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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Aliens in Qatar Again???

Rumours of strange hobbit like creatures located in Qatar have been circulating round the blogosphere.

This picture was published by Cryptomondo:

hobbit-like creatureThis was not the first strange picture to have originated in Qatar, the blogger pointed out. On the same post was this strange creature, found on the camera of a semi-devoured caver:

Scary alien
As always there will be those who scoff, those who do not believe. Yet this is not the only strange thing to have come out of Qatar.

Last November, at the opening of the Islamic Museum, we noticed something strange about a Qatar photo, which we pointed out in our post famous visitors. Here's the picture again:

ET in the moon.At first all appears normal in this photo by Ammar - but have a close look at the unusually large moon in the background...

Now it looks as if aliens are back again. We can only speculate that they are interested in Qatar's huge petrochemical reserves, which could easily be used to power a spaceship to the next galaxy.

Could this be the real reason for the huge American base here? To protect the world against an alien invasion?

Only time will tell...

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Qatar Workers More Confident

Employees in Qatar, although worried by current economic conditions, are more confident about their current of residence.

This is the latest finding by Bayt.com, who provide Qatar Visitor's Qatar Job Listing.

Although a majority of professional (62%) were worried about their job, a majority (52%) also felt confident about the prospects for their country of residence, Qatar, as compared to other countries and 65% expressed confidence in Qatar.

Just 4% said the country was no longer an attractive place to live.

Labourers may have more reason for dissatisfaction, with Al Jazeera recently reporting that some construction workers, who often borrow money in order to pay illegal agency demands to come to Qatar, have gone without pay for months.

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Brawn has Bahrain Buttoned Up!

Bahrain Formula One Update - by John

Another stunning victory for Brawn and Button. This time Button really had to show what he is made of and did so magnificently, retaking the place Hamilton had taken off him by using his KERS with a well-executed move at the end of the straight, both drivers showing their maturity and skill in avoiding contact.

Unfortunately, further back in the field, it was not the same story and contact was made. Massa was squeezed between his team mate and Nico Rosberg , resulting in him having to pit for a new front wing and effectively eliminating him from points scoring positions and Kovalainen must have been held up here as well as he ended up down in 17th.

At the front, Trulli had a poor start and was overtaken by his team mate, Timo Glock who lead the race for the first stint. Hamilton made a brilliant start but quickly lost the places he had gained to the faster cars. Vetel was squeezed and ended up in 5th. Having gained 3rd place, Button showed great pace and when the lightly fuelled Toyotas pitted, he took the lead which he never effectively lost from then on, except when pit stops temporarily changed the running order.

Pit Stops

Glock's pit stop proved to be unfortunately timed as he was taken by Rosberg on the way out and suffered delays which meant he never got back in touch with the leaders. Trulli's worked out better and he came out in 6th ahead of Alonso. However, on lap 12, as Button hit the front, Alonso took Trulli. Barrichello pitted on lap 14, coming out ahead of Fisichella, who was in 11th, pretty respectable for Force India who have moved off the back of the grid this season, and Button a lap later, Hamilton following him in. Button re-emerged 3rd behind Vettel, who was now in the lead and Raikonnen.

At this point Barrichello was held up by Piquet and was getting a bit Brazilian under the collar about it! However on the next lap the senior citizen of the circuit proved that experience can outwit youthfulness and took the place easily. At about this time Vettel pitted, coming out 4th and on lap 21 Raikonnen pitted, bringing the race into proper order with Button first, followed by Trulli, Vettel and Hamilton, with Barrichello fifth, followed by Glock, Piquet, Raikonnen and Alonso. Webber and Kovalainen had not made much progress and were languishing in 13th and 15th respectively.

Status Quo

The middle section of the race was fairly uneventful and the status quo was maintained in the first half of the pack with just the rearrangements caused by pit stops. However, Button was extending his lead over Trulli to 13 seconds. There looked as if there might be a battle looming as Hamilton closed up on Vettel and Raikonnen closed on Glock in 5th but then Glock pitted, coming out on superesoft tyres with 24 laps to go and Hamilton was unable to challenge Vettel.

