Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Doha: Pearl in Motion

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Doha: Pearl in Motion

Article excerpt

DOHA IS LIKE New York. Qataris refer to its rising skyline as "little Manhattan." Indeed, one is reminded in many ways of the New York of the early 20th century, when startling skyscrapers were flung up, money was easy and plentiful, and America was an emerging world power.

Doha is like San Francisco. Like gold in the American West, oil and natural gas in the Middle East built a major city. Entrepreneurs crowd the hotel lobbies; the sweet smell of money wafts through the air, attracting businessmen, dreamers and grifters from all over the world. Both cities grew from sleepy little ports on the edge of the world into world centers of business and commerce.

Doha is like Phoenix. Gleaming tall buildings mount from the desert floor. Cranes swirl in slow motion, moving girders into place. Out in the suburbs, the new roads are clogged with SUVs and BMWs and bordered by McDonalds, Hardees and KFC-but in Doha the well-known names are repeated from right to left in Arabic.

"I guess the traffic will be even worse next year," I note sympathetically to my cab driver.

"Next year!" he exclaims in exasperation. "Tomorrow!"

Doha is like Bombay, and to walk downtown amid the souqs (markets) and the Islamic Center is to be in south Asia. The streets are crowded with Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. Men spill out of closet-sized tea shops, and wait in long lines at the Western Union to wire their wages home. Nearly 600,000 foreign workers vie for Doha's construction and service jobs.

But despite all these influences, confluences and historical precedents, Doha is above all an intensely Arabic and Islamic city. The city seems to revolve around the parabolas of the Islamic Center's ziggurat. Spreading out before it are the many souqs: Souq al Ahmad, Souq Faleh, Souq Nasser bin Saif, and Souq al Asiery all offer a huge variety of shops selling both ready-made and custom-tailored clothing, electrical appliances, stereos and appliances, toys, and household goods.

At Souq al Deira, beautiful but expensive fabrics-some beaded, some embroidered, some exquisite-are on display. But those with expensive tastes may be tempted as well by the nearby Gold Souq. Although the shops are inauspicious and tiny, inside each is a glittering collection of gold brooches, bangles, necklaces and pearl jewelry. …

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