EXPLORATIONS QATAR... Crossing to the Future over the Bridge of Heritage

EXPLORATIONS QATAR... Crossing to the Future over the Bridge of Heritage

Qatar is racing towards the future wich terrific speed, determined to seize a historic opportunity provided by huge natural reserves and invest them in the development of its people and land... Giant leaps made by that Gulf country in health, education, information and sport which coincided with lively interest in heritage full of the flavour of the sea and its fantastic tales.

We went to Doha at a decisive moment when the whistle was actually blown signalling the start of the race, and the runners were determined to reach the finishing line. In this way, this Exploration came at a turning point in the history of Qatar making it different from the one we know.

That's why all we wanted was to monitor those moments during which Qatar was getting prepared for a sweeping change in all fields in order to be tuned to the age. We were listening to the tales of fishermen, pearl divers and makers of traditional boats as we saw scenes of modern life with its fast rhythm which placed Qatar directly into the twenty-first century, at a time when we recalled with every step what many officials said: "Today's world depends on immediate, bold initiatives, rather than size or population".

The journey to Doha was not tiring, only one hour during which we fastened our seat belts and followed the pilot's advice to keep them fastened for the duration of the flight. But when the car carried us to the centre of city, fireworks were turning Doha's night into day with our first look at bright, wide streets. No particular timing for our visit was intended, but it coincided with the launch of the third Wonders of Qatar festival. When the fireworks fascinated us, we threw our luggage in the hotel next to Qatar National Museum and reushed to the Corniche road where there were crowds of happy people. We had to cross a parallel street which turns along the Gulf, which was extremely difficult because of unstoppable cars, and traffic lights widely spaced along the road but after a while we reached a wooden tongue into the sea after passing a cafe for anglers where a large number of ship ouners were actively involved in popular folk games without being distracted by the lights in Doha's night.

They were drinking Arabic cardamom - flauoured coffee, whereas wome young men were sitting in the corners talking with one another and taking long puffs at hubble-bubbles (hookahs). There were digging and repair works in some parts of the Corniche road and tumbledown houses on the other side indicating determination to remove anything that tarnishes the beauty of that vital road and add some embellishment to it. We finally reached the place where a great number of families forming a strange mix of different nationalities - Arabs, Europeans and Asians - sat at scattered tables.

We had to see Doha by day, so we took advantage of a drop in temperature and went into Doha's streets with the driver driving past a place combining the luxurious Ritz Carlton Hotel and the waterfront near the Diplomatic Club built on a large area with white tents with pointed domes. The tour round the coast took us to a bright green tree - lined road passing by semi-desert places as well as building sites, with an entertaiment city at a distance built on a large area to satisfy the needs of the people who live by the sea and are surrounded by its tales, an area which is currently getting ready for a major transformation process following the discovery of gas and the launch of exports in large quantities. The Quiet of the Oasis Qatar is a haven of peace and tranquitlity.

That has become common by practice, and so has discipline and order which visitors notice as they tour all parts of the country and its markets. The main centre of the festival was the four-storey City Centre complex. We moved with difficulty through the crowd who gathered here and there to watch a show, and different activities took place in some corners attracting the public and offering entertainment and delight. On the fourth floor there was a lavish corner showing the preparations made by the Qatar Olympic Committee to host the 2006 Asian Games, as Qatar is the first Arab country to host such a major international sport event. The complex has become a landmark of Qatar's capital as if it were a model of all the country's activities and projects for visitors to see then follow the details. Calculated Leaps To the observer, Qatar is diligently striving to compensate for the past. Visitors easily notice that as they see comprehensive urban development in most places in Doha's streets.

