which may be milder than the rest of the world due to Qatar's oil and gas reserves. After a while inflation will rise again, and after five years an apple will cost one hundred million riyals.

7. Qatar will face problems with flooding. We live in a world which is getting hotter, and Qatar is a low country. As Qatar is gradually swamped it will suddenly become very environmentally conscious, and will champion the environment across the world. They will build a city, and call it Environment City. They may even put the price of gasoline up, and will certainly invest in Nuclear Energy and solar power. The richest, realising the world is doomed, will also invest in large boats.

8. The Qatar stock market will go up. And down. Or down and up. Whenever it goes up people will think it will carry on doing so and put all their money on it. Whenever it goes down people will think it will carry on doing so and take all their money out just as it reaches the bottom. A few smart cookies will realise this and do the opposite, making a fortune in the meantime. Actually, this goes for most of the rest of the world too.

9. Qataris will suddenly become aware of the Internet. There will be an Internet bubble. Barwa will build Internet City. Sites like Qatar Living will be exchanged for a 1000 times earnings. Then suddenly everyone will become aware that websites don't actually make much money and the bubble will come crashing down.

10. Qatar will become high tech. Japanese scientists will be brought into the country to create thobed robots who can clean, cook, take a beating with a smile and build buildings even cheaper than expat labourers can. Robot City will be built.

Got any more to add? Let us know...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Renewing your Residence Permit

We have been reviewing our post on Renewing your Residence Permit, and after finding that the forms were not yet on Hukoomi we have added PDFs of the relevant form along with the accompanying notes to our website:

Qatar Residence Permits Forms:


You may also find our updated post on Renewing Residence Permits for Families useful.

Also see our Regularly Updated Qatar Visa Information and our Qatar Visa Forum



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Monday, November 17, 2008

Family Picnic

Doha can be a hectic place in the week, full of roaring cars with blaring horns and frustrated drivers with blazing tempers. But on Friday mornings peace falls, and families like this one can gather together to enjoy a moment of peace in a city which, despite its location in the desert, is suprisingly green.

A family picnic on the grass against a backdrop of half completed buildings.


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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Domestic Workers

Qataris were up in arms yesterday after a proposal by the government to limit household to a maximum of two domestic workers, according to a story in the Peninsula.

As Qataris themselves point out, not every Qatari is rich. But with salaries of domestic workers starting at just QAR600 ($165 or GBP100) almost every Qatari family can and does have domestic workers.

To Westerners, coming from a culture where only the super rich can afford domestic workers, this may seem spoilt. However, many families could just not manage without help. An increasing number of Qatari women work nowadays, and with both parents in work by seven, even the school run becomes unfeasible without help.

Add to this the fact that large families are the norm, with familes often having six children or more, and you can see why Qataris become anxious at the thought of losing domestic help.

An additional proposal is for employment agencies to provide domestic workers on an hourly or daily basis. This might have the additional benefit of reducing abuse of domestic workers, with employment agencies able - and hopefully required - to monitor the workers. It could also reduce the large amount of runaways, many of whom then take on illegal work, but who get trapped in the country, unable to leave without first being taken into detention.




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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Christmas in Qatar

Santa Clause in the desert
Christmas Past

Once upon a time in Qatar Christmas was, if not exactly banned, at least discouraged. Pictures of Christmas in foreign newspapers were blacked out, Christmas songs were discouraged and, according to one old timer on Qatar Living, in 1983 the word Merry Christmas was banned on QBS after the murder of thousands of Muslims in Lebanon by Christians caused an anti-Christian backlash. As a result the term Merry Crimble was used instead!

Christmas Present

Fortunately for Christmas lovers, Qatar now allows Christmas to be celebrated quietly. Some malls go so far as to put up Christmas trees and decorations, and last year one Muslim scholar stated that it was okay for Muslims to celebrate Christmas in a non-religious sense. (Although we should also point out there are lots of Muslims who disagree with him.) Some Qataris go as far as to decorate their houses and give presents.

It is also generally acceptable to give Muslims cards, but look for a card saying Seasons Greetings rather than Merry Christmas. Obviously, any card with a religious symbol on it would be completely unacceptable.

My favourite story regarding Christmas in Qatar is of a couple of Westerners doing business with some Qataris on Christmas Day. At the end of the negotiations, the Western businessmen were lead into a separate room where some mince pies with a glass of brandy awaited them. While I have no idea if this story is true or not, to me it is a wonderful example of the tolerance that we enjoy in Qatar.

Christmas Shopping

Obviously, it may not be as easy to buy the Christmas tree and decorations as it is back home, but it is possible. The AWA’s bazaar, which usually sells Christmas decorations and cards, has sadly already slipped past us this year, but Megamart (which you will find located in The Center) always has a good selection of decorations and the odd plastic tree.

Unfortunately it is also extremely expensive - the mince pies can be three or four times as much as they cost in the UK. (We know because sometimes they leave the original Waitrose price tag on! If you want to try saving money you could make your own - see the recipe below!) Rather more cheap and cheerful is the upstairs floor of the Family Food Center - you'll find branches of this shop on D ring road close to the airport and in Al Nasser street (the opposite end from C ring road.)

For stocking fillers it is worth heading off to the cheaper shops, where you will any number of cheap and cheerful goods for a few riyals. You could start dig around the shops in Souq Waqif will be sure to get you a good range of toys (try the spinning top - it kept our kids entertained for hours!)

We also like the cheap shops located along Ahmed Bin Ali Street: Al Shaheen and Rawnaq. The second, Rawnaq, is an amazing place - sticking its head just above the ground with two glass conservatories, it seems small, but becomes huge when you disappear underneath, and offers no end of cheap junk for you to rummage through. There are several branches, but we use the one on Ahmed Bin Ali Street - see map below:



A third place where it is easy to get stocking fillers and cheap but interesting gifts is the Japanese Daiso in Hyatt Plaza Shopping Mall. This is located on the second floor (its more of a ledge actually) above a huge Homes R Us.

Ordering Presents from Abroad

All is not lost when the present your child desires is not available in Qatar. While the Qatar post office has been slammed in the past over the later delivery of presents (to be fair, this may have had something to do with the awful postal service in the UK at Christmas time last year) there is are alternative postal services. The one we use is Aramex's Shop and Ship, which allows you to buy online in the US or the UK and then have it shipped to Qatar at a fraction the price of most courier companies.

Celebrating

One pleasant tradition that has developed in Qatar amongst the expatriates is to gather in the desert around a bonfire and have a sing song. At some of these events Father Christmas even turns up, although there are rumours this may not happen this year after he experienced delays trying to get an exit permit. These are generally private events and are not announced publicly.

On the big day those who can arrange a day of work, although this is not always possible. Then expats split into two camps, those who head off to hotels to enjoy Xmas dinner and those who hold/join Christmas parties. If you would prefer the first, make sure you book the dinner as early as possible, as places sell out well in advance. Alternatively, you could follow the example in the movie below, dress up as Santa Claus and go Kite Boarding!

Father Christmas Kite Surfing in Qatar



Qatar Visitor’s Credit Crunch Busting, Megamart Price Crushing Inflation Beating Mince Pie Recipe

Takes 25 minutes to make, about 25 minutes to bake, plus chilling and cooling

3501 quantity short crust pastry.:

Home made:
Sift 170 g plain flour with a pinch of salt into a clean bowl. Rub in 100 g cold butter in cubes until crumble like. Stir in 1 tablespoon of caster sugar and add 1 large egg yolk, mix with knife. Add 1 - 2 tablespoons water to mix a little at a time. Form dough into ball and chill 1/2 hour before use.

Mincemeat as below:

Makes about 1.1kg mincemeat and takes 40 minutes to make, plus cooling

1 large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
100g sultanas
75g currants
75g dried cranberries
175g raisins
100g mixed chopped peel
25g pecans, finely chopped
100ml dark rum
Finely grated zest of 1 orange, plus the juice of 2
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
175g dark muscovado sugar
100g shredded vegetable suet

1. Combine all the ingredients except the muscovado sugar and suet in a large saucepan. Place over a low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the fruit has plumped up and most of the liquid has evaporated but it isn’t dry. Set aside to cool, then stir in the muscovado sugar and suet.
2. Meanwhile, sterilise several jars. Preheat the oven to 120°C/fan100°C/gas 1/2. Wash both the jars and lids well in hot, soapy water, rinse and place upside down on a baking tray. Place in the hot oven for 10 minutes or until dry. Remove from the oven and use a clean cloth to handle the jars.
3. Divide the mincemeat between the hot jars, seal, label and set aside to cool. Store in a cool place for up to 6 months.