On lap 36, Button lapped Massa and then pitted next lap, followed into the pits by Trulli and Hamilton, putting Vettel into the lead. He was doing some sterling work here because after he pitted on lap 39, he emerged 3rd ahead of Trulli and effectively 2nd, as Raikonnen still had to make another stop. Apart from this the finishing order had been established and although Trulli was close behind Vettel he could not challenge him.

Raikonnen finally pitted on lap 44 and we had a little excitment when he re-emerged as Glock was passing. Glock won the battle for 6th place initially but then Raiki showed him who was boss and took it back 2 corners later. Massa pitted lap 46, Barrichelo lap 47, emerging 5th. The order remained unchanged for the last 10 laps, with Vettel closing slightly on Button who had probably eased off with a 12 second safety margin to cushion him.

Brilliant Button Wins.

Button took the chequered flag to the delight of his team and that of Richard Branson of Brawn sponser Virgin, increasing his championship points to 31 ahead of Barrichelo with 19 and Vettel with 18. In the constructors championship, Brawn have scored 50 points, Red Bull 27.5 and Toyota 26.5. Raikonnens finish in 6th finally gave Ferrari its first points of the season. It was noticable too that for the first time this season, Piquet put in a respecable performance and finished 2 places behind Alonso, but out of the points in 10th. Williams again failed to reproduce their practice speed in the race with Rosberg in 9th and the underperforming Nakajima last. The BMW's languished at 18th and 19th beaten even by the Force India cars - how the mighty are fallen!!


One noticable feature of the race was that all 20 cars finished, a testimony to the superb reliablity of todays F1 cars and to driver skill and quite possibly also to track design. The magnificent Sakhir circuit once again produced a memorable GP, efficiently and warmly hosted by the Bahrainis.

More Middle East Grand Prix - a Possibility for Qatar?

From this year, Bahrain will not be the only Middle Eastern Grand Prix as Abu Dhabi gets in on the act. It is also rumoured that Qatar have expressed interest in hosting a GP but it seems unlikely that there will be a third one in this area. However, who knows? The lure of petro-dollars could prove irresistable to the greedy eyes of "our Bernie", who I am convinced has found a way of "taking it with him".

Also See: Racing in the Desert

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Qatar Economy and Jobs Market Bucks Trend

News reports have recently been focussing on prediction's that Qatar's GDP is to touch 9%. This has in fact been predicted for months but in the current economic climate it's no suprise that the predicted growth is attracting attention - and not least from job seekers desperate to find work.

What is remarkable is that the GDP will be increasing despite the fall in the prices of Qatar's key exports, gas and oil. The fall in the price of oil has been well documented, but huge amounts of gas are also coming online, with the production of natural gas increasing in America contrary to predictions by Greenspan in 2003 that natural gas supplies in the US had peaked. As it turned out, increasing prices stimulated investment into extracting gas from areas previously considered too challenging and expensive. As production went on the extractors became better at the job and prices fell.

Nevertheless, the huge quantities of natural gas that has been and is coming online in Qatar in 2008 and 2009 is predicted to raise GDP. Qatar is fortunate also to have a contract with the UK, a country which will be glad to reduce its reliance on Russia, and is now exporting Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) to a huge new LNG terminal in Milford Haven, Wales.

Although the 9% increase in GDP represents a fall from the breakneck speed of former years, it will be a relief to those worried about their jobs in Qatar, as well as to job seekers from abroad seeking an oasis from the rocky world economy. Indeed, a quick glance at our jobs listing shows that there are currently 381 vacancies available for job seekers in Qatar - less than the 841 available in Saudi Arabia, but pretty impressive given Qatar's small size.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Formula One Returns to Bahrain

By John

Its here again! This weekend, the 25th and 26th of April, the desert of Bahrain will echo to the scream of engines as the Formula 1 cars, the elite of motor racing, race around the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain.

