qatarperegrine: (Default)
Via [livejournal.com profile] dubaiwalla: a student in Dubai has been jailed for 3 months after saying in an online chatroom that men having sex with men is a personal matter and the government shouldn't interfere.

As a friend succinctly put it:
"Yeah, how dare he incite immoral behavior like having sex with men? Why can't he stick to moral pleasures, like shoving a cattle-prod up someone's ass? ... which the UAE seems to have deemed 'okay'."
qatarperegrine: (Default)
Props to Nigel for pointing out a glorious example of Qatari self-censorship in action. Here, side by side, are a Reuters article and its redactions in the Gulf Times and Peninsula, with significant differences in red:

REUTERSGULF TIMESPENINSULA
A long-planned $3 billion bridge linking Bahrain and Qatar has been put on hold and the project team scaled back, sources close to the project said, amid escalating costs and increased political tension.A long-planned $3bn bridge linking Bahrain and Qatar has been put on hold and the project team scaled back, sources close to the project said.A long-planned $3bn bridge linking Bahrain and Qatar has been put on hold and the project team scaled back amid escalating costs, sources close to the project have said.
The 40-kilometre causeway linking gas exporter Qatar to the island kingdom of Bahrain was set to play a key role in improving infrastructure connections between members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but has been beset by problems.The 40-km causeway linking Qatar to the island kingdom of Bahrain was set to play a key role in improving infrastructure connections between members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), but has been beset by problems.The 40-kilometre causeway linking Qatar to Bahrain was set to play a key role in improving infrastructure connections between members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
The project, first announced in 2001, had already been delayed in 2008 to change the project scope to include trains, and late last year the countries said work would start in the first quarter and be completed by 2015.The project, first announced in 2001, had already been delayed in 2008 to change the project scope to include trains, and late last year the countries said work would start in the first quarter and be completed by 2015.The project, first announced in 2001, had already been delayed in 2008 to change the project scope to include trains, and late last year the countries said work would start in the first quarter and would be completed by 2015.
That fresh date came and went, however, and the project prospects were further dampened in May, when Bahrain said Qatar's coast guard shot and wounded a Bahraini fisherman who had entered Qatari waters.
The project has seen many, many problems (and there were) also the political tensions,' a source close to the project told Reuters, adding 'the team has been significantly decreased.' “The project has seen many, many problems..,” a source close to the project told Reuters, adding “the team has been significantly decreased.”
The exact reason for the suspension of the project was not immediately clear, although Jassim Ali, a member of the economic committee of Bahrain's parliament, said 'the project has been on hold for some time, but it is not cancelled,' adding cost increases and financing issues had played a role.The exact reason for the suspension of the project was not immediately clear, although Jassim Ali, a member of the economic committee of Bahrain’s parliament, said “the project has been on hold for some time, but it is not cancelled”, adding cost increases and financing issues had played a role.Jassim Ali, a member of the economic committee of Bahrain's parliament, said “the project has been on hold for some time, but it is not cancelled,” adding cost increases and financing issues had played a role.
Contractors for the project, the latest official cost estimate for which stands at $3 billion, include France's Vinci and Germany's Hochtief , Qatari Diar Real Estate and Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC).Contractors for the project, the latest official cost estimate for which stands at $3bn, include France’s Vinci and Germany’s Hochtief AG, Qatari Diar Real Estate and Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC).Contractors for the project France’s Vinci and Germany’s Hochtief AG, Qatari Diar Real Estate and Consolidated Contractors Company.
A spokesman for Hochtief confirmed the construction phase had never been reached.A spokesman for Hochtief confirmed the construction phase had never been reached.A spokesman for Hochtief confirmed the construction phase had never been reached.
'We got a contract to do some planning (for the bridge), which we did, but a contract for the actual construction was never commissioned,' he said.“We got a contract to do some planning (for the bridge), which we did, but a contract for the actual construction was never commissioned,” he said.
Member countries of the GCC, a loose political and economic bloc, are trying to integrate their economies, with four of them eyeing a joint currency, but have built up little cross-border infrastructure.
The rail tracks on the causeway were to have been part of a planned train network that would connect the members of the GCC, which also include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
Today's New York Times published a rather biting article about the conflict between Qataris and non-Qataris in Qatar: Affluent Qataris Seek What Money Cannot Buy.