Visitors strongly feel the scale of change in the traditional shape of the Corriche road that will take place within a few years or even months. Moreover, there are key sectors in which Qataris aspire to achieve overall progress: education and health, as these, according to what Yusuf Darwish, Secretary-General of the National Courcil for Culture and Heritage said, were the basis for progress in any country, adding that Qatar was heading for modernization with remarkable speed but meanwhile attaching considerable importance to and preserving heritage in view of the exclusivity of the Qatari people. However, one wonders whether such an acceleration in the pace of moderinzation and such leaps in Qatar will be at the cost of the exclusivity of that Gulf country which it keenly preserved for many ages. From a number of officials we met we heard assurances that they were aware of the danger of being caught in the dilemma of erasing the past and that Qatar's moderinzation plan stems from the need to benefit from other experiments, averting any mistakes made here and there. Souks and Times The huge shopping malls failed to dissipate the flavour of heritage that Doha's visitors taste, as all along the Corniche road round the city you see ornate models of Gulf coffee pots and lighted models of old fishing boats, with the smell of fish mixed with sea spray. At a distance you see a city which reminds you of Manhattan in New York when you stand on the opposite shore, or when you come by sea.

When we were in Doha we saw high-rise towers scattered along the coast in distinct shapes, but the pyramid-like Sheraton Hotel was the more attractive as vision extends to add to the overall scene a spectaular view of a wide area of clear bluish water at the beginning of July's summer.

The many scenes in Doha's streets calling for keeping the heritage of forebears in memory drove us to move to other places which still impart the flavour of the olden days.

We first went to Souk Waqif (standing), a market carrying a heritage name still found in Kuwait and Bahrain. According to what we heard, it was so named because of the narrow passageways it consisted of but rather most probably because traders used to sell their goods in standing position before the market was divided into shops. The souk was larger beyond any imagination. When we went round most of its alleys at night they were all but deserted with only a few customers, and the sellers, most of whom from East Asia, were standing in front of their shops looking at us hoping that we were would-be buyers, but they soon afterwards realized what we were when thay saw the camera on my colleague's shoulder and my notebook. In that souk we didn't see the sellers of silk cloth most of whom in the past were 'Maharas', and all we found were East Asians standing in front of the shops selling plastic dolls, locks, initation incense sticks, shoes, schoolchildrens' bags besides spices, abayas and gold shops, and in the corner of the shop leading outside there were larger shops for electrical appliances.

As Yusuf Sorour, who accompanied us some of the days told us, the wouk has changed its old activity, but the scene of a number of plicemen in their traditional uniform: khaki trousers, ghutra and iqal - standing on a platform at a crossroods in the souk signalling to cars to cross, was a welcome invitation to enter, which urged us to visit the souk twice, once at 5 p.m. when the intense heat of the day fell a little, and the second time in the evening as we expected to see such crowd as in the City Centre complex, but thene was nothing of the sort. A few metres from the souk, the oldest in Qatar, is Al Kout Castle, which was a prison during the days of the Turks, and from there we passed by Hamad Al-Kabeer Street where there are a number of banks until we reached a square with a criss cross swords column in the middle. A Bet on the Future But the heitage which Qatar spares no effort to preserve does not hinder developing an ambitious plan of modernization which visitors easily reconginze. When we enquired about the stakes of that Gulf State we were advised to monitor the changes taking place in the health and education sectors for whcih the Amir of Qatar has recently established a special endowment to be deducted from gas revenues. It was noon when we visited the Supreme Council for Education, a fine building where we met a number of officials charting Qatar's unique steps at the Arab level. We met Dr. Iman Al-Ansari, leader of the team of the Professional Development Office, her colleague Ahmad Ibrahim, leader of the team of the Autonomous Schools Office, and Huweida Naeem, Media Coordinator.