Alternatively - just buy a jar of mince meat.

1. Make the pastry.
2. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan170°C/gas 5. Cut the pastry into 2 unequal pieces, about two-thirds to one-third. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the large piece of pastry to about 3mm thick. Using a 10cm round, plain cutter (or ramekin), stamp or cut out 12 circles, re-rolling the trimmings, if necessary. Carefully mould into a deep 12-hole muffin tin – don’t worry if the pastry bunches together slightly, simply smooth out with your fingers. Divide the mincemeat between the pastry cases, filling each one three-quarters full.
3. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry as before and use a 7-8cm round, plain cutter to stamp out 12 lids. Brush the edges of the pastry bases with water, lay a pastry lid on top and press the edges together to seal. Brush each pie with egg. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and piping hot. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack.
4. Serve the mince pies warm or at room temperature, dusted with icing sugar.

OR

Buy ready made short crust pastry.
Roll out, cut into circles and put into bun tin.
Fill with jar of mincemeat (add drop of brandy if desired).
You could cover with smaller circles. However, my granny used to make a very special topping instead of the pastry lid - here it is:

Cream 65 g soft butter with 65 g caster sugar until fluffy. Fold in 1 egg and a little alcohol. Fold in1 tbs. plain flour and 65 g ground almonds. Spoon onto pies and bake about 25 mins.

Also see:

Qatar Christmas Gift Ideas
Christmas Gifts from Japan


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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Qatar News Update

Marriage Certificate


In Qatar there always seems to be lots of things happening or none at all. Today seems to be one of the days when there are lots of things happening, both in the news and with what's on.

First there is the suprising statement by the Undersecretary of Business and Trade for Qatar that inflation doesn't matter if growth is high.


... if inflation stands at 12 percent and growth at 25 percent it is better than countries with two percent growth and one percent inflation.


Tell that to the parent trying to bring up a family of four on a salary that hasn't changed for three years! What he means, of course, is that growth is great if you are owning the companies that are experiencing the growth, especially if you have managed to keep down salaries. It is not so great if food prices are doubling and your income is remaining the same!

A particularly shocking story that hit the papers today is that of a marriage certificate rejected by the Qatar authorities. The poor couple in question got legally married in their own country but the courts are refusing to accept their certificate, presumably because it is a mixed marriage - a Chritian man with a Muslim woman. (The opposite is more acceptable.) While the circumstances are proably fairly rare, it has to be worrying for all of us expats when documents such as marriage certificates which have been legally issued in our home countries are not accepted in Qatar.

On a pleasanter note, there will be an exhibition of Orientalist paintings by the Mathaf Gallery from London in Souq Waqif art center. The exhibition will feature paintings by Arabic artists Ahmed Moustaffa as well as a number of Arabic scenes by Western artists.


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Qatar: Becoming more environmentally conscious?

The Sun

The Sun: Qatar's other great asset?


In what may seem strange to the UK, which has been frittering away its North Sea oil and gas reserves without any thought to the future, a country which has enough gas to last for a hundred years at its current rate of usage is thinking of a future without fossil fuels.

Qatar may have the world's third largest supply of gas but until recently it has been flirting with the idea of alternative power sources - namely, solar power and nuclear energy.

In February Qatar was considering building a solar power complex with a capacity of 3,500 megawatts, which compares to a current total grid capacity of 4300. That would make it one of the largest solar complexes in the world.

More recently, TCE energy has announced plans to build a $12 million demonstration solar thermal power station, which will hopefully be scaled up if successful.

The country has also been toying with the idea building a nuclear power station, although according to the Guardian UK this is becoming less attractive due to the current fall in energy prices.

Other measures have also been taken recently, as the resident who paid a $2,700 fine for water leakage may have noticed. Penalties have been introduced for the wastage of water and electricity, a camel farm has been introduced which should help prevent erosion and seawater greenhouses, which utilise the sun and the sea rather than fossil fuels to produce crops, are being considered.