Qataris' and non-Qataris' stereotypes of each other is something I've been thinking about a lot this summer, between the Lisa Clayton kerfuffle and the recent arguments over on Mimiz Blog about whether Qataris are discriminated against in the workplace here.

So it's nice to see the New York Times addressing something that I think IS a hot issue here (their last article on Qatar having been a little random)... but the way they go about it makes me cringe a little. I think it'd be more interesting for them to have dug deeper into Qatarization and its effects, or the role of nationality in expats' experience of Qatar, rather than just making mocking digs about people's restaurant etiquette.

The main things I've heard discussed about this locally are (a) the unrepresentativeness of the Qatari interviewees, almost all of whom are high school dropouts, and (b) shock that the NYT got these quotes on record. I am completely unsurprised that a director at QSTP would privately feel that "Qataris are very spoiled," but utterly astonished that he would say so to a New York Times reporter. (Some even suspect they might not have known they were on record.)
qatarperegrine: (Default)
Today's Gulf Times has a rather telling juxtaposition of stories in its courtroom news roundup.

A woman was sentenced to five years in jail after beating, burning and then fatally stabbing her housemaid because she "was unhappy with the Indonesian’s work."

Meanwhile, a man was sentenced to seven years in jail for "uttering blasphemous words under the influence of liquor."
qatarperegrine: (Default)
When it was announced on 1 April that Qatar was ending visas on arrival at the end of the month, the first words out of my coworker Trish's mouth were, "How long do you think it'll take before they retract this?"

The answer turns out to be 18 days.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
Serious drama has been happening for the last two weeks over at IslamOnline, one of the most visited Muslim websites on the web, which is based here in Doha. I frequently visit IslamOnline when looking up different points of view on a topic in Islam, since it's a fairly pluralistic website that will show you a range of fatwas on a given topic.

IslamOnline was started by Sheikh Qaradawi, an eminent Muslim scholar who lives in Doha, and who, while occasionally coming out with wacky and disturbingly anti-Jewish pronouncements, is generally about as mild and open-minded a mufti as you could hope to find.

Anyway, apparently in the last few weeks serious conflict has broken out between IslamOnline's board of directors, who are all of course Qatari, and its employees, who are based in Cairo. Some of this seems to be a normal labor dispute; some is a result of the new board of directors' desire to exercise editorial control over website content. According to one employee, for example, "We were receiving complaints (from management) about our discussions on women's health, homosexuality, and films."

The workers on Cairo went on strike; management in Qatar blocked their access to the site; Qaradawi tried to calm things down; and now it's being reported that the Qatari Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has ousted Qaradawi and set up a temporary board of directors for the website.

That's not actually what I wanted to tell you, though.

What's striking to me is that this dispute has been going on for two weeks and I JUST LEARNED ABOUT IT AN HOUR AGO from a passing Twitter comment from a former colleague. Since this story involves Qatar's most visible religious leader, one of the biggest Muslim websites in the world, and government intervention into the workings of a private nonprofit organization, you'd think it'd be considered... you know... NEWSWORTHY. And you'd think that since I read local news every day, I'd know about newsworthy things happening in Doha. But that is sadly very far from the truth.

It must be really wretched to be a local reporter in Doha. They must know about all kinds of newsworthy things like this that are happening in Qatar, but instead of writing about them, they have to publish press releases about Applebee's new burger menu.

There are a million things I will miss about Qatar when we leave here in a few months, but one thing I do fervently look forward to is living in a country where the media are EXPECTED to talk about controversial issues, instead of quesadilla burgers.

Seatbelts

Sep. 13th, 2009 06:50 pm
qatarperegrine: (Default)
On arriving in Doha, one of our math professors got into a waiting taxi and automatically started putting on his seat belt.

"You don't need that here," the driver said.

"Why not?" the math professor asked. "Don't you have physics in Qatar?"

In an attempt to get young, hip Emiratis to wear their seatbelts, the UAE just announced the Fashionable Seatbelt Campaign. It is what it sounds like: companies will be selling designer seatbelts, under the (fair) assumption that Emirati teens will wear ANYTHING that says Gucci on it.

Ten out of ten for ingenuity!
qatarperegrine: (Default)
The Qatar Animal Welfare Socity, where Justin and I used to volunteer as dog-walkers, burned down to the ground yesterday. Most of the cats and a couple dogs died, but around 50 dogs, 15 cats, and the farm animals survived.

The surviving dogs and cats are being housed at Qatar Veterinary Centre, the Veterinary Surgery, and Pampered Pets, but they need blankets and bedding, dog and cat food, cat litter, collars and leads, toys, crates and litter trays (cheap at Daiso). At least as importantly, they need dog-walkers and foster homes.

QAWS itself needs cat food, bales of hay and massive quantities of water for the farm animals.

Cash donations can't be accepted because QAWS, despite years of efforts, is not a registered charity. Good work, arcane Qatari charity laws.

Pictures, news and updated info can be found on Qatar Living.
qatarperegrine: (piss christ)
Mr. Q over at ILoveQatar.net posted an Al Jazeera story on some local workers not getting paid:



It's cheering to see Al Jazeera pointing out injustices here in Qatar, and not just in neighboring states (even if they do it in an appalling surfer dude accent).

In more chilling news, the Shura Council just called for more stringent punishment for "Qatar-based journalists who write against the ruler, national security, religion and the Constitution," on the grounds that "Qatar’s social and religious values must be preserved at any cost." Very disappointing. The Peninsula almost immediately posted a rebuttal editorial.

I myself think that the Advisory Council should be "stringently punished" for defying the stated emir's desire for press freedom. They're defaming the Qatari Constitution!

Percentage of the world's population who enjoy freedom of the press, according to Freedomhouse.org.
Less flippantly, freedom of the press is one of the Western values I have most come to appreciate and cherish through living somewhere where it is still a work in progress. If people can't talk openly about what's going well and poorly, how on earth can they improve their society? If people can't question each other's political and religious views, even in potentially offensive ways, how can any of us learn and grow and think and change our minds?

We take for granted in the U.S. that I can say "Bush is a stupid, idiot hick" or "Obama is a smug, smarmy elitist," and while I'll definitely offend somebody, I won't get prosecuted for it. I can insult your religious views and you can insult mine, and the conversation will no doubt get heated and we'll all hate each other at the end, but nobody will end up in jail.

We don't appreciate that as much as we should.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
I apologize in advance for the tasteless nature of this post, but the larger issue interested me.

I happened to check BBC News this afternoon three minutes after they posted the story about David Carradine's death. The second paragraph read:
"Thai police told the BBC the 72-year-old was found by a hotel maid sitting in a wardrobe with a rope around his neck and genitals on Thursday morning."

Within half an hour, that had changed to:
"Thai police told the BBC the 72-year-old was found by a hotel maid sitting in a wardrobe with a rope around his neck and body on Thursday morning."

As I write this, it now reads:
"Thai police told the BBC the 72-year-old was found naked by a hotel maid in a wardrobe with a cord around his neck and other parts of his body."

I'm not sure if BBC is getting conflicting/updated reports or if they're just not sure how to handle the delicacies of the situation -- but it's a little alarming that the news can change without there even really being any record that it used to be different. Winston Smith lives!
qatarperegrine: (Default)
The BBC has posted a rather humorous article on the author's vain attempts to have a non-superficial experience of Qatar: Trying to lift the veil on Qatar.

