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Cultural Issues as Qatar races Towards 2022 World Cup

In the same issue of The Peninsula (Qatar), this author addresses cultural sensitivity when it comes to dress, but includes some intriguing mistakes. He (or she) states that all women are required to ‘veil their faces’ in Saudi Arabia, which is untrue. There is no law requiring women to cover their faces. Custom drives many – but not all – Saudi women to cover their faces. Western women are asked to cover their hair and to wear an abaya, and must do so when going off compounds or out of their hotels, but no one is required to cover their face.

The Issue: Is Qatar ready for 2022? Well, the country is all set to launch mega infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars in order to have facilities in place to host the coveted event.

But the key question being asked by many is whether the conservative Qatari society is ready to take in its stride the cultural shock that the preparations for the event and it being actually held here would trigger.

With no less than half-a-million international soccer fans expected to descend on the Qatari soil in 2022, Qatar must build the requisite mindset — and not just physical infrastructure — to be able to absorb the social and cultural tremors such an avalanche of people from different ethnicities and cultures would cause.

Or, will the Qatari society rise in rebellion against the onslaught, especially as Western values and traditions are seen gradually overshadowing local customs and the way people dress up and behave in public?

Already, there is widespread fear in the Qatari community about their identity being diluted due to the sheer size of the expatriate population. Official estimates suggest that out of a total of 1.7 million people living in Qatar, an incredible 1.5 million are foreigners. This means that some 90 percent people in the country are non-Qatari.

Since expatriates come from all over the world (unconfirmed reports suggest there might be people from more than 80 nationalities living here) the threat to Qatari identity and culture is real, say social analysts.

Some, though, argue that since Qatar is a small country with a tiny population, its people must pay the social price for development and prosperity. “Given the situation, you can’t have both—prosperity and identity. You must compromise and choose between the two,” says another social analyst not wanting his name in print.

Concerns in the Qatari community about its age-old culture and identity being compromised due to the ever-rising numerical preponderance of foreigners, are growing.

Rising indebtedness in the community due to limited income and growing consumerism has been relegated to the background as fears deepen over the local customs and folklore falling prey to what seems to be unstoppable intrusion of foreign cultures.

There is immense hostility in the Qatari community towards the way foreigners, especially young women, dress up. Foreign cultures have already reached Qatari homes with children being largely raised by foreign maids.

“Things are still under control since we can influence our children, but we are helpless when it comes to stopping outside influences that are causing damage to our society,” says a Qatari requesting anonymity. “The most harmful outside influences are TV and foreigners living in our midst.”

Objections are raised to young non-Qatari women, particularly Westerners, wearing skirts and sleeveless tops.

A number of Qatari mothers have expressed ire and want the state to intervene and ‘discipline’ young non-Qatari women who dress up ‘indecently’ in public. The mothers say they fear that their daughters might ape such negative behaviour.

There are some Qatari women, though, who see the media (read: foreign TV stations) posing a bigger threat than foreign women wearing skirts and sleeveless tops here in public.

Says Wisam Al Othamn, a lecturer at Qatar University: “It’s necessary to monitor the media, not foreign women.”

There are others, though, who feel that dressing up in public is one’s freedom and choice, so no one should impose restrictions.

Qatari social websites are filled with comments from people talking about threats to their identity. Some have called for setting up a ‘religious police’ to especially monitor young foreign women dressing up ‘indecently’ in public.

The commentators argue that Saudi Arabia has such a police and it is compulsory for every woman, whether local or foreigner, Muslim or non-Muslim, to veil her face in public.

But there are others who laud Qatar for the freedom people have in personal matters such as dressing up in public, and claim that foreigners here dress up decently if comparisons are made with neighbouring countries like Bahrain and Dubai.

There are still others who favour Qatar forcing foreign women to veil their faces while in public. They argue that since countries like France and Belgium have banned Muslim women from using face veils in public, Qatar and other Muslim countries should take counter measures and force all women, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, to cover their faces while moving in public.

An interesting comment on the way Qatari women dress is from a man writing on a local social website. He suggests that there is nothing like Qatari attire for women. Abaya is used by women in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, so it has come here from these countries.

As for naqab or full face and body veil, it did not exist in Qatar until 20 years ago, suggests the man. “So there is nothing called Qatari dress for women,” he says.

There are some who find fault with some schools having co-education and say Qatari girls tend to ape their foreign peers from these schools.

There is ire in sections of the Qatari community over the schools’ regulator, the Supreme Education Council (SEC), giving the freedom to schools on imparting lessons in Qatari history, language (Arabic) and religion.

