Saturday, 18 December 2010

Qatar- a rising star on the world stage

The fastest growing economy and highest GDP per head in the world; home to one of the most important broadcasters in the world; a pivotal negotiator for Middle East relations; Arab Capital of Culture 2010; the World Cup 2022 bid winner and host to world-renowned university campuses- all of this is putting Qatar on the map.

What Qatar has achieved in the last decade is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The ‘Qatari brand’ is now well established;

  •      Qatar Airways is ‘the world’s five star airline’, and has one of the fastest growing fleets and flies to more than 90 destinations around the globe.
  •      Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund Qatar Holdings recently bought the most famous department store in the world- Harrods in London for £1.5 billion, and also owns huge shares in the London Stock Exchange and Canary Wharf.
  •      Qatar hosted the 15th Asian Games in 2006, and made it the biggest event in its history.
  •      Qatar was  awarded the 2022 World Cup despite competition from Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

one of the World Cup 2022 stadium designs
Qatar is a former British protectorate that gained independence in 1971. Until the 1950s the state was extremely poor and dependant on its pearl fishing industry. Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani reigned until 1995 when his son Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani overthrew him in a bloodless coup whilst he was holidaying in Switzerland. The new Emir was progressive, and oversaw a massive modernization projects; giving women the right to vote and drive, and promoting education for Qataris.

Exploiting its massive financial surpluses, Qatar hopes to make itself a cultural, educational, technology and research hub.  The Qatar Foundation has opened the Qatar Science & Technology Park with 21 companies engaging in scientific research & development. It also created The Doha Debates; a platform for free speech and debate on controversial issues. The events have been described as ‘revolutionary’ and attract renowned speakers-both western and Arab- and are televised by BCC World.
Weill Cornell Medical College campus in Education City

Qatar’s Education City is home to 6 prestigious American universities and other initiatives that bring world-class education and research to Doha. The school curriculum has been transformed and remodelled on the American model. There’s less emphasis on religion, more on music, drama, innovation and democracy.

This month, a Qatari-led astronomy team discovered a new planet, 500 light years away.

Money has also been poured into creating a philharmonic orchestra, and quietly buying up the largest collections of Islamic art at auction houses around the world for display at the impressive Museum of Islamic Art.

The sublime design of the Museum of Islamic Art

No effort will be spared to make the 2022 World Cup the most spectacular ever. Qatar will invest as much as $65 billion to build infrastructure (excluding $tens of billions it plans to spend on other projects), including innovative stadiums with air conditioning technology able to make football- both playing and spectating- bearable in 50 degree heat. At the end of the World Cup, Qatar will then take apart the stadiums and export them to third world countries.

another World Cup stadium design
Perhaps most importantly, the World Cup will bring positive media attention to the Middle East. It is the first time an Arab state has held this or any event of this magnitude. FIFA described Qatar’s bid as ‘high risk’, though it was anything but. Qatar’s unimaginable wealth means it can and will offer better stadiums, accommodation and travel infrastructure than perhaps any other bidding nation. On the down side, alcohol will be less freely available and rowdy football fans will have to behave themselves. No street brawls and no shirt -less protruding stomachs. But the most exciting thing will be the huge benefits to the wider Middle East- not measured in money-but in showcasing what the Arab world can achieve and broadcasting those images straight to TV screens in Europe and America.

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