The event will be even more exciting and unpredictable than usual as the "old order" has been overturned by the new rules which came into force this year, designed to bring about more overtaking as well as reducing the costs of competing and make things a bit more even between the smaller teams and the big spending, car industry sponsored giants such as Ferrari and McLaren.

In a previous post I wrote about the uncertain future of the Honda team. This was only resolved just before the start of the season when Ross Brawn bought the team. Who would have predicted that this team would now be leading both the driver's and constructors championships? Yet that is precisely the case.

Last year, Bahrain brought about a change in the fortunes of Ferrari, who had made a poor start to the season. This year, they have had an even worse start with a car which is well off the pace. Will Bahrain prove to be the turning point or will it take until the teams return to Europe before their improvements start to take effect?

Of course, the major controversy this year has been the subject of diffuser design. Three teams came up with a so-called double-decker (DD) design which has given them a major advantage over the other teams of up to a second a lap (which in F1 terms is huge). This has now been passed by the F1 governing body, the FIA, as legal, following a challenge from some of the teams. Thank goodness, because the season would have been a farce if the results of the first 2 races had been overturned and also because over the last few seasons there were only 2 teams likely to win every race.

Now the whole thing has been thrown wide open. What's more, the claims that the controversial DD diffuser gave those teams an unassailable advantage was disproved last weekend in China when the Red Bull team, who do not have it, scored a one/two as well as securing pole position. This, together with the fact that the other teams are developing their own versions of the DD design and fitting it to their cars as quickly as possible (Renault already had a version fitted to Alonso's car in China and achieved second on the grid in qualifying) is what makes this year's Bahrain GP so unpredictable. As Mark Webber told the BBC, "All the teams have got new stuff coming and that is going to move the performance barrier from team to team".

The other great thing about this season is that at last Jenson Button has a competetive car and is showing that he has got great talent, in spite of what the disgruntled, aging playboy, Flavio Briatore says about him. The same goes for Barrichello, who for so many years had to play second fiddle to Schumacher.

While talking about the drivers, China gave the supremely talented young German driver, Sebastian Vettel the opportunity to score his second GP victory and for his team mate Mark Webber to score second - both for Red Bull. The Brawn's of Button and Barrichello were 3rd and 4th respectively and the next 2 places were filled by Kovalainen and Hamilton for the improving McLaren team.

So, who will win in Bahrain this year? Even the most hardened of F1 experts would be foolish to hazard a guess. The competition is wide open. Will it be one of the double decker diffuser teams or can Red Bull be dominant again? Will Brawn continue their remarkable start to the season or will the rapidly improving McLaren team come to the forefront? How many other teams will have managed to develop their own DD diffusers and will they make them competitive? Will Ferrari make sufficient improvements to turn round the season as they did in Bahrain last year? There is only one way to find out - be there - or at least watch it on Bahrain TV!

Update: Check out our guide to the Abu Dhabi Formula One race.

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Qatar's Cord Blood Bank

In our latest article Shabina writes about Qatar's ambitious plans for a Cord Blood Bank. This project aims to make the cord blood banking available to all Qatar residents by 2010 - possibly for free. The process involves storing stem cells from babies umbilical tissue. The Cord Blood Bank technology is being provided by Richard Branson's Virgin Health Bank, who also provided us with this image of a stell cell:

Stem Cell

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Recession in Qatar: Jobs, Beggars and Traffic

As I approached my car, the man fixed me in his gaze and approached me. Lifting up his shirt to display a bloody wound, he pleaded with me for money.

"Please sir, I have car accident, need to go home to India..."

I gave him a few riyals and he started crying, pleading for more.

An increase in the number of beggars seems to be one effect of the recession in Qatar. Although against the law - beggars run the risk of being arrested - I have also seen women with their heads covered asking for money; in one case entering the restaurant I was eating and going round the tables despite the protests of the waiter.

