Well the honest answer is not very much! I have been here 4 nights and 3 days and have spent most of that time at a conference and in meetings with Mayors and Ministers from the Arab Towns Organisation.
You can make some observations from the hotel however. I didn’t meet a single Qatari doing anything in the hotel but I did speak to people from at least 17 countries. A lot from places like the Phillipines and Morrocco but including people in more senior positions from Eastenr Eurpe and South Africa. It was a pleasure to see people from so many counties, backgrounds and traditions working together so happily.
They had a common story. They were young and had come to Qatar to earn money because there was no way that they could earn a decent living in their own country. There is nothing wrong in that but it is sad that 18 years olds come to a foreign country by themselves leaving their family far behind. Particularly poignant to me was the young Sri Lankan whose wish was to get sufficient Middle East experience to go and join his Father and Uncles in Dubai.
Doha itself is a young and thrusting city which is straddling a demarcation line between new and old. Only 3 generations ago it was little more than a big fishing village. Now it has a thrusting economy with a booming hub airport and construction taking place at a furious place even in the harsh heat of the noonday sun. High rise blocks for living and working are everywhere. Some elements of the buildings were clearly Arabic but most of the skyscrapers would not have looked out of place in any modern city.
The City and Country are making huge efforts to assert their heritage and cultural identity. I took some time out to visits the Museum of Islamic Art. A fascinating museum that I would have liked to spend more time in. The National Museum of Qatar is being built close to the city centre. It is huge and appears to be an intriguing looking building.
I talked with both the the Minsiter for Local Government and the Mayor of Doha yesterday about how they were planning their city. We discussed how different it was to masterplan an 800 years old city like Liverpool compared with building on virgin land. Or even virgin sea as much of the new build is being undertaken on new land reclaimed from the sea. We agreed that it would be interesting to compare our approach to both strategic and detailed planning to see what we could learn from each other.
All the people from The Arab Towns Organisation were very welcoming and friendly. They wanted to assert their own position and ensure that the World truly knows the Arab World and not just media reports of it. We talked about ways that this could be achieved with local government working with local government. I trustingly everyone wanted to tell me what LFC should be doing with an absolute majority saying that Rogers must go! They knew a lot more about it ha. I did. The Mayor of Beirut telling me that two of his sons bedrooms are covered in LFC posters. The posters in his third son’s bedroom has best not be mentioned in polite company.
It was sobering to talk about problems in the region. Whilst most of the Middle East and North Africa is calm and secure places like the Lebanon, Syria and Libya clearly are not. Several of the Mayors present had known political colleagues murdered which puts into perspective theroblems of being a politician in a secure democracy lie the UK. I believe from what I have seen that there is a tremendous opportunity in the region to create peace and stability and as elsewhere the majority of people are decent people seeking decent solutions.
lastly I must comment on the football. There is no way that ten World Cup could have taken place in Qatar during the summer. FIFA MUST have known this but still decided to proceed with their bid. I have no doubt at all that all the facilities (some of which will be dismantled after the tournament and rebuilt in poorrer countries) will be there on time and in safe and good working order but even the Qataris can do nothing about the Sun!
So I leave with some good impressions of the City and Vojntty although I had no opportunity to do more than a track the surface. I know that there are problems here with construction workers but Qatar s proving to be a land of opportunity for many of the poorer countries in the World. I hope that both sides see that opportunity exercised fairly.