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Saturday, October 31, 2009

100% Ownership for IT Companies in Qatar

We are very impressed with the most recent change in Qatar's foreign ownership laws, which now allows 100% foreign ownership of Information and Technology companies.

Of course, you would still have to cough up QAR200,000 for a company here, and rent an office, but then Qatar is looking for serious investors in the country.

This is one of three sectors which have been thrown open to full foreign ownership - the other sectors being distribution services and consultative and technical work services. These join a number of existing areas where this is already allowed.

Giving up 51% of your business, even with a revenue sharing agreeement which allows you to keep the bulk of the profits, puts off some investors, and it's a smart move to remove this obligation from areas of the economy which could do with a boost - or which could boost other industries in Qatar.

We also suspect that ICT Qatar, a fairly forward thinking organisation which seems faster on its feet than some Qatar beaurocracy, may be behind the move to encourage IT investment.

You can read the original article in the Peninsula. You can also read David Chaddock's article on How to Set Up a Business in Qatar.

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Behind the Ghutra

Marjorie in Qatar has an excellent post today on the discrimination faced by men in Qatar.

Many of us Westerners are apalled by the subjegation of men in Qatar (only the other day I saw an angry Qatari woman berate her obviously intimidated husband in public), and it is great that finally an expat woman has the courage to speak out about it.

As Marjorie writes:

Since it would be preposterous to believe any person would choose to wear an item of clothing that I personally don't wear, I am led to the self-evident conclusion that the men of the Gulf region are being forced to wear the ghutra by their oppressive female overlords.
Check out the full post here: Behind the Ghutra

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Villagio Cinema

While everyone cultured went to see Amelia, my wife and I went off to check out the new cinema at Villagio.

A few people complained that the entrance to the cinema and the foam seats looked cheap and tacky. I can't say I particularly noticed that, although it didn't look anything special.

To be honest, I don't care. This is an IMAX 3D cinema, and I wanted to see a 3D film, not gaze at cinema architecture.

We went to see "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs". Given the title, it's not the sort of film I would usually choose (sounds too cultured, though as it turned out it wasn't), but was the only 3D option available.

The 3d effects were just awesome. At the start of the film you are sailing through clouds before you sudddenly dive and race towards the ground. That's pretty impressive in 3D - in fact, everyone in the cinema gasped.

At times, I was also struck by how realistic, apart from the actual characters, the sets were.

And at the end, the water in the film seems to lap out of the screen and up over the seats.

The film was also good - imaginative, funny and touching. I'll have to make more effort in future not to judge books by their covers...

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Vodafone Scores a Point

I think a lot of us have been surprised by how well Qtel has responded to competition.

From a fairly lackadaisical organisation, (one friend in Qtel remembers going to seminars to teach employees the meaning of competition, and described the employees as bewildered at the concept), Qtel have become much more aggressive at marketing.

One huge advantage they have got is a captive market.

After years of dominating the market, most customers have Qtel accounts - meaning that Qtel can and does bombard them with text marketing, whereas Vodafone has to go all out to reach the same people.

Nevertheless, Vodafone has scored a point today.

On twitter and elsewhere users are pointing out that while Qtel has texted users telling them to use up their free minutes by Sunday, Vodafone have just extended their mobile phone promotion till December, giving Red and Freedom users 300MB of free internet usage.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Qatar Book Competition

Our latest competition is a really easy one to enter. All you have to do is visit our book competition page, and choose the book you would most like to read. If you get picked in our prize draw you'll win the book!

Check out our Qatar Book Competition for details.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Qatar's Increasing Conservatism

When I first moved here I thought Qatar was becoming more liberal.

Head scarves seemed to be moving back, the Ministry of Information had been abolished and expats could dance the night away at numerous clubs.

More recently the establishment of a church in Qatar, despite some loud local opposition, was a brave and tolerant move by the administration.

Slowly, things seem to be changing.

