2016: A Year in Review
Celebrating the past, present and future
Each December, as it celebrates National Day, Qatar reflects with pride on its culture-rich history, incredible current achievements and ambitious future plans. Inevitably many of its visions focus on the needs and aspirations of both Qataris and expatriate residents. However the State also receives international acclaim for its efforts to help less fortunate and less affluent nations; especially those under siege, in dire poverty, without adequate medical facilities, and with children denied access to education.
Qatar’s population grew 8.8% year-on-year in September 2016 reaching 2.55 million, with women making up about 25% of that, according to figures from the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics. The Qatar National Bank (QNB) October 2016 Monthly Monitor indicated that the country’s ongoing investment programme is expected to attract still more expatriates, resulting in a further population growth of 7.9% in 2016 and 7.1% in 2017.
In just three generations, Qatar has emerged from being a small nation dependent on pearling to become the world’s largest exporter of LNG, a major producer and exporter of petrochemicals, and a market leader in GTL production. Its healthcare and medical facilities are the envy of many, and Qatar was recently named the world’s wealthiest nation, based on GDP per capita.
Qatar in past eras
Archaeological exploration indicates Qatar was populated as early as 4000 BCE. In 1908 its population was estimated at 27,000; by 1970, a government census reported a population of 111,113, rising to 223,752 in 1980; 476,517 in 1990; 593,693 in 2000; and then a huge jump to 1.75 million in 2010.
From a country characterised by migratory Bedouin, coastal fishermen and pearl divers, it has developed into a thriving modern hydrocarbons producer and exporter.
But National Day specifically celebrates Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani’s unification of the whole peninsula in 1878. He became the country’s first national hero when he threw off the influence of the Ottoman Empire, and established a unified national state.
Sheikh Jassim had a wise policy in dealing with the two major powers which were competing to dominate the Arabian Gulf and its territories at that time: the British Empire, which extended its influence through the Government of India; and the Ottoman Empire, seeking to retain its control of the region following the end of the 16th century Portuguese influence. Because of Sheikh Jassim’s wisdom, Medhat Pasha appointed him Governor of Qatar in 1876.
18 December 1878 marks the day Sheikh Jassim acceded to power, and the inception of the modern State of Qatar.
He stridently opposed Ottoman attempts to increase their influence over the peninsula, as they appointed administrative personnel in Al Zubara, Ad Doha, Al Wakra and Khor Al Adaid, established a customs office, and reinforced their garrison in Doha’s Al Bidda.
Inevitably, military confrontation followed. A crucial battle broke out between the Ottomans and Qatari tribes, led by Sheikh Jassim. He and his troops fought bravely, inflicted defeat on the Ottomans, and emerged victorious. Al Wajba battle, 15 km west of Doha, was a turning point in Qatar’s history.
During the 20th and 21st centuries, Qatar made significant strides and left its mark on the world stage. The Qatar Vision 2030 development strategy is comprehensive, bold and far-reaching. Yet while embracing the best of the 21st century, the nation is determined to respect its past.
Qatar at home and abroad
Qatar continues to play a leading role in promoting peace and stability in the world and, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs HE Ahmed bin Abdullah bin Zaid Al Mahmoud, will continue exerting considerable efforts to foster dialogue and resolve international conflicts peacefully.
Qatar has already warned that lack of action to address global crisis could significantly exacerbate them, leading to an increase in their complexity and ultimately in threats to international security.
Its pivotal role stems from the core belief that renouncing violence and extremism and condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations requires a long-term strategy and action plan along with a practical approach by the world’s political leaders.
At home, Qatar’s government began a two-month awareness campaign in October to familiarise companies and workers with Law No 21 of 2015 regulating the entry, exit and residency of expatriates ahead of the law’s implementation in December. A mandatory job contract to be signed by all expatriate workers and their employers will now rule the relationship between the two sides. For further information on the new law, see the Special Feature ‘Kafala Changes’.
Qatar has stepped up its financial support to Unesco’s Regional Office in Doha, which is the Cluster Office for Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. A ‘grant agreement’ increases Qatar’s contribution to support the budget of the Doha Office to USD500,000 (QAR1.825 million).
Emphasising Qatar’s belief in the importance of education, Reach Out To Asia (ROTA) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with AFIF Charity aimed at engaging young people in quality education programmes. The three-year MoU establishes a framework for cooperation between ROTA and AFIF to support marginalised communities and crisis-prone countries with low educational indicators.
Sheikh Thani bin Abdullah Foundation for Humanitarian Services (RAF) has meanwhile provided QAR2 million to create educational opportunities for 500 children in Al Ramadi city, Iraq. The initiative is part of an ongoing RAF project ‘Al Ghaza W Al Nur (Food and Light)’ in collaboration with Unicef and the UN World Food Program (WFP). RAF has provided food, school supplies and uniforms to children and their families. Over 400 displaced families were provided with basic foodstuff. The project aims to build two primary schools in Al Ramadi each with 12 classrooms and capacity of 50 students per class. RAF allocated a total of QAR60 million from the Sheikh Thani bin Abdullah Al Thani Endowment Fund to the ‘Food & Light’ initiative. The project’s aim is to contribute to the education of 45,000 children in 15,000 families from 20 of the world’s poorest countries. Further support has been given to education and health care in Palestine, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan to name just a few.
