The 23-year-old Pakistani expat was unimpressed when she arrived in the Qatari capital, thinking she had landed in the middle of the desert in more ways than one. The streets were empty and shopping options were scarce. A secluded five-star hotel, a basic business center, and a few office buildings stand in West Bay.
My husband had a very basic driving rule for me: If you get lost, follow the directions to the Corniche [waterfront promenade] “The apps were unheard of,” said Rizvi, referring to her first experience walking around Doha at a time when apps were unheard of.
Fast forward 18 years, West Bay is getting crowded. It is Doha’s main business district and home to a busy skyline populated by more and more skyscrapers. Shiny new buildings along the shores of the bay bask in the sun all day and put on a sparkling light show at night.
Doha’s transformation extends far beyond here, with new districts, cultural hubs, and the latest places to transform the city.
Human rights organizations and media reports said that development in Qatar came at the expense of workers’ rights. Concerns about low wages, poor living conditions and worker safety have been constantly raised by rights groups and critics of the Gulf World Cup host country.
In response, Qatari officials pointed to recent reforms to labor laws, including a comprehensive minimum wage and the easing of restrictions on foreign workers who wish to change employers. Officials also criticized Western media for what they described as biased and inaccurate coverage of Qatar and its preparations for the tournament.
Qatar, an energy-rich nation that declared its independence just five decades ago, won the right to host the World Cup in 2010. Its transformation also coincided with a rapid increase in its population—currently, nearly three million people—the vast majority of whom are migrant workers, mostly immigrants. South Asian countries.
Qatar’s independence was in 1971, so are we[d] Faisal Al Madakhah, editor-in-chief of the Gulf Times, told Al Jazeera.
“Now we have the World Cup,” he said. “We’re talking about 12 years of policy reform… [that is being] It happened because of the World Cup – but it is [has been] Fast forward. And I believe that after the World Cup, this will also continue on the basis of needs and in fulfillment of international law.”
Focus on sports
The six-lane highways, gleamingly clean metro train system, and commuter buses that now make up Qatar’s transportation hub were all a pipe dream in the early 2000s, when the idea of a small country like Qatar hosting the soccer World Cup was unimaginable. Conceiving it.
“I remember attending the opening ceremony of the 2006 Asian Games and I couldn’t believe a country the size of Qatar could host such a grand event,” said Rizvi, a photographer and author of a book on Pakistani cuisine.
On that cold and rainy December night at the new Khalifa International Stadium, it became clear that Qatar was shifting its focus towards sport, culture and education.
The country formalized this change in the following years under its National Vision 2030, an ambitious development plan aimed at diversifying its economy, reducing carbon emissions and achieving social progress.
Sport is an essential pillar of that vision. Since 2012, Qatar celebrates an annual Sports Day every February. The occasion is designated as a public holiday, allowing residents to participate in sports and fitness activities.
At that time, according to Rizvi, the number of women and girls in sports was minimal.
She said, “My daughter started football as a child but left it after a while because there were no girls’ teams.” But now, as a teenager, she plays in an academy that brought her international fame and gave her the chance to meet football stars.
“And it’s not just her, many Qatari girls come to play sessions and games with their fathers, who look really proud and can be seen cheering from the sidelines.”
However, there has been little progress in women’s football on the larger stage. The Qatari women’s soccer team has not played a competitive match in a few years and has dropped out of the FIFA rankings, while many teenage girls and young women have stopped playing as they get older.
It was not just about Qatar
Despite the gradual growth on the football field, women have been at the forefront of educational and cultural advancement in the country.
Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, the second wife of former Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, was instrumental in the creation of Qatar’s Education City in 2003, where several world-famous universities set up home campuses.
Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad, the emir’s current sister, heads up the arts and culture scene at the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA).
The organization has established several museums across the country that focus on Arab and Islamic art, Qatar’s national history, sports, and an interactive children’s museum, which is set to open soon.
Cultural centers have become a popular leisure option for many who have had few entertainment options for years.
“It was very basic,” said Iman Abed, a Palestinian who has lived in Qatar for more than 20 years. “Go to the park, take a walk on the promenade or eat out on the weekends,” she added with a shrug.
Abid added that as the country has progressed and Doha has grown into a thriving center for arts and culture, it has attracted many expatriates.
“We used to live in a small house in old Doha, and having moved through the city over time, we have now settled in The Pearl,” she said, referring to an upscale artificial island with Mediterranean-inspired residences and beaches.
This is where Rizvi lived with her husband, who works on the Qatar Stock Exchange, when the country won the rights to host the World Cup.
Rizvi remembers one of the festive nights when people came out with their maroon and white Qatari flags and their patriotic songs blaring from cars.
“It wasn’t just about Qatar,” she says. And she adds, “It was about an Arab-Islamic country hosting the largest event in the world and this is exactly what the West cannot understand,” referring to the constant criticism Qatar has faced since that night in December 2010.
But with the event now underway, every part of Doha’s tourist attractions has been filled with global fans – from the West and beyond. They’re trying out local food and fashion, indulging in banter with local fans, and bringing their festivities to the Gulf Shores.