Qatar's modern future rubs up against conservative traditions

Thu Sep 27, 2012 5:08am EDT
 
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By Regan Doherty

DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar is spending massively to modernize its capital ahead of the 2022 World Cup, leading conservative Qataris to worry about how this will affect the Islamic nature of the Gulf state.

Trucks can be seen speeding around Doha's business district, carrying building materials for the $150 billion makeover that will give the city a new metro, airport, seaport and roads.

In the busy years leading up to the soccer tournament, Doha will see an influx of foreign companies, professionals and workers. With them will come a fresh flood of foreign cultures and lifestyles, and that is causing concern.

"This is the real challenge for us: to maintain our culture while building the country we will become," said 33-year-old Abdulrahman, who like other Qatari citizens preferred to be identified only by his first name.

Exploiting its immense natural gas resources has in just over 15 years transformed Qatar into one of the world's wealthiest nations, with a per capita annual income for its 250,000 citizens of well over $90,000.

Though led by a ruling family viewed as highly progressive by Gulf standards, the fact remains that most Qataris are very conservative. Most practice Wahhabism, the austere form of Islam also practiced in Saudi Arabia.

For them, concern that Western norms will start to infiltrate society is a continuous and pressing reality, especially given the fact that they are an extreme minority in their own country, which is home to some 1.7 million people, many of them workers from south Asia.

"We welcome the expats, and we want them here. But we will not permit any disrespect to our religion or culture," said Salma, a 25-year-old Qatari.   Continued...

 
Construction cranes and bulldozers operate at a real estate construction site being built by Qatar's Lucille properties in Doha September 25, 2012. Qatar is spending massively to modernise its capital ahead of the 2022 World Cup, leading conservative Qataris to worry about how this will affect the Islamic nature of the Gulf state. REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous