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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Qatar Internet Freedom - How Far Can We Go?

What can you say on the Qatar Net, and what will get you into trouble?

That's what Shabina attempts to find out in her latest article: Maintaining Boundaries on the Internet - How Far is Too Far?

The article follows on from the recent furor over the Qatar Living post criticising the behaviour of young Qataris on National Day, and Shabina manages to talk to many of the key players involved in the issue.

Despite the contradictory laws on the issue, Shabina also does her best to provide some guidelines for internet users, and the article is a must read for anyone contributing content to the Qatar web.

Click here to read the full article.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Silver Work in Souq Waqif

Souq Waqif is one of my favourite places in Qatar, always full of interesting corners to be explored. In one of these corners we discovered this gentleman hard at work making a silver ring.

Hot flames burn as this jewelry maker focuses on a silver ring.Close up of the silver work.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Shame on Qatar National Day - Apology

An apology has been posted on facebook for the thread on Qatar Living which caused the recent outrage in Qatar.

To All the Qataris who I have hurt and upset, I will repeat this one last time in the hopes that the sincere message will finally be accepted. I am deeply sorry for criticizing anything related to the celebration of your special day and using such a thoughtless choice of words and tone. It is very clear after the 2 days of hell that I have been going through that my words hurt and that they opened up a platform for more hurtful words. I am grieving as a Muslim to know that my brothers and sisters feel such anger, outrage and hurt for something I did.
A number of Qataris accepted the apology, some very graciously, with one writing:
Apology accepted and the case is dismissed :) Thank you Lisa for taking the time and effort to write the above apology message.. It proved that you have a kind heart inside of you and that you are open to listen to others’ opinions’ and advices regarding your actions.
You can read the full apology and the replies here: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=209632513836&topic=12733

Incidentally, I have read the original post (thanks to Shabina and her post on the furore on Global Voices, which links to the cached version here), and I don't think it was meant as an attack on Qataris or Qatar, rather a criticism of the behaviour of Qatari youths on National Day. The problem is perhaps the rather strident way in which it was written (at a time of emotion).

Qatari blogger Amal Al Malki seems to confirm this, writing:

Criticism can be harsh. I think that criticism should be harsh, and that burying one’s head never changed anything. It is only when some one exposes the problematic status quo, critiques it and provides alternatives that a situation changes. In order to progress, we need to constantly evaluate our present to better our future. Yet, the criticism needs to come from a good place within us—one that hopes for the prosperity of one’s country.

What makes us angry isn’t the criticism in specific but its language!

It's also very true that criticism of our own country is much harder to take from an expat that from oneself or one's country people. I know Brits who always moan about the UK but bristle when foreigners start putting the country down.

So there's a balancing act for us expats who like to shoot their mouth off. On this blog, we take the view that we are not here to change Qatar - that's a job for Qataris, should they wish to do so. That doesn't mean we don't want to write about these issues, though, not least because one of the aims of the blog is to provide information for people thinking of coming to Qatar, and trying to decide if Qatar is right for them. To do that we need to give our opinion.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

QatarLiving.com needs to be careful

According to an article in the Peninsula a Qatari is demanding an apology from QatarLiving.com after critical comments were posted on the website.

The comments had in fact been removed by moderators, but it shows the difficulty in running a huge forum with thousands of posters.

I remember discussing this with QatarSocial.com, who told me that I was lucky to run an information website where I did not need to constantly monitor new content being added.

The article and the attack were not really fair on QatarLiving.com, especially as they had both promoted the event themselves and removed the offending comments - I personally can't see what else they be expected to do!

Interestingly, the post on Qatar Living that chronicled the article copied the Peninsula article word for word without linking to the original article.

This is another area Qatar Living really has to be careful with. Not only are Qatar Living users opening the website up to lawsuits should internet copyright ever be enforced (and those whose copyright is most often stolen, the Gulf Times and The Peninsula, would certainly have the resources to do so,) they could also end up having their website removed from Google's indexes and their adsense accounts being removed under the Digital Millenium act.

