Friday, January 18, 2013

Critique of a Recent BBC News Article on Qatar found a recent article by BBC News on Qatar, written by Jane Kinninmont, and is asking readers for their views. Looking through it I think there are a few things that need amending or clarifying.

Let’s see . . .

In 2011, Qataris were the world's richest people in GDP per capita terms. This means that the economy produced $98,900 (£61,600) per person, . . . For Qatari citizens, the news is even better. GDP per citizen is in fact closer to $690,000. The $98,900 is an average for the total population which includes many migrant workers and Qatar's wealth is heavily concentrated among Qatari citizens. . .

I realize the ultimate point here is that while Qatar’s GDP per person is the highest in the world much of the population are poorly-paid migrant workers, which means that Qataris are even wealthier than the GDP/person stats would indicate. However, not all of the migrant workers are poorly-paid (for example, me) so dividing GDP per citizen over-represents their wealth just as badly as GDP per person under-represents it. They make decent money yes, but not THAT much. My Qatari friends would be thrilled to make even a third of that ($230,000).

Cost of living also takes its toll so wages have to be high. A reasonable house rents for ~$4,000 a month. I live in a decent one-bedroom apartment in an old part of the city for $1,750 a month. A one-bedroom apartment in the luxury sections of the city would rent for around $2,500+ a month.

The stuff on population statistics and brief description of the working life of South Asian labourers looks fine to me.

. . . there are social strains, debates, and disagreements taking place within the small community of Qatari nationals - though these rarely come to an outsider's attention.

Yep, though I believe it's more apparent if one reads Arabic press or listens to Arabic language radio. My Arabic isn't good enough to but occasionally my Arabic speaking friends tell me about some article or opinion voiced on a call-in radio show regarding discomfort with some aspect of the level of change going on in the country.

Arrive at Doha airport on a late-night flight, and almost everyone in the arrivals hall is a blue collar, male worker from Asia. Qataris are more likely to use a separate terminal for premium-paying passengers.

No, the separate terminal referred to in the article is the Qatar Airways Premium Terminal, which is used by Qatar Airways first and business class passengers either transiting through Doha or leaving Doha. However I believe if you are arriving in Doha you use the same arrivals hall as everyone else.

Qatar Airways does have a Premium Arrivals Lounge for first and business class passengers who are staying in Doha but it is in the Arrivals Hall that everyone else goes to and you access it after you've gone through passport control. (see the airport map).

I’m willing to be corrected on this -- I don’t fly business class.

The reason you don’t see many Qataris and instead see lots of blue-collar workers when you arrive is because:

• There are usually a lot more of them than Qataris, as the article already points out;
• Passport control processing time is a lot longer for South Asians because the officers have to look at their visas etc. so the lineup moves slower (and thus backs-up);
• GCC nationals have their own dedicated passport lines, so it's faster; and
• Many Qataris and some ex-pats (like me) have an e-gate card which allows us to enter without going through the passport line up, which is even faster;

The few Qataris who do work in the private sector mainly work for banks or oil companies.


Migrants typically live in segregated areas, in accommodation provided by employers, and stay no more than five years. They cannot bring their families with them unless they earn over $1,922 a month.

Yes, (though I don't know about the five years) and I was originally wrong about the amount of salary. I remember a recent news article saying it was $2,700 a month (QAR 10,000) but the government website does say QAR 7,000 ($1,922).

I also agree with the bit after about how these workers can be exploited and unfairly treated.

In a telling sign of the difficulties balancing Western tastes with the sensitivities of a conservative local population, one such hotel bar features a sign outside: "No Qatari Females".

Only one? Should be all of them, it’s the law that Qatari ladies are not allowed in bars. Arab men are also not allowed in if they are wearing national dress (thobe and gurtra) but can be allowed in if they change into Western clothes. The bars are required to scan the passports or Qatar ID cards of anyone entering the bar (I guess in part to make sure that a lady is not a Qatari dressing in Western clothes).

a few years ago, shopping malls started having dedicated "family days", where single men (and thus most labourers) are discouraged.

It's a nitpick I know but I've been here almost 7 years and as far as I recall malls always did this. “Family Day” is always Friday (the day that laborers have off) and usually any holiday the laborers may have off as well. “Discouraged” might be a bit of a misnomer since usually security guards stand at the doors and stop laborers coming in.

They [Qataris] are entitled to subsidies, state jobs . . .

I don't believe they are entitled to state jobs. The government will certainly try to provide jobs but the population is such now that there are too many Qataris for the government to provide them all with jobs. It is not a right that the government provide them with a job.

Qatar's state-owned Arabic language TV channel, Al Jazeera, embraced most of the Arab uprisings with enthusiasm - except when protests came in neighbouring Bahrain, all too close to home.

Really!? I’d need to see some evidence of that. It's a pretty damning statement and the article doesn't provide support for it. I don't know about the Arabic language Al Jazeera but the English language one gave the Bahrain uprisings a lot of coverage. I'm not saying the article writer is necessarily wrong but I’d like to know what evidence that opinion was based on.

While I had a few clarifications and corrections all in all I'd say the article had most of its facts right.


Anonymous said...

Hey Glen,

Care to explain a little more about the e-gate card u mentioned? Is this something that applies only if you hold a multi-entry visa?


Glen McKay said...

The e-gate card is used to bypass the queues at passport control at the airport. It saves your fingerprint data so you only need to scan your card, then your fingerprint.

My blog post of January 9, 2012 has details on how to obtain one. Your question about whether it's only for a multi-entry visa (I assume you mean a multiple-exit permit as the e-gate is only for Qataris and residents) is an interesting one because I don't know for sure. I have a multiple-exit permit so I never thought about whether someone with a single-exit permit can use e-gate. Google search didn't turn up anything, the Government websites don't mention that single-exit people can't use it.