The three of them talked enthusiastically about the development plan of Qatar's education system which was approved following an evaluative study in 2001, and afterwards it was stressed that change should be radical and all-embracing. The initiative, in brief, leads to building a distinguished, world-class education system which provides Qataris with such education that matches international systems and, as Dr. Al Ansari Said, is based on two elements: first, establishing government-supported autonomous schools, second, developing an annual educational evaluation system and adminisering questionnaires reqularly to those involved in the teaching-learning process, in addition to monitoring school performance and enhancing the quality of learning. Dr. Al Ansari talked at length about the system explaining that the initiative was based on estabilishing new schools according to four principles: first, school autonomy, encouraging creativity and improving student performance, second, accountability: holding schools accountable through annual evaluation, measurement and assessment of students' learning and development and school performance appraisal, third, diversity, offerning educational alternatives for parents and students, fourth, giving parents the right to choose the school which meets their children's needs. The Road to Al-Wakra After the lengthy presentation by the Supreme Council for Education, we became more eager to know the other aspect of Qatar's interest in education, but when we left the main door of the Council's building, it was 5 p.m., which made us willing to go a short distance to reach Al-Wakra, a small town between Doha and Misieed. Though the weather then did not encourage us to run the risk of crossing the streets, we went ahead, folloging a piece of advice to visit the old harbour of a town which is still regarded as a key centre of trade and fishing. There were docked ships, an open space and distinguishing features of sea communities.

We saw Al-Wakra's museum which houses pieces of natural history and marine life. We also saw mosques which that town is famous for, some of which were old, others apparanthy not affected by wear and tear, judging from the style of building and still brilliant paint, but it becomes clearer as we see the many houses marking the style of old Islamic architecture. When the weather became less harsh we moved towards the Educational City which we were curious to know about. Although the sun was about to set, we decided to go there directly on our way back from Al-Wakra. We arrived there easily, but found nobody except guards, so we took advantage of that and went round the City with our companions from the Radio & Television Authority looking at elegant buildings with a variety of styles. It was necessary to go again next morning to see Muhammad Al-Hinzab, Director-General of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development and Robert Wallace Baxter, CEO of Public Relations and Marketing. Shortly afterwards we were joined by Mahmoud Bounab, Director of Al-Jazeera Children's Channel, preparations for launch are underway with Foundation sponsorship. Al-Hinzah talked about the Foundation which was established in 1995 on the initiative of the Amir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thanie and its Board is chaired by Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Suwaidi, the Amir's Wife. Undertaking the setting up of a non-governmental Educational City in 1997, the Foundation embodies branches of some world-famous inviersities occupying an area of over ten million square metres. Considering this a quantum leap, Al-Hinzab said: "We have chosen a different type. Instead of recruiting teachers, we have negotiated with American and European universities about coming to us without any interference from our part in their curricula or quality of professors". Al-Hinzab added that there were a number of institutions working under the umbrella of the Qatar Foundation in the areas of education, science and community develop,ment, including the Qatar Academy, founded in 1996 as a day school for 3-18 year olds. The Academy offers educational courses up to the level of the British GCE Advanced Level, International Baccalaureate Programme and Primary School International Baccalaureate Programme, besides the Learning Centre, established in 1996 as a special educational institution offering educational services and aid to students with learning disabilities as well as providing students with opportunities to develop their learning process and help them use their abilities to the full. In addition to that, the Academic Bridge Programme, which was set up in 2001 as a special institution, offers a programme for qualifying top secondary school leavers in Qatar and the Gulf to enrol in Qatar Foundation's new university and other world prestigious universities.

The programme includes English, mathematicds, science, computing, media and learning development skills. The Foundation also embodies the Social Development House, which is designed to use and sponsor individual and collective effort in society in different projects planned to support the role of family and ensure its social and economic stability. In this context it sets up productive projects for women to manage small businesses.

The Qatar Diabetes Society offers assistance for prevention of the disease and plays an important role in education, training programmes, awareness raising, psychological support and training people to adopt a healthier lifestyle that mininizes developing the disease. The City of the Age As the director of Qatar Foundation told us. the Educational City is based on the idea of laying integrated environmental, educational foundations which create an atmosphere of cooperation and interedependence among different educational and academic centres found in one location. The city consists of college buildings, student dormitories, a sport complex, research centres, health and social facilities, service complexs and shopping and recreational centres. Al-Hinzab said that the unviersity campus which was opened in October on a seven-square mile area embodies a number of branches of world-famous universities, including Carnegie Millon University, a leading international university in the teaching of technology and are offening a set of specific programmes, such as business administration, public policy, humanities and science.