There is still an incredible lack of awareness amongst much of the population - and indeed, even as we choke on the air pollution that is causing a record number of allergies and chest problems, it seems that most people don't care.

Houses and buildings blaze out with light all night, not surpisingly when Qataris get free electricity. The first time I saw recycling bins - each neatly labelled with the type of rubbish that should be thrown in it - they were filled with a complete mixture of garbage and food waste, and each citizen either owns a sports utility or lusts after one. Certainly with fuel at around 20 cents a litre they need not worry about buying more economical cars!

As with democracy in Qatar, it seems that the goverment cares more than the people it governs. Which is better, perhaps, than no one caring about it at all.

Melting iceberg

Iceberg image by Ludovic Hirlimann.



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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bhalou the Bear Suffering in Doha Zoo?

A story I missed yesterday but which popped up on my alerts today was that of Bhalou the bear.

Those who have been in Qatar a while will remember that the bear was left behind by the Russian Circus performing in the Hyatt Plaza after the circus were denied the papers they needed to take the bear home.

Now the bear is housed in Doha Zoo and, according to the zoo, is doing well. Not so, according to the Gulf Times, which stated that the bear had lost weight, had no food in its enclosure and was denied access to its air-conditioned shelter.

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) had arranged a place for the bear in a sanctuary in Pakistan, but then been denied access to the bear.

The person who found the bear claimed that Bhalou was depressed and being kept in filthy conditions.

Claims that the animals are not well cared for have been made before. One conservationist I spoke to even thought that the zoo's single elephant probably had brain damage!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Death and Bereavement in Qatar


I hope our latest article, Death and Bereavement in Qatar, is one that you will not need to use. Death in the family or of friends is horrible at the worst of times, and is only exacerbated by being far from home - and by the nightmarish bureaucracy involved. In fact, as I wrote this piece (or rather typed - virtually all the information was provided by the British Embassy) I couldn't help wondering if one day someone from my family or friends following the instructions for myself. In the event that you do have to deal with the traumatic event of a death, we hope that the detailed information provided by the British Embassy will be of use to you. 

Note for cultural notes and information on how to behave at a wake in Qatar see Qatar Funerals



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Monday, November 10, 2008

Board Walk Activities at the Pearl

A reader forwarded this in an email, which I notice is also in Qatar Living. I realise it has been going on for a week - this is the first I have heard of it. The events are located at the Pearl in West Bay, which is usually closed to visitors, so it might be a good time to check it out. (Could it be that the property crash is behind these events...?) Apparently passes can be obtained at the Oyster, although some Qatar Living users say that they have gained entry without a pass (presumably they are not smelly and badly dressed bachelors!)

November 1 - November 10 (4:00 pm - 9:00 pm)
Les Excentriques - As all the rest of the performers, Les Excentriques come from the city of arts and culture Paris. Their colorful costumes and diverse acts will entertain you in many different ways with musical instruments, acrobats, and dancers.

November 11 - November 20 (4:00 pm - 9:00 pm)
Les Cybres - With their luminous appearance Les Cybres inspire the universe of science fiction. Their costumes also feature electronic music and colorful lights.

November 21 - November 22 (11:00 am - 11:00 pm)
Super Car Show - A 30 + luxury automotive brands like Ducati, Ferrari, Grand Turismo, X6, McLaren, Bentley, Lamborghini and others will be showcased on the boardwalk. There will also be a golf simulator for the golf enthusiasts, live music and Lavish VIP lounge.

November 23 - November December 5 (4:0 0 pm - 9:00 pm)
Bazartuka - Iridescent colors and lights are the main features of this fun ensemble. They play samba and urban rhythms with hand held percussions.

December 6 - December 17 (4:00 pm - 9:00 pm)
Les Bataola - They represent the spirit of the real Brazilian carnival by playing Cuban and Caribbean inspired rhythms.

December 18 - December 31 (4:00 pm - 9:00 pm)
Christmas program - Christmas inspired ice fairies, elves and living statues will entertain you amongst nicely decorated Christmas markets selling your favorite treats for the seasons.

January 1 - January 11 (4:00 pm - 9:00 pm)
Les Lutins - With winter inspired costumes and many different instruments these performers appear as magical creatures from the forest playing festive music and alluring celebration m ood amongst young and old.