Nit-picking: it's untrue foreigners can't rent property. "Most" Qatari women don't cover their faces, and Land Cruisers don't look like tanks. Is Faris supposed to be Qatari, 'cause if so, what's he doing in a galabia? And what's with Saud "Il Thani" -- is he Italian?! The world's biggest mall was not on his Doha city tour since it's in Beijing, and Souq Waqif was recently renovated, not demolished. I understand that you never get the full picture of somewhere after visiting for only a couple days, but all those things are easily fact-checkable!
qatarperegrine: (Default)
Last week I laughed out loud to read that a group of Emiratis lodged an official complaint because they were laid off by their employer. One of the sacked Emiratis said: "Emiratis should be protected through legislation during such hard times. We should have these rights as UAE citizens. I find it strange that we should lose jobs in our own country."

Can you imagine making that argument in the US? "Hey, you can't lay me off! I'm an American citizen!"

Well, I'm not laughing anymore: the UAE just made it illegal for a private company to lay off an Emirati if there's a non-Emirati doing the same job. So, say your company's widget-maker, Sanjeev, is overworked so you hire an Emirati, Abdullah, to make widgets too. Then widget sales decrease and you have to lay one off. Surprise! It's now illegal to keep Sanjeev.

Additionally, according to the Financial Times, "private companies will only be able to dismiss UAE nationals for serious misconduct, including, among other reasons, absenteeism, theft or drunkenness." Despite the fact that Dubai's economy is pretty much in free-fall, "The economic downturn will not be reason enough to make Emirati staff redundant."

What about Emiratis who don't engage in "serious misconduct" but who simply aren't doing their jobs? They can't be fired either, "but must be given more training or transferred to work more suited to their skills," reports The National. I'm desperately curious to see how that would pan out: "Sorry, Abdullah, but we've determined your skills are more suited to a different role. The mop's in the hall closet."

For all their desperation to make sure their citizens are gainfully employed in the private sector, the Gulf governments seem to do a spectacular job creating disincentives to hire locals. Emiratis were already pretty much unfireable, and now they're un-layoff-able, too: if I were hiring Sanjeev's assistant, why on earth would I hire an Emirati? As always, the government's approach is to make hiring a local extremely burdensome and then require companies to do it anyway, instead of to offer incentives that would make hiring a national inherently appealing.

Amazingly, though, the UAE government thinks the new law will actually incentivize hiring Emiratis! According to that The Nation article,
Feddah Lootah, the acting director general of the National Human Resource Development and Employment Authority (Tanmia), said Emiratis would feel more secure in their jobs knowing they cannot be laid off. As a result, they will "increase their productivity, performance and loyalty". Companies will become aware of that trend and will recruit more Emiratis, she said.

Um, yeah. Nothing increases a worker's performance and loyalty more than knowing they have a job for life no matter how much they screw up!
qatarperegrine: (disturbed)
From today's Gulf Times (courtesy of Jon):

Jail for blasphemy
By Nour Abuzant
A Doha court has handed down a Lebanese man three-year imprisonment and subsequent deportation for uttering blasphemous words.
During the trial, the court heard how the accused, a foreman, made the offending comment to one of his workers at a worksite, on May 1, 2007.
The prosecution said the man uttered the blasphemous words after a worker failed to carry out his instruction. He also fired the worker.
Two other workers who were present at the site at the time of the incident testified against their boss.
The accused denied the charge and said he sacked the worker because he did not follow the orders.
Delivering the judgement, the court said that based on the witnesses’ testimony it was convinced that the accused uttered the “blasphemous remark.”
The crime was particularly serious as the accused was a Muslim, the court said.
The convict has appealed against the ruling.

