After domination by Persians for thousands of years and more recently by Bahrain, by the Ottoman Turks, and by the British, Qatar became an independent state in 1971 after refusing to become part of either the United Arab Emirates or of Saudi Arabia.
Ruled by the Al-Thani family since the mid-1800s, Qatar transformed itself from a poor British protectorate noted mainly for pearling into an independent state with significant oil and natural gas revenues. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Qatari economy was crippled by a continuous siphoning off of petroleum revenues by the amir, who had ruled the country since 1972.
In 1995 Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani overthrew his father in a bloodless coup while he was vacationning in Switzerland. The new Emir introduced some social and political reforms such as the enfranchisement of women, a new constitution, and the launch of Al Jazeera but the Sharia law still applies and government remains a traditionnal monarchy.
Oil and gas account for more than 60% of GDP and have given Qatar one of the highest per capita incomes in the world.
The United States Armed Forces Unified Combatant Command unit for the Middle East theater, known as CENTCOM (US Central Command), has its headquarters in Qatar and Qatar hosts a large United States Air Force base. Moreover, Qatar served as the headquarters and one of the main launching sites of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Apparently, the American crusade to democratise the Middle East does not apply to Qatar. Nor to other friendly totalitarian regimes in the region like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to mention only those two...
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As usual, I waited a few minutes before leaving the airport and walked to the closest thoroughfare near this fine mosque where I took a taxi to my hotel for a fraction of the airport price.
My broken ribs were killing me so I stayed in and took "Ampracet" pain killers left over from my knee operation the previous year.
This was the view from my window at the New Mashriq Hotel where a plain single room cost 50 $US a night.
The next morning I felt better and walked all day. This ancient traditional Mosque on Ali bin Abdullah street presented an interesting contrast with the minaret of a modern mosque in the background.
A few blocks further west, there was an agitated crowd of several hundred young men at the intersection of Ali bin Abdullah and Grand Hamad streets. I would have liked to take pictures but felt it wiser to pass without drawing their attention.
The next intersection of Ali bin Abdullah with Al-Asmakh street was quiet so I took this picture of the mosque on the corner.
A traditional fishing dhow decorated the square in front of the mosque in the previous picture.
The Al-Koot Fort was built during the Turkish occupation in the 19th century.
A couple of blocks further north on Al-Asmakh street is Doha's Grand Mosque. The policeman directing the traffic at this intersection gave me a dirty look as I took this photo.
Then I worked my way back eastward through the well restored Souq Watif. Notice the ventiation tower that captures the slightest breeze to cool the rooms below, typical of the Gulf coast where offshore breezes are frequent.
Souq Ahmad was also extensively restored and parts of it were completely rebuilt. I recognise that the result was beautiful but it had lost the patina and charm of so many less perfect, well lived in souqs I had seen elsewhere.
Continuing east I came upon the ziggurat like minaret I had photographed earlier. It turned out to be part of an institute of islamic studies and not of a mosque as I had thought.
Then I continued east along the Al-Corniche until I came to this spot where I took a 360 degree panorama.
Further along the Al-Corniche we come to the luxurious shopping centre with three phony wind towers that look nice but are only decorative as this large complex of shops and restaurants is perfectly air conditionned.
This is the other side of the shopping centre.
Finally, I turned west again at this roundabout decorated with three huge traditional rose water dispensers at the intersection of Al-Corniche and Al-Muthaf street where my hotel was located.
Unfortunately, the Qatar National Museum had been closed for some time. I dragged my weary bones to my hotel and flew to Kuwait the following afternoon.