Dress Code

It's perhaps inevitable that the dress code should be tightened up.

Some people were taking advantage of the relative freedom of the country to wear clothes that were offensive to local people.

A tightening up started with the publication of a dress code, although at the time this sounded more like a guideline than a rule.

Now, though, a strict dress code is imposed upon clubbers and bar goers. Knees and shoulders must be covered by clothes, and dresses should not expose too much flesh, either at the front or at the back.


The first rule I noticed regarding alcohol was an edict banning drinking by swimming pools.

The number of bars have also shrunk, with Garvies losing its licence, two hotels with bars closing down and the old... also shutting.

There are also plans to shut down the cheaper alternatives.

Those remaining are increasingly hard to get into.

You now need an id card to enter into a bar, and you have to have membership of the bar or club before you are allowed to drink.

Some visitors have been turned away from bars on the basis that their visa was not sufficient. It seems that if you have a tourist visa you may be turned away unless you are in your own hotel, whereas if you have a business visa you have a licence to drink.

The Future

So far, most of these changes do not impact too much upon our lives.

These edicts are likely to continue, though.

The crucial point for most expats is alcohol.

Currently, whereas a sojurn in Saudi Arabia is often viewed as an ordeal to be undergone for some specific financial goal, Qatar is still considered a pleasant, if expensive, place to live.

A ban on alcohol would leave to many Western expats leaving, or demanding a premium on their salaries.

A Choice Only Qataris Can Make

Of course, the direction Qataris take Qatar is a decision that only Qataris can make.

We and most of our readers are visitors in a place which is not our country and is not our culture.

And, at the end of the day, we are free to leave if things become too conservative for our liking.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Indonesian Breakfast

Those Indonesian ladies are at it again!

Classy are holding their famous Indonesian Breakfast again next month, where Qatar's Mums can indulge themselves in traditional Indonsian cookery and enjoy a collection of traditional batik garments and furnishings.

The event, which is for Mums and Kids only (blast!) will be held at Al Waab 2 Gardens on Thursday 12 November from 10.00 am to 12 noon. Tickets, which are limited, will cost QAR40 and to buy them you will need to ring Sisca on 5634649.

Enjoy, and don't forget to bring some leftovers for the poor husbands left behind at home...

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England Brazil Football Tickets Now On Sale

Also checkout: Qatar 2022 Bid: Qatar's not fooling around

Tickets for the England Brazil football match to be held in Qatar have finally gone on sale.

A friend saw a booth for the tickets yesterday - only to find that yesterday's batch had been sold out in three major malls.

Apparently, tickets will start at QAR100, not QAR50 as noted in our previous post.

Update: Football Qatar also points out that you buy the tickets via the Al Jazeera website, while there is a comment below with another website retailer.

2nd Update: According to Qatari Adventures you can now buy the tickets online via the Qatar Football Association.

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Front cover of the MarhabaA comment I noticed on recently on the books section of our website asked us which was the most comprehensive guide book, Marhaba or Qatar Explorer.

There's just no doubt about it - Marhaba, though poorly marketed outside Qatar, is head and shoulders above any other print guide to Qatar.

It's not perfect. My main complaint about is that everything it writes about does have to be perfect. A couple of years back (or is it three or four?) I read a description of Al Wakra and they made it sound like Las Vegas. (Allow for a little exaggeration on my part, of course.) I went to visit the town and, well, it was quite nice (the beach and the mangrove swamps were lovely before they were dug up), but a little bit boring.

Still, the book is absolutely crammed full of information about Qatar, and is very comprehensive. It is carefully and lovingly updated three times a year, and each publication has more information than the last.

The writing is often of an extremely high quality (anyone who can make Al Wakra sound exciting has got to be talented) and there are often some excellent features included.