This would be a disaster. Qatar Living has been a huge success, not just for the website owner but also for Qatar. The website demonstrates that, online at least, Qatar has a measure of freedom of speech. (A measure, because, as the removal of comments show, Qatar Living, like all of us, practises self-censorship (which is really, censorship as Nigel pointed out in the comments).) What's more, it's Qatar's number one English language social networking site, and social networking, according to Google, is a prerequisite for e-commerce.

With Qatar and ICT pouring money and effort into developing IT and the internet in Qatar, Qatar Living is unlikely to be closed down any time soon. But the website does need to be careful!

Update: WeirdWeb has just pointed out that some Qatari students have set up an anti-Qatar Living page on facebook. There is some rather scary stuff on that page!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Al Jazeera - getting more critical of Qatar?

This is a video I have only just stumbled across, although it is not exactly new.

What I found interesting about it, though, is not so much the story but the veiled criticism of Qatar and the Gulf States. It's particularly interesting for us at the moment, as we are working on an article exploring just what we can and can't say on the Qatar net.

Al Jazeera has been criticised in the past for not criticising Qatar, and this could be part of a deliberate attempt to be more balanced.

The Emir himself has said that the channel should be independent, even when the ruler who sponsors it disagrees with the content (see middle of the video below for the relevant content - unfortunately the content is repeated several times!):

After several years here, I am starting to get more surprised over what has not been censored than what has been censored. Thousands and thousands of threads (if not hundreds of thousands) have been posted on QatarLiving.com, many of which have been critical of Qatar or which have discussed religion, and only one has been censored over the last four years.

And I've yet to hear of a blog being censored..

Sadly, what is censored is often done so by mistake - Qtel seems to block many useful sites for web developers. Surely this is through error rather than by design?

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

HSBC: Qatar Worst Place for Making Friends With Locals

In a recent HSBC survey of how well expats mix with locals, Qatar ranked last out of 26 countries.

It only confirms what many expats know to be truth. While Qataris are often very friendly, we tend to move in different circles, have very different lifestyles - and have a vast cultural chasm that can be hard to bridge.

Yousra has also argued that Qatar men are very shy, putting up another barrier to integration.

In addition, the majority of people come to Qatar to make money rather than to experience the culture.

Perhaps more worrying, Qatar ranked last out of all the countries measured in terms of overall satisfaction, and only scored reasonably in two areas - managing finances (8) and healthcare (13).

The Middle East location is no excuse. Despite lower salaries in the country, expats ranked nearby Bahrain a very impressive 5 - which put it ahead of France and the US.

If you are British, don't gloat. Our performance was also far from impressive - a miserly 23!

Download the full report here.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Rain in Qatar

Most of the year the weather in Qatar is dry and dusty - when it does have storms they are dust or sand storms rather than rain.

When it does have a downpour, the city's drainage systems can struggle to cope, with some smaller streets flooding.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

National Day Events

Vodafone and ILoveQatar have produced an excellent guide to what's on on National Day. Check it out here: National Day 2009.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Football in Dubai

Our partner blog Soccerphile is covering the footie in Dubai. In the latest post our writer struggles to navigate round a city confused by traffic works, attends some football matches - and bears witness to some crowd trouble. Check out World Club IV for more info.

Qatar Blogging Conference

Kudos to ICQ Qatar for holding the first ever Qatar blogging conference at the Sharq Village and Spa!

My favourite speakers were Jeremiah Owyang, Web Strategist blogger, Ahmad Hamzawi, Head of Google Engineering for the MENA* area, as well as Qatar Visitor writer Shabina.

Of particular interest to business bloggers were several opportunities that Jermiah and Ahmad identified for Qatar.

One was in web services and analytics - after Ahmad pointed out that Technorati did not cover Arabic speaking sites Jeremiah argued that this was an area of opportunity, although not everyone in the audience agreed. Another area that was not mentioned, but seems a pretty obvious one, is keyword analytics - wordtracker is a popular paid service in the UK and the US, but does not cover the Middle East.

You can check out Jeremiah's presentation and comments from the bloggers involved here: Meet the Arabic Blogosphere.

Areas for Improvement

One small criticism was the lack of access to the internet. Neither I nor my partner in crime were able to access the wireless - perhaps in the future ICT could provide a password for the Sharq Village and Spa network?