Qatar actively promotes culture and the arts, through regular events at home and abroad including lectures, symposia, poetry readings, folkloric theatrical and musical performances, literature, museum collections and exhibitions. Many events are scheduled throughout the year with a concentration of activities surrounding National Day and the Eid holidays. A new cooperation agreement between the renowned Katara cultural village in Doha and the Arab World Institute in Paris will strengthen the role of Katara in enriching the cultural and cognitive arena in Qatar, the Gulf region and France, providing a gateway for the exchange of experiences and critical information.
Many of the nation’s efforts are directed towards providing appropriate infrastructure for the influx of tourists expected for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™. In the interim, Qatar received 2.182 million visitors in the first nine months of 2016, with visitor-arrivals from the GCC dominated by nationals from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who increased their visits by 8% and 17% respectively year-on-year. Visits from Bahraini and Kuwaiti nationals were up by 3% and 2% respectively, however those by Omani nationals were down by 5%. Overall, year-to-date arrivals from the GCC region grew by 7% year-on-year. Meanwhile, visitors entering the country on the Qatar-Oman tourist visa increased on an annual basis by 2% year-to-date. Nationals of the Americas increased their visits by 5% year-on-year in the first nine months of 2016.
Qatar also welcomed ‘The World’ into Doha Port in October. The privately-owned residential yacht, the world’s largest, has 165 residential units with patrons from 45 countries living on board – some full time and others visiting periodically. Some 32 ships are registered to visit Qatar this cruise season, with an estimated 30,000 passengers on board. Those from ‘The World’ were the first to avail of Qatar’s new entry procedure, which quickens the disembarkation process for cruise passengers, who can now disembark within minutes of arriving and immediately begin their on-shore excursions.
QTA has announced that a QAR2 billion project is due to start in April 2017 to redevelop Doha Port as a cruise ship terminal and tourist attraction once its current commercial operations move to the new Hamad Port.
At a time when a number of airlines are downsizing, Qatar Airways continued to see strong growth and inaugurated 14 new destinations across its global network and welcomed 19 new aircraft to its fleet, taking the count to 192, as well as placing a record aircraft order to power future growth. Qatar Airways has made a number of strategic investments in other airlines and airline groups, while investing heavily in the continued evolution of its own passenger experience. Lauded for its success, Qatar Airways received a number of awards throughout the year, confirming it as one of the world’s leading carriers for business and leisure travel. Continue reading…
It is no secret that Qatar loves sports and – apart from hosting the prestigious 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ – Doha is fast consolidating its position as the sporting capital of the GCC with the Qatar Olympic Committee arranging over 80 events every year of which over 50% are international. The range of sports also increases year on year and includes, among others, tennis, golf, squash, sailing, gymnastics, swimming and football.
In 2016, Qatar became the first Middle Eastern country in 89 years to host the annual UCI Road World Championship, which now includes events for road races, individual time trials, and team time trials.
Al Rayyan Stadium, the proposed host venue through to the quarter-finals for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™, achieved a milestone in mid-October when the first concrete was poured at the location of the stadium’s West Stand, five weeks ahead of schedule. The 40,000-seat venue will be reduced to 21,000 seats after the tournament for legacy use (the top tier will be dismantled and donated to developing football nations). Sustainability is at the heart of the design, and that began with the deconstruction of the old stadium, with 90% of the materials being re-used either in the new construction or by local and international artists to create works of public art which reflect the history of Al Rayyan Sports Club.
A strong economic outlook
Qatar’s trade surplus grew to USD2.4 billion in August from USD1.8 billion in July according to QNB’s October Monthly Review, with exports at USD5.0 billion and imports at QAR2.6 billion. At the same time, its balance of payments deficit narrowed for a second consecutive quarter. QNB predicted a current account surplus of 4.1% of GDP in 2016 before improving to 6.6% in 2017 on the back of an oil price recovery. For 2016 and 2017 QNB predicts growth of 3.2% and 3.8%, with population growth and investment spending driving non-hydrocarbon growth of 6.5% and 6.9% while the Barzan gas project should raise hydrocarbon output.
Qatar successfully sold USD1.3 billion in domestic bonds for the second time in late September, and some USD9 billion foreign capital raised in May found its way into the domestic banking system. The State remains the most active issuer of long-term sovereign sukuk in the GCC, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
In its Global Information Technology Report 2016, The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks Qatar second in the MENA region for Networked Readiness; WEF’s 2016–17 Global Competitiveness Report has ranked Qatar 18 of the 138 countries assessed.