Among the other universities which have branches is Virginia Commonwealth University with its College of Design, Graphics and Fashion which awards a certificate in fashion, design, communication skills and interior design.

There is also Weil Cornell Medical School, which was the first to provide a joint environment for higher education having been opened in Qatar in September 2002 offering a two-year prepartory programme for the study of medicine followed by the start in September 2004 of the medical curriculum with the first batch of graduates scheduled for May 2008. Texas A and M University awards a degree in petroleum, chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering. The Foundation also incoroporates the Rand Public Policy Institute, which offers research and analyses to governments and non-profit organizations, as well as the Qatar Science and Technology Oasis, which acts as a bridge carrying the massive amount of research conducted by different institutions of the Educational City to the business sector.. The Foundation is in the process of establishing a specialized medical centre in the Educational City to be involved in health care and medical research with an eight-billion-US dollar-endowment. The centre is scheduled to start wooking within four years and is designed to meet the highest international standards in patient care, medical teaching, research and clinical treatment. The latest in a series of projects in the City, the centre will be called the Specialized Teaching Hospital and will be specialized in women's and children's diseases. The cost of this 350-bed hospital is approximately 900 million US dollars, in addition to the - eight - billion - dollar endowment, the largest in the world for a hospital and research centre.

Asian Games 2006 A race against time everywhere in Doha was extremely noticeable as the date of the Asian Games 2006, the third biggest sporting event in the world, is approaching. We went to the Asian Gemes Village at Hamad Medical City which looked like a beehive of activity. Bin Omran and Al-Razi Streets were closed to pedestrians because of road works, so we had to take side streets to reach the administrative and accommodation location of the participants, in addition to the stadium at which the games will be played built on an area of 420,000m2 to be taken from the future site of the Hamad Medical City. As our companion told us, the project consists of 871 accommodation units for nurses, families, sports clubs, as well as Ministry of Public Health building, an energy centre, two mosques, an educational centre, a tunnel, in addition to hospital and a nursing home. Upon the conclusion of the Games, the site will be the headquarters of The Hamad Medical City which is being deigned in accordance with the highest health care stendards and specifications with a total area of 132,000m2 for five hospitals: pediatyic, orthopedic and casualty, physiotherapy and rehabilitation, kidney centre, one-day operations and outpatient clinics, in addition to a nursing home.

The project also includes 32 apartment buildings 5-9 storeys each, part of which will be reserved for nurses, doctors and families, and this will be used as residence for 10,000-12,000 althletes and administrators sharing in the Asian Games, and constituting the 871 accommodation unit village. Besides the Hamad Medical City there is a plan to enlarge the airport to be completed before the start of the Games so that the sports teams go directly from planes to the Olympic Village with entry formalities completed there rather than at the airport, thus easing congestion resulting from the arrival of 12,000-13,000 people for the Games. Other construction projects planned include the radio and television complex, which will consist of a media centre, international transmission, news centre, production studios and offices of the Radio & Television Authority.

A More Profitable Investment The State of Qatar's area is only 11437km2, however, it possesses the largest natural gas field in the world and is placed second in the world in terms of gas reserves, with the Northern Field alone having 1000 trillion culbic feet of gas reserves, the equivalent of 162 bn barrels of oil, and covering an area of 6000 km2, i.e. larger than half the area of the State of Qatar itself. The country also has land and sea reserves. Qatar is one of the fastest countries in terms of economic growth, with a US $ 30620 per capita income in 2000. Qatar aspires to be the first country worldwide in the production and export of liquefied gas. As far as pipework is concerned, there are plans to increase the production of liquefied gas to 500,000 to 600,000 barrels per day from the initial production estimated at 34,000. Proven oil reserves are estimated at over 15 bn barrels, accounting for 4.1% of the total world's production estimated to last for sixty years at the current rate of production. Similarly, the gas reserves account for about 15% of the world's production planned to continue for 200 years. These figures secure a bright future for Qatar's economy for many generations to come. Arts and Heritage Plan While the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development depends mainly on education, it, according to what its director - general told us, has a cultural, arts and heritage plan in a specialized, institutional, systematic manner as part of its interest in culture, heritage and arts, in addition to scientific projects. The first works were Opera Avicenna, the first Arabic opera in terms of story-line, production and participation of a large number of Arab artists, the Creativity in Education Conference, annoucement of the launch of an educational recreational satellite channel for children in association with Al-Jazeera Channel. Other planned cultural and arts projects include the international film 'Naval Battle', which will be filmed in Qatar, meanwhile, there is serious talk about the future of the film industry in Qatar and the region.