Other friends, particularly those who walk a lot, also tell of being approached by beggars. One reported being approached by the same beggar as me. This time the beggar complained after receiving 50 riyals - "more, more" he said.

Beggars may do quite well here. Locals often feel it is their Islamic duty to help those less fortunate, while expats whose hearts have not been hardened by the frequency of beggers in other countries are more likely to give. With many people stranded here, and with those who are here on an illegal basis unable to access the public healthcare system, it's an obvious choice for those who are desperate.

It's not without risk, though. Begging is illegal, and transgressors risk arrest, imprisonment and deportation.

Perhaps another cause in the increase in beggers is the increasing trend to not paying workers recently highlighted by Al Jazeera. Contractors are increasingly holding back wages, sometimes for months. Heartbreakingly, the workers have often borrowed heavily to come out, sometimes even mortgaging their land. With no shortage of labourers desperate for work, complaining has little effect.

At the other end of the scale, I knew one gentleman who came out to work here and was given a nice car, a great house to live in and the latest mobile phone - but no money. "I've given you everything you need - what do you need money for?" his boss asked him.

Another aspect of the recession - a positive one for a change - seems to be a very welcome decrease in traffic. This is something I have noticed on the school run, with the time from the school to my office dropping by ten minutes. With, apparently, 60,000 expats leaving Qatar to return home in the last few months that's perhaps no surprise. It's not likely to last long - when the economy picks up and the Qatar economy, aided by vast government projects, resumes expansion, the traffic is likely to get worse than ever!

Check out our Qatar Job listing

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Only in Qatar!

Having a coffee in Souq Waqif - the first in a while - we were pleased and suprised to see two mounted police riding two super Arab horses on patrol. And then taken aback to see, trotting behind the two horses, two men ready to clean up anything the horses left behind!

Horses with their toilet attendants

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Al Jazeera critical of Qatar?

(Scroll down for the movie.)

In the You Tube movie at the bottom of this post Al Jazeera, often very critical of foreign countries but cautious when it comes to biting the hand that feeds it, dwells on the plight of migrant workers in Qatar. The video pulls no punches: "They are not even treating us as human beings," says a worker at one point in the video.

We find the video fascinating. There are already contradictory forces at work in Qatar. On the one hand the Doha Media Freedom center is invited to set up here, and it doesn't take long it gets into a blazing row. On the other hand journalists, who often have their passports taken away for the duration of their stay here (hopefully new legislation will put a stop to this) are often careful of just what they say. Jail sentences handed out, although often for journalists who have returned to their home country before their trial, reinforce this.

At the same time, a decision has obviously been taken not to censor high profile websites like Qatar Living, as well as smaller blogs like this one. In Qatar Living especially there is no topic which has not been discussed, from politics to religion to the personal characteristics of Qataris. To date just one post has been censored - that featuring images of a censored book: Winnie the Pooh.

The movie below is not directly critical of Qatar, but does draw attention to the workers suffering here. While viewers can only have sympathy for these labourers, allowing this video to be broadcast is a very positive step forward for Qatar.

Also see: Qatar Labourers: No Place to Go

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A Sea Change in Qatar Transport Policy?

A sign for a water taxi at the Pearl Qatar.
A sign at The Pearl gives a clue to how transport in Doha might develop in the future.

Also see: Qatar Transport.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Qtel Strikes Again

Getting in Contact with Qtel

Seeing that people were getting in contact with Qtel too easily (only one hour waiting time) Qtel have now taken new steps to frustrate and annoy customers.

This was my recent experience when, after 17 hours of no internet (general error according to Qtel) my internet slowed to a crawl for several days.

Now when you ring Qtel you get a new message telling you all operators are busy and asking you to ring back later.

If this was an option it would be quite a good idea. However, you are then cut off.

Of course, when you do telephone back later you get the same message.

I can only assume that a Vodafone mole has infiltrated Qtel and is taking measures to make sure all Qtel customers transfer to Vodafone when their internet services become available.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

BBC Qatar Article

Katy Adler visits Doha in a recent BBC news article on Qatar, but fails to get under the skin of the country.

