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Thursday, 10 November 2016

How Qatar is feeling the heat

How Qatar is feeling the heat:
Almost the moment I landed in Qatar last month, news broke that the emir’s grandfather Sheikh Khalifa had died, and Qataris went into mourning. The conference I had come for was cancelled. Suddenly, I was free to explore Qatar. I came away dizzy. This tiny monarchy just across the Persian Gulf from Iran and Iraq changes faster than anywhere else I’ve ever been.

Almost everyone I met was a foreigner like me. Ninety per cent of Qatar’s population are migrants, about three-quarters of them male. They range from the South Indian sweeping invisible specks of dirt from beneath your bench in the baking heat, to the British “expat” (never called “migrant”) getting drunk at Friday-morning brunch. This mix produces daily allegories of global racial inequality: as the “expat” climbs dripping from the hotel pool, the “migrant” serves him frozen grapes. This mix also means that Qatar leads the world not just in income and carbon footprint but possibly also in loneliness per capita. I spotted one South Asian-looking pedestrian whose T-shirt said: “I Am All Alone Without You — I Miss You.”

All this is new. When Khalifa was born in 1932, Qatar scarcely existed. Without air-conditioning, it was too hot to move. In 1949, Qatar had only six state employees, according to Mehran Kamrava in his excellent Qatar: Small State, Big Politics. The weekly plane that brought mail in the late 1950s sometimes didn’t even bother to land, dropping letters by parachute instead."

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