January 11 - January 21 (4:00 pm - 9:00 pm)
Les Elegants - Venetian inspired body = body & costumes with patterns of a playing deck of cards, this group is one of the most elegant and original. They will simply entertain you by their gracious appearance.

January 21 - January 31 (4:00 pm - 9:00 pm)
La brigade des Jouets - This group includes puppets, little soldiers, and ladies on stilts as well as an orchestra that creates an atmosphere by playing music and impresses audience with unique costumes.





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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Website Temporarily Unavailable

Update - the website is now up and running again - apologies for any inconvenience!

Our website is temporarily unavailable as a result of an upgrade to PHP5. We had hope to manage it without taking the website down, but it seems this is not to be the case. We are working away on it and hope to have it back up as soon as possible - in the meantime our forum remains online and we will try to provide any answers you would normally find on the website.

The Top Ten Websites in Qatar

We are going to exclude our own website from this list - obviously we believe we are in the top ten:) but it would still be rather presumptuous to include ourselves.

We are going purely on personal taste here, and we are deliberately ignoring factors such as ranking in the Search Engine Results, Alexa or traffic. Although Google is quite simply the best search engine there is, we often disagree with Google on which sites are the best - for example, although we love the BBC, we don't think its sparse 900 words on Qatar deserve to rank in the top ten. Similarly, in our opinion, Qatar Airways, while of use to someone who wants to book a flight with them (assuming they have no desire to compare prices with any other airline), does not deserve to rank number one.

The web!The Web: Visualisation by the OPTE Project

1. Qatar Living: This is our all-time favourite, and despite what we said about not ranking traffic probably does have the highest traffic of any website in Qatar. We like it because it is a place you can (almost) always get a response in seconds, and because of the wealth of local knowledge it offers. We also respect the fact that on the rare occasions users have ripped off our articles, the owners of the site have dealt with the matter in minutes of being contacted. As a good proportion of the people I know use the website on a regular basis this has to get the top spot. Last not least, the website's users have been very active in charity, actively raising money to help other Qatar residents in trouble.

2. I Love Qatar: Amnesia, the half-Qatari half-British owner of this website attempts to share a Qatari perspective with his readers - although obviously he also has a British sense of humour! While critical of Qatar bashing, he is not averse to criticising Qatar himself on occasion. Like Qatar Living, Amesia's site and community has also been very much involved in charity.

3. Doha Map: This is a great little site which is taking advantage of Google Map's open API to create an interactive Doha map. You can search for locations, display different types of landmarks or even add your business.

4 & 5. The Gulf Times and The Peninsula: I read both of these on a regular basis, and I can't really decide which is better - they are both great newspapers!

6. Qatar Embassy: I have often found useful information on this site, and have frankly find it better than any of the government sites in Qatar!

7. Alhannah: This is a Wiki site run by Carnegie Mellon University, and has tonnes of useful information on it, all added by its users - you can add to it too. For the same reason we also rate the Wikipedia page on Qatar, although some of the other "stub" pages on Qatar don't deserve the ranking they get, and sometimes get things wrong: see Al Jaber and Wikipedia.

8. Heritage of Qatar: This superb website lists all the heritage sites in Qatar, complete with information about each site and directions on how to get there. They also have a good history section.

9. Araboh.com - E-commerce has come to Qatar with this little website, which provides Arabic language books for children. I always admire anyone who has the guts to start their own business, and the young and female Iraqi/British founder, who is just 21 years old, set this one straight after leaving university. According to Google, the MENA area (Middle East and North Africa) is not quite ready for e-commerce yet, but with a larger market than Qatar this little site should do well.

10. Al Jazeera: This comes towards the end of the list, not because it is not a great site, but because it is not really about Qatar, just based in Qatar. Still, Al Jazeera is something Qatar can be proud of opinion - any news programme which is despised by all sides (it has come in from criticism from the West, who may have considered bombing it, from other Arabic countries and by Al Qaeda - in fact one of the few countries in the Gulf which has not expelled the site is Israel) has to be good.



Near misses:

I really like Amiri Diwan - the official website of the Amir is both attractive and contains interesting information about Qatar and its ruler. It doesn't work on Firefox, though, or on Safari, meaning I can't access it on my Apple. Doh!

