When looking at modern Qatar, it’s easy to imagine the great Oriental scholar, Edward Said, turning in his grave. Nineteenth-century Western travellers to the Middle East went in search of an imagined Arabia. When they couldn’t find it, they described an Orient they thought their readers would prefer to the reality. Even today, it’s tempting to go searching for such stereotypes and Qatar has its share: there are rock carvings to testify human endurance pitched against adversities of nature; forts to hint at the ruins of empire; and occasional goat-hair Bedouin tents to suggest the ‘noble savage’ nature of life in the desert.
Qatar has spent its energies (and considerable fortunes) in eschewing this stereotype, however, and showing that these ‘Orientalist’ flights of fancy are more a product of feverish Western imaginations than anything related to the Middle East. To this end, vast vertical ‘pleasure domes’ of the postmodern variety have been erected in Doha as if to demonstrate that the country is as international as any other. At least, that was until recently. Suddenly, wind-towered developments like Al-Sharq Village Resort & Spa proclaim to be ‘genuinely Arabic’; Al-Waqif souq sports ‘antique’ passageways; tented accommodation in Khor al-Adaid comes with air-conditioning. Qatar, in other words, appears to be reinventing itself in the image of Western ‘otherness’ fantasies. For the visitor, it’s wonderful: everything one imagined of Arabia is there in all its sanitised glory. For those who knew the Qatar of hawk souqs and dust storms, however, there’s the suspicion that this country is turning Disney.
Best places to stay in Qatar
Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula - Qatar (Chapter)
Qatar's heritage souqs, world-class Museum of Islamic Art and lyrical sand dunes offer an excellent introduction to the Arab world. The capital, Doha, with its spectacular tapering towers, elegant corniche and extravagant malls, is arguably the finest stopover in the Gulf.
Watching football in Qatar
A couple of years ago, if you’d asked any football (or soccer - take your pick) fan to list 50 countries most likely to host a World Cup in the next 20 years, it’s probably safe to say that very few of them would have considered the gulf state of Qatar.
Qatar destination guides
Doha’s delights: explore Qatar’s capital like a local
Dangling precariously off the top edge of the Arabian peninsula, dwarfed by neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Iran, it's easy to miss Qatar on a map.
Destination at a glance: Qatar
Perhaps tired of living in one of the least known countries on earth, Qatar's rulers seem determined to put the country firmly on the international map as a regional financial capital and rival to Dubai for oil-rich glitz and Gulf glamour.