Spotlight on Qatar

Visitors to Qatar are welcomed to a land of glitzy new hotels, towering sand dunes, ancient rock carvings and distinctive architecture. Best known for being unknown, Qatar has a habit of falling off the world's radar. Most foreign maps of Arabia drawn before the 19th century don't show the Qatar peninsula, and most people in the West don't even know where it is.

When looking at modern Qatar, it’s easy to imagine the great Oriental scholar, Edward Said, turning in his grave. Nineteenth-century Western travelers 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 sanitized glory.

Doha is not only the capital city of Qatar, but is also the largest holding half of all the total inhabitants of the country. There are several luxurious hotels in the city and several major shopping areas. As far as sights to see while visiting the city, there is the National Museum which is housed in a former palace. While at the museum, be sure to view the film clips of everyday Bedouin life. Around the city are clock towers, forts, zoological gardens, traditional bazaars and many mosques.

Top Picks for Qatar:

  1. Al-Corniche - Step into the future by walking along Doha's sparkling seafront, deocrated with the region's finest modern buildings.
  2. Souq Waqif - Step into the past in the city’s most labyrinthine souq, with its spices and shimmering textiles.
  3. Al-Khor - Discover there is more to Qatar than Doha in this former pearl-fishing village on the northeastern coast.
  4. Bir Zekreet - Set up camp under a desert mushroom or watch the waders in nearby shallows.
  5. Khor al-Adaid - Take a dune for a pillow and the stars for a blanket, at this beautiful ‘inland sea’.

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