---
Thoughts:
  1. WTF!
  2. I wonder what, specifically, he said?
  3. W. T. F!
qatarperegrine: (niqab)
Quoth the Peninsula, an Arab couple was arrested for kissing on the Corniche. In their defense, they proved that they were married. However, the man is a Christian and the woman is a Muslim, so even though they are married (in their unspecified homeland), Qatar has refused to recognize their marriage certificate.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
I don't know if it makes me happy or sad that, when I hear a student excitedly shouting "Quick! Where's Marjorie!", I know that there's a rodent loose in the ARC. Burtuqal III has been successfully released in the bushes outside. I wish I knew if mice are even capable of living in the bushes outside; it'd be pretty tragic if he came across the bleached, sandblasted bones of Burtuqals I and II out there.

Unrelatedly. There are many people to pity in the current economic crisis, but I keep finding myself pitying the news agencies. Every single day, they have to find new photos to represent "economic crisis!" on their front page. Sometimes it's a picture of sad people on a trading floor, sometimes it's a picture of a sign displaying some industrial average or other, sometimes it's a dismal line graph. But it's always really boring. It must make them sad to have such an unphotogenic event dominate the news.

Speaking of unphotogenic events dominating the news, news sources are currently offering mixed reports about whether the U.S. military has confirmed having attacked a village in Syria yesterday. If they did... well, I just don't know what to say anymore.
qatarperegrine: (flag)
McCain supporter: "I can't trust Obama. I have read about him, and he's not, he's not, he's, uh, um, he's an Arab."
McCain: "No ma'am, no ma'am, he's a decent family man citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on, on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about."

We've all read about this exchange since it happened a couple weeks ago, but a conversation in the ARC yesterday made me reflect that I should post about it from the vantage point of Qatar.

I'm glad McCain confronted this ignorant woman and tried to set a respectful tone, even if his other actions (both before and since) give the lie to this supposed respect. But think about that exchange from the point of an Arab American, or an Arab here in the Middle East:
"He's an Arab."
"No ma'am, no ma'am, he's a decent family man citizen."
On what planet is "decent family man citizen" (let's pretend that really is a noun) an antonym for "Arab"? What does it tell us about McCain that he thinks that the statement "he's a decent man" is a cogent counterargument to the statement "he's an Arab"?

I am saddened by the picture of the U.S. that emerges from this election. I'm sad that our students hear the ignorance of Americans claiming Obama's an Arab and/or a Muslim, but even more sad that they hear the fear those claims engender. I'm sad they hear the candidates denying the veracity of those claims without addressing the underlying fear. I'm embarrassed that my African coworker has to learn what the Bradley effect is, and has to read quotes from Pennsylvania voters calling Obama a nigger.

As Colin Powell just said, "Those kinds of images going out on al Jazeera are killing us around the world." It's not a metaphor. Since 9/11 the U.S. seems to be doing everything it possibly can to convince people around the world that we hate and fear those with different skin color and religious beliefs. It makes me ashamed of America. And it makes us not just less respected in the world, but less safe as well.

I'll close on a more positive note, with more of Colin Powell's words as he endorsed Obama:
I’m also troubled by what members of the party say, and is permitted to be said, such things as, 'Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well, the correct answer is, 'He is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian, he’s always been a Christian.'

But the really right answer is, 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?'

The answer’s 'No, that’s not America.'"
qatarperegrine: (Default)
There was a crackdown on single men in public places during the Eid holiday, including the use of police violence to keep Asian workers out of public areas. Eid mubarak, Indian laborers! So much for Ramadan reminding us of the brotherhood of man!

When we moved to Qatar four years ago, a couple malls had family-only days. It irked me, but it seemed not entirely unreasonable for a commercial establishment to set rules about who they let in and keep out. Since the summer, though, the souqs and even the Corniche (a public park!) are also family-only on Fridays, which means that now the Internal Security Force is in the business of enforcing segregation in public areas. That bothers me a lot more.