There's also the price - a ridiculously low QAR20 (it's worth at least five times that.) Obviously, the book is paid for by advertising, but it's the type of advertising (schools, nurseries e.t.c.) that is pretty useful for expats, at least when they are new in town. We, at least, buy a new copy every time it's out, and we recommend new expats do the same.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dinner by the Canal

Table besides the water.
In Dinner by the Canal we enjoy a romantic candle-lit meal for two at the Grand Hyatt's latest restaurant, Rocca. A superb ambience by the water and the swimming pools, with a view of the Pearl development in front, makes this a great place to relax after the hustle and bustle of the city. Read Dinner by the Canal for our full review.

Also see: Qatar Restaurants

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Doha Hotels


Does anyone know where Doha is?

That's what Serena Williams tweeted when she got to Doha Airport.

It seems like a bit of a kick in the teeth for the country hosting her.

Certainly Serena knows where Doha is, as she has been here before. In fact, any big tennis fan will, and soon every England and Brazil fan will.

However, I don't think I did before I found a job here. I had heard of Qatar, but only because of the bombing that had been here.

When I tried to do some internet research on Qatar, I could find very little. The one website with useful information was a blog by an expatriate housewife, and its probably part of the reason why I decided to come here.

Living here several years later, things seem very different.

One thing you notice is the extraordinary lengths Qatar goes to in order to promote itself.

Currently we have the Tribeca film festival, the Qatar women's tennis championships and, next month, the England Brazil football match.

In the Arab world Al Jazeera has put Qatar firmly on the map while much of Asia will have watched the Asian Games.

The net is also a very different place, with Qatar Living users posting, it seems, thousands of times a day, blogs, facebook and twitters users springing up everywhere and websites such as our own, Qatar Happening and I Love Qatar all providing information about the country.

(One thing I have never managed to find is that first blog. Perhaps deleted, or perhaps just buried under the mountain of material published since then.)

Of course, what you forget is while you and I are at the center of our world, Qatar is not at the center of the world, even if it is winning a little more recognition.

Given that Qatar is such a small , though rich, country, perhaps the best answer is the one given by Qatar Airways, and one which Serena must have seen on her way here:

Doha is half way to anywhere.

Which, coincidentally, makes it a great place to stop off and spend your money!

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Qatar Visa Confusion

The Qatar embassy in London used to be one of the most helpful places when finding out visa information for Qatar.

Whereas immigration would say "No English" and slam the phone down, the embassy would answer the phone, provide information and, upon sending an SAE, send out a visa form.

That sadly seems to have changed.

One Qatar Visitor reader from the UK wrote to us saying that previously she got a six month visa from the London embassy, but can now no longer get in contact with them.

Another said that he finally managed to get through on his 17th call, but was told he could no longer have a three month visa.

Now he wants to know if he can renew his one month visa on arrival.

Unfortunately, information is contradictory.

You certainly could in the past, and according to the official Hukoomi website you can renew your visa at the airport.

However, Qatar Airways, who are normally very up-to-date on these issues, had no knowledge of this.

We haven't managed to get through to immigration or the Qatar embassy in the UK, but will continue to investigate!

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Qatar's Venemous Sea Snakes

Beached Sea Snake:

A sea snake lies helpless on a Qatar beach.

Sea snakes have deadly venom, and a bite from a sea snake can kill fast.

They also inhabit the sea of Qatar, and can even be seen beached on the country's shores.

Despite this, their usually passive nature means they are just not very dangerous.

An exception can be when they are in an amourous mood, and fall in love with the pipes connecting your mouth to your scuba equipment!

For a deeper look at this fascinating creature, check out Fran Gillespie's latest article, Qatar Sea Snakes, accompanied by vivid photographs and a Steve Irwin movie showing him swimming with the creatures.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Qatar Visitor Ramadan Competition Winners

With over 90 images submitted by contestants from around the world, photography judge Abigail Harman had a hard time selecting the winners for our Ramadan Photography competition. Select them she did, though, and both winning images as well as the special mentions can be seen here: Qatar Comp Winners.

