Qatar's desert peninsula has been utterly transformed over the past 20 years. Bedouin charm remains in the culture, but the ruling family has modernised the landscape with glitzy skyscrapers and malls. Despite controversy around Qatar's 2022 FIFA World Cup, the country is investing an estimated US$220 billion to host the tournament, including country-wide construction. A diplomatic crisis that broke out in 2017 has resulted in a trade and travel blockade with other Gulf nations that may impact visitors' onward travel plans.
Gulf-Qatar Diplomatic Crisis
Diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar were severed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in 2017 after Saudi officials claimed that such a blockade would protect their national security from Qatar, a nation they alleged has terrorist links.
Qatar has consistently rejected this allegation and claimed that Saudi Arabia was instead trying to ruin Qatar’s trade relationship with the US. Leaked emails from the UAE to the US later appeared to support the claim that the blockading nations had intentions to discredit Qatar.
Visitors to Qatar will see most residents in full support of their leader, Emir Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, and standing by his decision to reject the long list of demands from the blockading countries. Enormous Qatari flags and portraits of the emir have been hung from skyscrapers to show their united front, and his face appears on car stickers all over the country.
The land, sea and air blockade forces Qatari planes and ships to make major detours. Qataris can no longer live in or travel to the countries involved in the blockade. Visitors cannot directly travel to countries involved in the blockade, but can transfer in Oman, Kuwait or other nations further afield.
Qatar & the 2022 World Cup
Qatar's winning bid for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will make it the first country in the Middle East (and the first majority-Muslim nation) to ever host the tournament.
The event, though, has already been shrouded in controversy. Under pressure from tournament sponsors, FIFA investigated bribery allegations, eventually publicly clearing Qatar of any wrongdoing, though corruption claims continue.
Meanwhile, human-rights groups have accused Qatar of modern-day slavery, saying that the migrant workers building the tournament's stadiums have had their passports seized by their employers and are working in extreme heat, with no water or food provided – conditions that have reportedly led to many worksite deaths. Qatar has rejected many of these claims, but also arrested and held for two days four BBC journalists who attempted to report on migrant workers' conditions in 2015. A law was changed in late 2018 to allow most migrant workers to leave the country without permission from their employers.
Human-rights advocates have also voiced concerns about the dangers faced by members of the LGBT community who might want to travel to Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, for the event.
Usually occurring in the summer months, the World Cup in Qatar will be held from late November until mid-December to beat the region's scorching summer heat. The decision to hold the event later in the year was also partly made to avoid clashing with the holy month of Ramadan, during which it is forbidden to eat or drink in public in Qatar during daylight-hour fasting. The World Cup final will take place on 18 December 2022, which is also Qatar National Day.
Much to the dismay of hardline religious groups in Qatar, the chief executive of the country's World Cup bid, Hassan Abdulla Al Thawadi, said the nation would reverse its ban on alcohol consumption during the tournament. Whether this means drinking will be restricted to designated zones remains to be seen.
At least eight stadiums are in the process of being built for the 2022 World Cup, or have recently been completed, starting with the grand open-air oval-shaped Khalifa International Stadium, situated next to the Aspire Tower.
Other stadiums under construction include the Lusail Iconic Stadium, which will be encircled by a moat and joined to its car parks by bridges; Al Rayyan Stadium, with shaded seats inside and an enormous exterior membrane screen onto which games and announcements can be projected; Al Bayt Stadium, designed like an asymmetrical seashell; Al Wakrah Stadium, inspired by the sails of the region’s traditional dhow boats; and Al Thumama Stadium, which takes its shape from the taqiyah cap that Muslims often wear during their five daily prayers.
Feature: Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera, which means ‘the island', was originally launched in 1996 as an Arabic-language news and current-affairs satellite-TV channel, funded with a generous grant from the emir of Qatar. It has been subsidised by the leader of Qatar on a year-by-year basis since, despite airing criticism of his own government. The station was originally staffed by many former members of the BBC World Service, whose Saudi-based Arabic-language TV station collapsed under Saudi censorship; a close relationship with the BBC continues to this day.
Al Jazeera is widely watched across the Middle East, where it gives audiences rare exposure to debate, independent opinion and alternative perspectives on regional issues. In 2006, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week news channel called Al Jazeera English was launched and broadcast to more than 260 million households in over 130 countries.
Al Jazeera has always been viewed with suspicion or contempt by ruling parties across the Arab world. On one occasion, in 1999, the Algerian government reportedly pulled the plug on its capital city’s electricity supply to prevent the population from hearing a live debate that alleged Algerian military collusion in a series of massacres. Critics also accused Al Jazeera of spurring on the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt that led to the Arab Spring.
More recently, the network has become a bargaining chip in the Gulf-Qatar diplomatic crisis, with the blockade countries demanding its closure as a condition for lifting the embargo on trade. Qatar's emir said that was not an option. Saudi Arabia and Jordan have both closed their Al Jazeera bureaus.