And now this. Someone (who?) decided to declare the entire Eid holiday family-only, leaving around half a million workers with nowhere to go on their three days off. (Apparently they ended up milling around Grand Hamad Street, the zoo, hypermarkets and local parks.) When workers did did try to get into off-limits areas, police officers used physical force to keep them away.

People are very open about the racist roots of the "family only" policy, which is in practice a "no South Asians" policy. As the security manager at Villaggio Mall put it:

"'It is a matter of the mall's honour. We are not allowing people in from the Industrial Area or those dressed in plastic slippers and wearing shorts. They do not have money to spend in the fashionable shops and if they do have money, they will spend it in Carrefour [Americans: think "WalMart"]. Groups of these people tend to create trouble.' ... Asked why western residents were allowed in, as well as nationals and other Arabs -- a few were spotted entering without hindrance in shorts and slippers -- he said nothing could be done about single Qataris being allowed in. As for westerners, he said: 'Westerners are good and will spend money.'"

Opinions expressed in the media are mixed. One local politician said that there is "absolutely no discrimination" against Asians, and that workers "should go to areas which have been set aside for them" because they "can embarrass families and women." Another politician called for "bachelor-only days" so that workers could also use public areas separately, an idea that the Indian ambassador embraced. Some even disagreed outright, saying "It is not human and is a sort of discrimination. Just because people are living far away from their families doesn’t mean that we have the right to separate them from society." A Qatari blogger I follow was even more vocal in opposition, while denying that Qataris are exempt.

The silver lining here is that the newspapers are reporting this at all. Never before have I seen a Qatari newspaper broach the issue of police violence against laborers, though I know of other cases where it was used. I'm trying to remind myself that it's good this is being discussed -- but mostly I'm just incensed.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
From the Pensinsula. Of course.


Illiteracy in Qatar down by 7.5pc
Web posted at: 9/4/2008 2:25:8
Source ::: The Peninsula


DOHA • Illiteracy in Qatar has come down by 7.5 percent, said Mohamed Yusuf Al Mahmoud, Director of Adult Literacy and Illiteracy Department at the Ministry of Education and High Education.

"The rate of illiteracy in Qatar was 22.3 percent in 1986, and 17.6 percent in 1993, but it reached 13.6 percent in 1997. According to the 2004 statistics, illiteracy rate was 9 percent but this figure is currently less than 7.5 percent," he said.
qatarperegrine: (niqab)
A 16-year-old Qatari boy died in England yesterday after what appears to be an unprovoked, racially motivated attack by a local gang.

Mohammed Al Majed was five weeks into a six-week summer exchange program to work on his English and study British culture when he and his friends were attacked while leaving a kebab house in Hastings.

I've been trying to come up with a comment to make, but I'm at a loss.

Article from the Daily Mail, which is more forthcoming than the BBC.

As a cultural/language note, the title of this post is a verse from Qur'an frequently recited when Muslims receive news of a death; it means something like "Indeed we are God's, and we are returning to him." It's pronounced Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un.
qatarperegrine: (Default)
According to today's Pensinsula headline -- Housewives quiver as blue-collar workforce pitches tents in al Wakra -- local women are reporting they are unable to leave the house because there are poor people out there. Oh noes!

In all seriousness, the burgeoning migrant labor population is a big issue. Yesterday's Peninsula rather astonishingly reported that Qatar had 18% population growth in the first half of this year, which would represent an influx of nearly a quarter million workers in the course of six months. How do you accommodate a quarter million new people? Either you cram even more of them into already-crowded labor camps, or you expand worker accomodations into other areas, like the unlucky one in Al Wakra. Or both.

Then, of course, there's the question of what to do with your million-plus migrant laborers during their day off. It turns out that after you ban them from the normal gathering places, other, less reputable gathering places spring up.

Relatedly, CMU is holding a small conference on issues of migrant labor, so I'll be spending part of my week at that. On Tuesday, our undergraduate research project will be presenting some preliminary findings from our survey of low-paid laborers. Exciting times!

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