This ‘quiet, little’ country in the middle east has traditionally focused on fishing and pearl hunting, but when the Japanese introduced the cultured pearl in the 1920′s, the industry faltered. It wasn’t until the discovery of oil in the 1940′s that Qatar began to rumble again with life. Fast forward…
Deposing his father in a bloodless coup in 1995, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has had a unique vision of bringing Qatar into the global spotlight by developing Qatar’s oil and natural gas reserves. In a tandem effort to develop Qatar as a completed entity, his highness founded the Qatar Foundation (QF) for Education, Science and Community Development. His wife, her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser has actively engaged in education and social reform in Qatar for many years and is the Foundation’s chairperson and driving force. Qatar is beginning to ‘have it all’ as far as international cities go: architecture, fine dining (international cuisine), the arts (western and eastern), world-class shopping and much sought after job opportunities in every field. A far cry from the city that made it’s mark by the pearl industry, but in short, Doha is the city that oil and it’s money has built.
The Emir has acknowledged that the best way to advance his small nation is to put an emphasis on education. While there is a University of Qatar, a degree from there does not carry as much weight as a degree from a US/UK institution. Also, many Arabs seek education outside of their countries in either the US or the UK and often do not return after completion. Thus, as part of QF, several US universities have been invited to set up campuses in ‘Education City’ here in Doha with the hopes of drawing top-notch educators, keeping those with degrees in the Arab states and bringing Qatar to a higher level status on the global market. Carnegie Mellon, Virginia Commonwealth, Texas A & M, Weill-Cornell Medical School and Northwestern are a few of the choices available.
While Rich was here in October, he visited Carnegie Mellon University Qatar as the University of Chicago and CMUQ are working together in a collaborative effort, but this trip, QCRI(Qatar Computing Research Institute), a member of QF, invited Rich to participate in a round-table discussion for two days so he suggested I come along and stretch the trip into a week. We’ve been staying at the Four Seasons, Doha and things couldn’t be any swankier! QCRI has wined and dined us (ok, not too much wine as there’s no alcohol in Qatar except the hotels and some specific night clubs), taken us to ‘The Pearl’, the museum of Islamic Arts, a dhow (traditional boat) tour along the city shores, the souq (traditional outdoor market) and numerous dinners and lunches. While he’s been in meetings, I’ve taken advantage of the gym/spa and loved every minute of it. We visited Weill-Cornell Medical College to meet with a contact of Rich’s that is helping him with a paper and the Four Seasons was kind enough to send us in a Lexus, complete with cold water, international newspapers to read and a personal driver that would ‘wait while we conducted our business’.
While we’ve literally been given the royal treatment, things are not always peachy for immigrants in Doha. We’ve been told that English is the primary language, but also that learning Hindi, Urdu or Nepalese would be helpful as most of the laborers and ‘help’ come from India, Nepal or Pakistan. Labor is in high demand due to all the building, but beyond the shimmering lights of downtown Doha and the surrounding suburban area, most laborers live in less-than Four Seasons accommodations. I suppose it’s a bit like any other country, but given that we don’t live ‘the Four Seasons Life’ in Chicago, it’s been a bit more noticeable.