Experience Qatar - I seem to remember this was once a good website, but as it has been blocked I can't tell. I believe this was taken over by hackers at one point - assuming control was never regained, one has to wonder why on earth it ranks so highly for the search term Qatar.

Blogs:

We have not included blogs here: see Best Qatar Blogs and Qatar Blog Update (both now out of date, I'm afraid) for that.

Suggestions:

I still think the web in Qatar is underdeveloped here, but maybe I am missing something. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment here - I am quite happy for this list to become the Top Twenty Websites in Qatar, or even the Top One Hundred Websites in Qatar!


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Qatar Internet Directory: Where all sites are checked for quality before being listed!


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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Qatar Visit Visas on Hold

Many hotels in Qatar have been asked to stop issuing Visit Visas, the Peninsula reported today. The temporary block is due to an upcoming United Nations development conference which is to be held in Doha. The moratarium is said to have started on the 4th November, and will continue until the 5th December. Residents of the UK and America, as well as other countries on Qatar's list of nations who can get visa on arrival, should be unaffected - at least as long as they have not been resident in the country in the last two years (see Qatar Immigration - Turned Away at the Gates).

Qatar Visa Information | Qatar Visa Forum | Visit Visa E Services (Hukoomi)

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Mangrove Swamp Snorkelling

In North Wales bog snorkeling, though neither big nor serious, has become a cult event.

In Qatar, though, I have never heard of anyone mangrove swamp snorkeling and we received some strange looks as we descended from the jetty into the shallow water of Al Thakira.

Strange looks froom the locals at Al Thakira.The water did not come up much above our knees, and was murky with the rich silt generated from the mangroves. We saw only sand and mud and the occasional pale coloured fish until we reached the edge of the mangroves.

Then the thick roots of the grey mangrove started to protrude up from the water until we had to propel ourselves along by grasping the suprisingly rough roots and pulling ourselves along on them, scratching our exposed legs in the process.

As we neared the trees, the gentle late afternoon light was blocked out by roots arching eerily overhead. With visibility decreasing still further the effect was quite spooky, and I almost began to believe in the monstors I had told my four year old daughter existed in the swamps. At least in Qatar we didn't have to worry about crocodiles!

In fact we saw little wildlife. The mangrove crabs that scuttle around the mud at low tide, and which are so important for turning the rotten leaves of the mangroves into the nutritous mulch which makes mangrove swamps so valuable in the ecologicial system, had retreated into their holes.

Mudskippers also inherit Mangrove Swamps, but are increasingly rare. In fact, until not long ago these were thought to be extinct in Qatar, although they have now been seen on some of the remoter swamps. Sea slugs can also be found in the swamps, but all we saw were those pale fish looming out of the murky water, singly or in shoals, and the occasional larger fish flashing past us.

We headed back to shore and then to Doha. After arriving back at my flat, I was greeted with much concern by my daughter, who looked with much concern at the scratches on my legs and knees caused by the mangrove roots.

"Who did that?" she wanted to know.

"The monsters in the swamp."

To which she replied in a worried voice:

"And did the monsters say sorry?"

Bog Snorkelling

It could be a while before this event is introduced in Qatar:



Also see:

Things to Do in Qatar

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Friday, November 07, 2008

The Obama Effect on the Middle East

Obama overlaid with a picture of a boy throwing  a stone against a tank in Israel
It's been quite extraordinary here recently, to have Arabs and locals both so excited about the election of an American man, and so positive, for a change, about something happening in America.

Few here thought a black man could win the election, for they see black people persecuted as many Arabs (though not so many Qataris) themselves feel to be persecuted.

"Not much will change," my Palestinian friend told me, before she confided to me, "But I hope he wins anyway." After his election, she was flushed with joy at work the next day.

In one stroke Americans have undone a fair chunk of the damage caused by the last eight years of the Bush administration. Of course, Israel is and always will be an issue, but the torture in Al Ghraib and the removal of fair trials for terrorist suspects have also been very damaging. Of course this goes on in much of the Arab world anyway, but that's the whole point - any gain the Americans made strategically was more than made up for in the loss of moral superiority, in the loss of respect (however grudgingly given), and by the swell in support for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations.