As Yusuf Darwish, Secretary-General of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage told us, the Qatari capital will witness the launch of a number of major projects, including the Museum of Islamic Arts, the National Library, Photography Museum, and Qatar National Museum. The idea of establishing the Museum of Islamic Art dates back to the beginning of the reign of the prescnt Amir of Qatar, who is a collector of antiques and artefacts of a highly historical, architectural and artistic value. The collection which he donated to the above Council formed the nucleus of Qatar's collection. Afterwards, it was decided to establish the Museum and the shape it would take. The Amir ordered that the Museum be specialized in Islamic arts and house artefacts from all ages with the main criterion far exhibits being a high artistic and aesthetic standard and the designer of the building be a remouned architect with considerable expertise in similar projects.

The preparation of design documents has actually been awarded to the Aga Khan Foundation, which has long experience in this field. World-famous architects have finally been commissioned to produce the necessary designs of the Museum, and they started with extensive research and studies of the characteristies, civilization and arts of different Islamic ages, and shortly afterwards strenuous efforts began to boost Qatar's collection of Islamic artefacts. The Museum will be built on an island connected to the mairland by two bridges for visitors and staff. It consists of two buildings: the museum, and the educational building. The basement extends over the whole island and includes the main stores, engineering scrvices and some offices. The museum building includes temporary and permanent exhibition halls, with a wide court in the middle surrounded by the museum's constituent components, mainly: a temporary exhibition, conference room, cafeteria, etc, on floor one, not less than 1500m2 exhibition spaces for objects on floors two to four, administration and a VIP restaurant on floor five. The total area of the exhibitions exceeds 4500m2, apart from over 2000m2 collection stores and an over 400m2 maintenance and restoration centre.

The second building incorporates a specialized library and maintenance and restoration centre which extends to the basement. On the second floor there is an educational centre which includes classrooms and training workshops, with a large Oriental Garden in Islamic architecture style between the two buildings, and the Northern Garden on the other side leading to a yaght marina. Science Museum and Aquarium Besides the Museum of Islamic Art there are other projects including the Science Museum, Aquarium and Cultural District, as well as the National Library hodling more than two million bookds, in addition to a 500m2 museum of manuscripts, coins, natural history and orientalists art.

The Library will include 4500m2 art exhibition galleries and a state-of- the-art conference hall serving as a beacon of culture on the Arabian Gulf. Concurrently, the construction of a photography museum is underway: another museum housing Qatar's collection of cameras and photographic equipment-one of the world's most important, in addition to a collection of important historical photos. Uniquely designed, the museum will also have a large exhibition space, photography sutdios and labs, a professional photographers' club and a specialized library. Coinciding with these new projects, work is underway to enhance Qatar' National Museum and its valuable collection. The designs, which reflect harmony between the past and the present, the old castle and the modern building, include an extension to the Museum to contain new exhibition halls of Qatar's natural, human and cultural history, and its arts, in addition to a library and spacicialized exhibitions of Qatar's land and sea heritage.