Locally, 275 cases of disputes involving over QAR1 billion in value came up before the Qatar International Center for Conciliation and Arbitration in 2015, and a new law is being drafted in the field of arbitration in civil and commercial matters to keep pace with international standards and related developments.
In order to speed up the issuance of building permits, the Ministry of Municipality and Environment has linked its various departments and systems to ensure accuracy and speed of data transfer, and produced a booklet explaining application procedures.
Additionally, The Public Works Authority, also known as Ashghal, has created an e-portal through which businesses and individuals can access 23 services online including a wide range of permits.
After a challenging two years, Qatar Rail completed tunneling on the Doha Metro project in September, with a final breakthrough at Terminal One of Hamad International Airport: 470,497 concrete segments were used in the production of 70,071 tunnel rings for 111 km of tunnels. Work on a number of the underground stations began in October. The project includes: The Red Line North (11.30 km), Red Line South (12.05 km), Green Line (16.60 km) and Gold Line (13.30 km) in addition to some 38 km of mainly underground light transit rail serving Lusail City.
The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by 2020, when Doha Metro’s 37 metro stations are expected to be operative, with an average journey time of two minutes between adjacent stations. By 2030, all three networks – Doha Metro, Lusail Tram and the long-distance rail, which will link Qatar with the GCC Rail network – are expected to be complete.
The new QAR27 billion Hamad Port will begin official operations on 30 December 2016, with all current activities being transferred there from Doha Port by the end of March 2017.
On total completion, it will be around 14 times larger than Doha Port and cover around 26.5 sq km. Facilities will include a 1.7 million tonnes per annum (tpa) cargo terminal, a one-million tpa grain facility, a vehicle terminal capable of handling 500,000 vehicles per year and a major livestock facility. The 3.8 km port basin – measuring 17 metres in depth – together with three container terminals, will have a combined eventual capacity of six million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per year.
Ashghal handed over 11 new schools to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education ahead of the start of the 2016–17 academic year with a further four schools and six kindergartens due to be handed over well before the end of 2016. All are built to standard designs to serve about 650 pupils and incorporate: classrooms; science, language and IT laboratories; sports and art halls; multipurpose halls; gyms and libraries; shaded outdoor spaces; playgrounds; and service buildings. Each kindergarten can accommodate approximately 240 children and has: classrooms; shaded playing and activity areas; music, language and computer rooms; a library; shaded external spaces and green areas; and service buildings. All schools and kindergartens are adapted for people with special needs.
A comprehensive survey to assess the need for pedestrian crossings across the country and develop their designs is under way by the Ministry of Transport and Communication, in collaboration with Ashghal, Ministry of Municipality and Environment, Ministry of Interior, and the Private Engineering Office. The survey plans to assess the current situation and public opinion, analyse geographic information system information and review regional and global experiences. The Central Municipal Council recently submitted a recommendation to the Ministry of Transport and Communication to establish several bridges and subways to increase safety for pedestrians and drivers.
Education and Health
Recognising the ongoing population growth and changes to Qatar’s demographics, the first Turkish School opened in Qatar at the beginning of the 2016–17 Academic Year. It has the capacity to accept almost 300 students and will offer Grades 1 – 8, following the Turkish curriculum with teachers coming from Turkey. According to the Turkish Embassy, there are almost 7,000 Turkish nationals living in Qatar.
The Ministry of Economy and Commerce has meanwhile launched a survey seeking feedback from private investors on the ministry’s initiative to allot 10 plots of land in Al Wakra, Al Rayyan and Al Khor municipalities for private schools.
The College of the North Atlantic – Qatar’s Office of Applied Research and Innovation launched the second phase of its teacher training research project, called ‘Effective Use of Practical Application in Science’. The project, undertaken in cooperation with Qatar University, achieved huge success in its first year, working with teachers at the secondary school level. In its second phase, it has expanded to include teachers at both primary and middle school levels. The programme focuses on how to boost students’ interest in science through both practical classroom training and creating a desire for lifelong learning. Training is designed to provide teachers with the necessary tools for teaching and assessing the practical portions of science curriculums so that students perform better in international tests, through an increased interest in the subject. The project is funded by Qatar National Research Fund, and is aligned with Qatar’s scientific research programme priorities.
In a special initiative, Qatar Foundation for Elderly People’s Care (Ihsan) organised a two-day awareness workshop for women under the title ‘My strength is my investment’ in which they were helped to understand the present and future management of both their time and money, and the importance of developing the mindset of investment at an early age to avoid suffering in later years on reduced incomes.
Three new hospitals, each with a capacity of 120 beds, are scheduled to be added to Qatar’s healthcare system by early 2017. Each of the hospitals – in the Industrial Area, Mesaieed and Ras Laffan – will also have a health centre, outpatient clinic, emergency centre and laboratories in addition to other support services. Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) aims to add some 1,100 new hospital beds in the country before the end of December 2017.
Author: Gina Coleman
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