The winning images have also been published in The Gulf Times Time Out. You can find them on page 12 and 13 - click here to view a PDF version.

Make sure to sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date with all Qatar Visitor's competitions.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Exploding Petrol Stations

Last week the local papers and the forums were full of the recent fire in a Doha souq.

Less well noticed (although it did get some attention) was the exploding petrol station in Al Hilal.

Now, I have absolutely no idea why the petrol station exploded.

However, when I first came here I was surprised that when cars entered petrol stations they always left the engine running.

In the UK we are always taught to turn off our cars and even our mobile phones when filling up.

As months and then years went past, I took up the lazy local habit of lounging in my comfortable car, cooled by the soft breeze of my engine powered AC, while a poorly paid Asian sweated in the Doha heat to fill up my car.

A couple of riyals tip would assuage my conscience almost as well as the AC assuaged the heat.

And when guests from the UK came and remarked upon cars running in garages, I would laugh, and say:

"It can't be that dangerous - after all, it's not as if the country suffers from exploding petrol stations!"

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Desert Roars Again

The desert will indeed roar again in the Gulf - this time on the island of Yas as Formula One returns to the Gulf. November sees Abu Dhabi hosting its first Formula One in what will be the last race of the season. Check out our website guide to the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix for more information on the race.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Road Rage

I'm often asked about safety in Qatar, and I always say that it is a safe place. But in the back of my mind there is a little nagging thought which says: "Except for the roads."

One of the most worrying aspects of driving in Qatar is road rage.

Stone Throwing

One time, when I was coming off a roundabout I noticed a Landcruiser veering towards me. I sounded the horn long and hard. The landcruiser ducked behind me for a moment, then came alongside me, opened the window and threw something hard and heavy at me which struck my car.

That's seems to be a fairly unusual occurence - I have only heard of it a couple of times.


However, there is a more sinister form of road rage here which is far more common. I have heard friends tell stories of this, I've heard Arabs talk about this, I've had it done to me and I've seen it done to other people.

What generally happens is this: a driver loses his temper, often because you don't move out of the way within miliseconds of him driving inches away from your bumper.

When you do move out of the way, he accelerates, changes lane so that he is in front of you, and slams on his brakes - or, should he be driving a manual car, changes down through the gears so that you don't see his brake lights.

Of course, if you do not have your wits about you (after hearing the story from my friend, I was lucky enough to anticipate the move both times it happened to me) the resulting accident would be regarded as your fault, as you are hitting the back of his car.

Not Always Anger

According to one person I met, this is not always done in anger.

An Arab girl I met through work told me that her brother's hobby was doing this to women drivers.


Of course, these things don't happen to you every day.

However, it is something to be aware of when you are driving.

People stressed by the explosion of traffic in a formerly quiet city can snap easily.

When it happens, it is best not to respond to anger with anger.

If you are not Arab, remember that you are not in your own country, you are not in your own culture and chances are you don't speak the language, so forget your pride and get yourself out of the situation as quickly and as calmly as possible.

More? Check out Qatar Visitor's 90 second guide to driving in Qatar (Podcast)

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Qatar Football Update

There's a lot happening with Qatar Football at present, with everything from a major upcoming football tournament to a bid for the World Cup.

Brazil- England Tickets Update

Tickets for the match still seem unavailable in Qatar, although as we noted in Where in Doha are the Brazil England Football Tickets you can buy them via Fifa if you have a fan number.

Our latest understanding is that tickets will be available from 20th October, with basic tickets costing between QAR200 and 250. There is also a thread on Qatar Living which suggests tickets will be sold in all malls which have a Carrefour.

You can check out our comparison of the teams in Tim Sturbridges article on the Brazil England game or check our guide to the game in Doha (ticket info to be added as soon as we have something concrete!)

World Cup FA Bid - but will the heat defeat Qatar?

Still smarting from its failed bid for the World Olympics, Qatar is now bidding for the World Football Cup in 2022.

While England's bid has been slammed as 'light-weight', Qatar apparently impressed officials with their presentation.

However, Soccer America believes Qatar's biggest obstacle will be the heat. Apparantly Qatar has now ruled out building indoor stadiums, as originally planned, but is considering use solar energy to power cooling equipment.

Umm Salal to face Phang Stealers - chance to appear in Club World Cup

Pohang Steelers, third in the K-League, take on Umm Salal of Qatar in the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League on the 21st October. Umm Salal sit near the bottom of the Stars League with only one win out of 3 games played so far.

Pohang Steelers have won the Asian Champions League twice in 1997 and 1998 and are favorites to make it a hat-trick of titles this year.

Both teams have much-traveled Brazilian forwards, Magno Alves for the Qataris and Denilson for the Korean club. Both players have played in the Middle East and in East Asia.

The other semifinal features Nagoya Grampus against Saudi outfit Al Ittihad.

The winner of the competition will appear in the Club World Cup in Dubai in December.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Qatar Social - The next big thing?

We are a bit nosy here at Qatar Visitor, and when a new site popped up on our radar we just had to contact the owner and find out what it was all about. Jimcale at Qatar Social gives us his answers.

A screenshot of Qatar Social.

I have seen a number of different strands to Qatar Social - classifieds, adding images, news stories. What's the central theme/idea behind the site?

The central theme and my basic idea for Qatar Social was to make a place to easily organize activities, talk about issues without bashing and name calling and to give the community the power of moderation.

Classifieds and other sections came as a result of request from our loyal users. Our classifieds section is easy to use and do not require users to become a member to post.

What gave you the idea for the website?

Seeing just how many people were complaining about lack of activities in Qatar!

You have a section called power shop. Could you explain the idea behind this?


The Power Shop is a place to buy power to use on the site, you can buy what we call cards, that can be used to moderate threads or comments, anyone can buy a card using credits and use them against threads. Example of cards include delete card, move card, edit card, etc.

Can you explain how the credits and tasks section of the website works?

Credits are somewhat similar to user points found on some websites yet more powerful, credits on Qatar Social gives you lots of extra power, medals and rank on the site. Tasks are actions required from the user to perform to earn credits, example of tasks include, uploading your avatar, introducing yourself, etc.

Are you aiming to compete directly with QatarLiving.com, or do you think you provide something that complements QL?

We are a direct competitor to Qatar living, in fact I am aiming to provide an alternative to common issues associated with QL such as religious bashing, a moderator power centered to single person and a friendly forum where one can get answers without being told to Google it or get Lost.

I didn't seen any adverts on your site. Is something you are doing for fun, or do you intend to make money from it in the future?

I am actively trying to get adverts these days.

Our thoughts:

The site looks nice and has some good ideas. However, taking on Qatar Living with its established and often very loyal user base will not be an easy task!

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Where in Doha are the England Brazil football tickets?

Update: According to the Gulf Times tickets will go on sale in days, and will cost from QAR50 up. Tickets will be available from a variety of locations including Villagio, The Mall, City Center, Landmark and Souq Waqif.

Frustration is growing among Doha based football fans who are trying to find out where to get tickets to the Brazil England football match in Doha.

The Qatar Football Association answer neither emails nor telephone tickets, and we ourselves have been recieving email enquiries, to which we sadly have to say we don't know.

According to our football contact, the date and venue of football sales has not yet been announced.

When they are announced, the price will not be cheap - tickets will cost between QAR250 and QAR300 for normal tickets, while VIP tickets are set to cost upwards of a 1000 riyals.

Not a huge amount in English terms, but a shock for Doha residents who are used to ticket being either free - or very very cheap.

Incidentally, you can buy tickets outside Qatar for the Doha game via the official Fifa website - if you have a fan number. You can check it out here.

Check out Tim Sturtbridge's assessment of the English and Brazil teams set to meet in Doha.

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