Al Qaeda will be worried. They rely on American aggression and stupidity to create the anger and desperation which they rely on. The huge swelling in support for Obama can only do their cause damage.

Of course, there are dangers too. I am not a military strategist, but I have heard of at least one senior Qatari express a hope that Mc Cain will win, if only because of the Iraq issue. The Americans should never have gone into Iraq, but with the balance of power completely changed in the area (in favour of Iran) their presence is seen by some as a balancing factor, and, whatever is stated publicly, their departure may be viewed with trepidation.

Iran will have at once the temptation of a weak Iraq and its majority Shia population on its border - and much greater pressure to compromise. Facing off the hugely unpopular Bush and his hawkish Republican party is one thing, but refusing to deal with the hugely popular Obama, a man with a lot of momentum behind him, will be a lot harder.

The Palestinian issue is incredibly complex, and few could hope to solve it. Yet as a vehicle for terrorist recruitment, the issue is also of importance far beyond the small slip of territory concerned.

Whatever Obama's personal opinion, the reality of politics in America means he has to support Israel. At least, however, he does not support the right wing party in Israel, and as he has stated he favours negotiation over conflict. Even if negotiations go nowhere very far, talking is better than conflict.

There are perhaps two main dangers, beyond that of Iran and Iraq. One is that people will expect too much, too soon, and Obama will be unable to live up to the hope he has created.

The second is the one that is at the back of everybody's mind - that he will be assassinated, an event which would leave behind anguish, anger and animosity.

Disclaimer: I do not have a PHD in Middle Eastern politics, this is a blog not a newspaper, and all the opinions here may be complete tosh!


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Also see: Barrack the Blessed on Mr Q

Qatar Visitor Friends

Qatar Jobs

Doha Hotels

Full Moon Beach Party at the Intercontinental

The ever-busy Intercontinental Doha will be holding a beach party on 13th November 2008 - as usual, click on the image below to view the full size brocure.



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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Qatar Internet: Google Gets it Wrong with Visa HQ

The primary aim of a successful search should be to return the most useful result to the searcher. So it's interesting that a Google search should return Visa HQ as the number one result to a search for Qatar Visas made in Qatar.

Screengrab: Google search for
Searching for visa information for UK residents in the UK returns this advice:


"Citizens of United Kingdom residing in United Kingdom have to apply for a visa to Qatar in person at the nearest consulate of Qatar in United Kingdom."

Screengrab 2: Visa HQ result for Qatar Visa for British CitizenOf course, as hardened Qatar travellers will realise, the advice is wrong. British citizens arriving in Qatar, so long as they have not been resident in Qatar for the last two years, can get visa on arrival at the airport. Officially they should be on Qatar Airways plane, but in practice this does not really seem to matter.

This is not just a mistake by Visa HQ - similar searches for other countries return exactly the same advice. Even the search for Qatar Visa for a Qatar citizen looking for a visa to Qatar!

"Citizens of Qatar residing in Qatar have to apply for a visa to Qatar in person at the nearest consulate of Qatar in Qatar."

Screengrab: Visa HQ result for Qatar Citizen searching for Qatar Visa to QatarWhat is happening here is that Visa HQ is gaming Google. Providing a free service is a well known way to get highly ranked in Qatar, enabling websites to then sell their services - in this case visa services (provided for US and Canadian citizens only). With a vast array of countries, Visa HQ appears to provide a huge amount of information for those searching for visas. In fact, though, the visa information we had returned was false or nonsensical, and obviously computer generated.

HQ is also a brand - and Google rates brands, as this quote from SEO Book blog shows:

"The internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday.

'Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.' "

Which is why you sometimes get a pile of rubbish on a brand site like Visa HQ rating above a valid web page such as Qatar Embassy's visa page, a government site providing valid visa information from the source, as well as our own regularly updated visa page.




Also see: Qatar Visas | Qatar Immigration: Turned Away at the Gates | Qatar Visa Forum | Police Clearance for Qatar

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Doha Bus Stop

Is this Qatar's first bus stop?

I spotted it on an empty half built road in West Bay. As promised, the bus stop looks impressive - a gleaming air-conditioned unit that will offer travellers all the protection they need against the harsh desert sun.


Also see: Qatar Bus Routes Getting Around in Qatar Qatar Travel

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