Qataris talk proudly about other planned projects, induding a vehicle museum, sports museum, a weapon museum, a specialist centre for artefact maintenance and a specidized oil and gas museum. Guests of the Media In Qatar, considerable importance is placed on, and unqualified support is given to, the media. As modern expeniments in health, education in addition to gas have become distinguishing marks of Qatar in the future, the media, to which this Gulf country has offered unlimited facilities, has also become an identifying marks. That's why we decided to visit the head offices of the three Arabic - language dailies enquiring about the ability of newspapers in the face of visual media which has spread extremely fast in recent years. Answering our queries, Abdullatif Al-Mahmoud, eidor-in-dhief of Al-Sharq daily said: "Visual media has become a substitute for print media and an important source of information analysis and monitoring". He added that the news covered by satellite channels is faster than the service provided by news agencies, affirming that the launch of the Qatari Al-Jazeera Channel has not negatively affected the press, on the contrary, it has acted as an incentive for enhancing its capabilities. Asked the same question, Babaker Eissa, managing editor of Al-Raya daily, (whose editor-in-chief is Yusuf Darwish), said satellite channels naturally pose a big challenge to print media, especially in view of the fact that the former have such characteristies that are unavailable to the latter, however, it is useful and pleasant that newspapers have benefitted from such a challenge by boosting their capabilities and trying to heep up with developments through in-depth analysis and exploratory vision of events. Qatar News Ageney's Editor - in - Chief and Director - General, Ahmad Jassim Al-Hamar, asserted that excellence should be in a reasonable quantum leap rather than a high jump and that transparency and openness are the main features of the media in Qatar today. He is of the opinion that the current development of visual media is in the interest of media in general, and official media in particular and that in the light of political openness: economic development and freedom of the press and media, methods of news coverage will develops and professional techniques will be adopted. Children's Channel Talk about the planned launch of a chidlen's channel by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development made us eager to see its director, Mahmoud Abounab, a media person who for many years was in charge of the Swiss Arabic - language radio. He told us the channel would be called Al-Jazeera Children's Channel, and it was not designed to provide preaching or education like schools, but rather to train Arab children to adopt good behaviour, openness, respect of Arabic culture and promote their attachment to the environment.

Accordingly, the channel is in the process of producging programmes targeting the 2-15 year group, and through it windows will be opened in English and French targeting Arab childreen and foreign communities besides the third and fourth generations of Arab immigrants in the West. And that was the end of our tour of Qatar during which we tried to monitor the features of the profound transformation which this Gulf country is undergoing, but the visit has finally asserted that creativity, excellence and progress are always possible as long as there is a will.


Zakaria Abduljawad


In the beginning, the sea was a source of livelifood, a stimulus for imagination and communication which other nations... before the features of moderinization combine with historical feritage

In the beginning, the sea was a source of livelifood, a stimulus for imagination and communication which other nations... before the features of moderinization combine with historical feritage

In the beginning, the sea was a source of livelifood, a stimulus for imagination and communication which other nations... before the features of moderinization combine with historical feritage

In the beginning, the sea was a source of livelifood, a stimulus for imagination and communication which other nations... before the features of moderinization combine with historical feritage

A young girl in traditional dress with modern high-rise towers behind her

The sea was a source of pearls in the olden days; now it is a springboard for the future

A pliceman in his traditional uniform stil standing at Waqif Souk in Qatar directing traffic

At the Qatar Foundation for Education and Science preparations are underway for a quantum leap in the eduction sector

Thus looked Qatar... Its features have changed dramatically from what they wre five years ago, and more changes are expected within a short period

Two European women enjoying state-of-the-art resorts in Qatar

Preserving heritage is also manifest in the restoration of old castles.. and maintaining the country's memory. Picture taken from inside Qatar National Museum

The surge in education in the State of Qatar does not make new generations give up practising traditional crafts to protect heritage

Modern Doha... A spectacular view of bluish water

Modern Doha... A spectacular view of bluish water

A model of a shell on Doha's Corniche road

Al Ardha dance, stil a mark of distinctive Gulf art

Looking for a pearl inside a shell

In the early morning at one of Corniche road's roundabouts in Doha

A model of two raised gazelles

Modern high-rise towers putting a touch of beauty to the city

Strolling along the parks by the sea is a pleasure in the afternoon

Students at the Educational City campus

Preserving histonical heritage with modern touches added

A student at a college of design, graphics and fashion

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