Also, an area I felt needed to be covered is just what Qatar bloggers can talk about, and where are the no go areas. Giving us some guidelines in what we can write about would both give us more confidence in our posting and prevent us from getting into trouble!

Web Strategy Presentation

Here is the presentation, hosted on one of the tools Jeremiah mentioned in the workshop.


As always the food at the Sharq was excellent - especially the rare lamb. And while unfortunately my pictures of the event itself didn't come out well, I did snap an okay one of the delicious lamb, hamour and prawns:

Delicious buffet lunch at the Sharq Village and Spa

*Middle East and North Africa

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

To the Defence of Dubai

A few months ago an article entitled The Dark Side of Dubai upset a lot of people in the Emirate.

It told the story of people sleeping in cars because of debt, of workers trapped without their passport being paid a quarter of their promised wages, of European expats having the time of their life while ignoring the poverty stricken workers around them.

A lot of it rang true, and there are similarities with Qatar. Even Al Jazeera ran a documentary on workers who don't get paid in Qatar, and the Gulf Times occassionally runs stories on people stuck here because of debt.

(One heart breaking story was that of an American who had borrowed money to pay for his mother's medical treatment. His mother died, he lost his job and was then stuck here with mounting debt, no way to get out of Qatar until he had paid for it and no way to pay it.)

Now in the Gulf News Linda Heard has risen to the defence of Dubai, attacking Johan Hari:

What's his problem? Did the five-star hotel in which he stayed in Dubai forget to deliver his laundry on time? Does he have an agenda? Or has he been dodging too many bullets for too long?
How dare he complain about Dubai after staying in a nice hotel there!

Johan Hari shouldn't, it seems, have asked a poor girl about slavery when she was having such as wonderful time in Dubai.

Chain gangs don't exist - she calls them his "chain gang hallucinations" - and in any case, even if they do it doesn't matter because it is worse in the US and the UK.

Of course, terrible things do happen in the UK and the US. However, I don't see the logic which says it is okay for bad things to happen in the Middle East if they also happen in the West. Surely we should criticise bad things wherever they happen? (Except in Dubai, of course, where everything is perfect.)

The article rang false. But this piece that I read about the writer did not:

She's rarely wrong in what she says but she's consistently only half-right -- the half that her readers want to hear.

She carefully leaves out all issues and facts which are uncomfortable to Arab readers.
(Source: Liberal Propoganda.)

Essentially, her article in the Gulf News is propoganda - she's a Western writer paid to make Arab readers feel better.

Which explains her outrage that Johan Hari should dare to care about the workers in the country after being treated to a stay in a luxury hotel!

But I wonder how comfortable she feels with herself...

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Compulsory Marriage Testing in Qatar

If you want to get married in Qatar and you want to do so without a battery of medical tests, you ought to do it quickly.

Qatar plans to introduce compulsory medical screening for couples planning to get married from the 13th December.

And it's not just for Qataris - locals and residents will also be affected.

While this might have raised eyebrows in the West, it's perhaps not that bad an idea in a country where it is normal to marry within the family, with a huge proportion of people still marrying their cousins - a tradition thought to increase the risk of developing certain diseases.

If you want more information on how to tie the not in Qatar check out our recent article: Getting Married in Qatar.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Seafood at the Grand Hyatt

We've eaten at a few brunches in Doha, but this one in the Grand Hyatt in Qatar is easily the best. Here you can see poached lobster, mussels, squid, steamed prawns and smoked salmon. We blinked at the price but after eating there we think it deserves the price tag!

And if you think this looks good you should have tried the short ribs...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Have you seen this dog?

Evelyn has contacted us asking for help in finding her lost dog.

This very unusual dog, who has the unusual ability to howl like a human singer whenever you say the word Tabouleh (check out the video below), answers to the name of Bonaparte.

The dog was previously stolen and resold to a British lady, who later found out that she belonged to Evelyn.

Evelyn is suspicious again, as her posters seeking information are continually being taken down.

If you have seen this dog, please contact us on admin [@] qatarvisitor.com and we will forward the email to Evelyn.