In many respects she has the same experience as many expatriates here - the people she meets, apart from in an official capacity, are not Qatari.

Yet Qataris, when you meet them, are generally friendly people when approached, and while Qatar has its faults hospitality to guests is not one of them.

I have received numerous invitations to go on desert trips, camping, fishing and have visited houses several times.

Yousara Adelaal, in an article for us about Qatari men made a similar point, arguing that Qatari men only seem to be unaproachable, and that it is well worth breaking down that barrier. 

The BBC article did make some good points too. 

Its interesting that everyone clams up when freedom of the press is mentioned, although it's a shame they didn't mention the Doha Press Freedom Center, and the big row it is currently involved in over  local press freedom. 

However, I was very suprised at the mention of state hangings. 

Although officially legal, there has been a effective moritorium on executions for years, with the current Emir commuting all death sentences passed in the country. 

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Wet Doha

A car sprays water as it passes through a Doha puddle

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Sponsorship Laws Tightened Up

Harsher penalties have been introduced for both sponsors and foreigners breaking the sponsorship law in Qatar according to an article in Arabian Business today.

Sponsors retaining passports after visas have been completed, who employ somone who is not under their sponsorship or who fail to send employees for a health check within 7 days of arrival could face fines of QAR 10,000. 

Those overstaying their 30 day visas could also see fines of up to QAR50,000 or up to three years in prison. 

The law also stated that workers must leave the country within 90 days of the expiry of their residence permit. 

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Qatar Snow City

Weird - I ran across this this morning - a 'snow city' for Qatar.

For those of you with text browsers here is what it says...

The Qatar Supreme Desert Development Council (QSDDC) is planning its most ambitious project yet - a snow city to be located in the heart of the Qatar Desert.

Incredibly, the city, which is the brain child of Sudanese Champion Skier Dr. A. F. Ool, will be located outside.

According to Dr Ool, as the snow will be generated via solar-nuclear energy the project will actually run best the in searing heat of the summer.

For more information visit the official website at www.QatarSnowCity.com. 

Bahrain Grand Prix.

By John

On April 26th, the 6th Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix will take place at the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir.

The race track, designed by Herman Tilke, the in-vogue track designer also responsible for the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia, is 5.4 kilometers long and the race consists of 55 laps, giving a total distance of 297.6 kilometers.

The race will be hotly contested by the 20 or so cars. At the moment the exact number is unknown following the withdrawal of Honda from the sport.

The former Honda team under the brilliant Ross Brawn, architect of much of Ferrari's success in the Michael Schumacher days, including the winning by Schumacher of the first Bahrain Grand Prix, are currently looking for a new owner but are hoping to be racing in 2009.

The other winners at Sakir have been Fernando Alonso, in 2005 and 2006 for Renault and Fillipe Massa for Ferrari in 2007 and last year.

Last years race was an early turning point in the championship, with a Ferrari one-two after a poor start to the season and BMW in 3rd and 4th, iving them a champonship lead.

Hamilton had a disastrous race last year, stalling at the start and then, in an over eager attempt to make up lost places,running over the back of Alonso's car.

Sakhir circuit features a variety of bends, slow hairpins, fast curves and complex corners with double apexes.

There are large run-off areas, criticised by some as being too forgiving of drivers' mistakes. However, I would rather see a driver able to carry on and attempting to make up lost places than a wrecked car in the wall and hard won advantages by other drivers eroded by the deployment of the safety car.

Another "feature" of the course is dust, which can make the opening laps of both qualifying and the race more hazardous.

One thing we can be sure of, the 6th Bahrain F1 GP will provide an exciting weekend of racing with plenty of drama.

Sakir Circuit, Bahrain.

Length: 5.4 Km.

No. of laps: 55

Race distance: 297.605 Km.

Lap record: M. Schumacher/ Ferrari 2004 1Min 30.252 sec.

Also check out our guide to the new Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix.

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