Writing on social websites, some commentators are critical of the SEC and say that since land, history, language and religion are the four pillars of a society’s cultural identity, the schools must impart lessons in these subjects.

“It’s surprising why the SEC has not made the teaching of these subjects compulsory in schools. It’s a step that would destroy the Qatari identity,” wrote an angered commentator.

About language, the commentator quoted a famous Qatari writer, Dr Mohamed Al Kubaisi, as saying that it is only through their version of English language (different from the British English) that the Americans have built their identity and are dominating the world by popularising it (American English).

Another commentator said he saw the SEC move as a step aimed at diluting the Qatari identity. He even suggests that some teachers are opposing the SEC’s decision individually.

“Go to Germany and France and if you don’t speak the local language you wouldn’t get a response,” the commentator said, hinting that everyone in Qatar must speak the local language, Arabic.

Social analysts believe that Qatar faces a huge challenge over the coming 11 years (during the run-up to the 2022 event) in its struggle to maintain its cultural identity, and much of the onus will be on the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs and the Ministry of Interior.

Talk of a dress code being imposed by the Interior Ministry is going on for a while with analysts wondering if at all it would see the light of day. Despite opposition to foreign women dressing up ‘indecently’ in public, there are some in the Qatari community who say they believe a dress code is unwanted and how people dress up in public should better be left to them, respecting their freedom.

There are some in the community, though, who want the government to act and impose a dress code, particularly as the number of foreigners in the country is quite high. Moreover, the fact that the foreigners come from so many nationalities makes it necessary to have some code in place to help protect Islamic values, they argue.

“If not a dress code, it should be accepted in principle by everyone living in the country that one must dress up decently to respect local customs and values,” says a community source.

“It’s normal for a country to have some say in matters like how people, especially women, dress up in public. This will in no way tantamount to curbing individual freedom,” he insists.

Analysts say that the Ministry of Interior introduced the concept of community policing sometime ago with this vision in mind. The entire concept of community policing where the law-enforcement agencies actively coordinate with different expatriate communities as well as civil societies and the locals is based on the idea of how to help protect and preserve Qatari identity and culture in the midst of threats being posed by the swelling population of foreigners in the country.

The focus of the effort (community policing) is on helping preserve basic social and religious values, knowledgeable sources say. Critics, however, maintain that the effort having been launched quite a while ago, is yet to yield results.

THE PENINSULA

July 3, 2011 Posted by | Doha, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Qatar, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | 3 Comments

Qatar Women Want Dress Code to Maintain Cultural Norms

Every year around this time The Peninsula (Qatar) runs an article reminding other nationalities to respect Qattari values on modesty, and asking women to wear loose clothing, cover arms and shoulders and wear skirts at least to the knees. This year, there are comments about women wearing ‘indecent’ clothing around the hotel swimming pools, and calling for a national dress code with enforcement.

Qatari women lament disregard for norms

By Huda NV

DOHA: Dress code in any country is a very sensitive topic, for, while it protects the rights of many, it may hinder the rights of many others. When France issued ban on Hijab in public places, many Muslims who used the attire had to let it go. Same is the case in Saudi Arabia where all, including non-Muslims have to wear the abaya.

As of now, there is no strict ruling on dress code in Qatar except that it asks for modest dressing in public. The rules are with loose ends, according to some. With the on going development much have changed in dressing over the last 10 years.

Some Qatari women who spoke to The Peninsula said that due to the lack of awareness or mainly due to disregard for local norms, many people flout with the Qatari Penal Code that “prohibits wearing revealing indecent clothing”. Since no action is taken against the violators, rules or laws are being flouted with.

“The law asks one dress decent lyto protect oneself and the society as a whole. We are functioning in a society in various roles and at various levels. We go out, do what we need to do and go home, as other women do. But it pains to see many women bring with them negative influences into the community and dress in a way which is against the discipline of the community,” said Sheikha Al Naimi, a Qatari woman.

“We are not asking them to use hijab or abaya. We just want them to be modest, by which we mean covering the arms and shoulders, wearing skirts at least up to knee length, and wearing loose clothes. We are asking for respect not hindering their personal choices,” said Asma Abdullah.

RIGHTS?

So would not any law or dress code be against personal rights? Then, is not smoking or drinking a personal choice and a law banning these are against the so called rights, ask some.

“There are laws banning smoking and penalties for violating traffic rules, which are issued in public interest and these are strictly followed, for fear of heavy fines on violations. So a dress code is also needed for public security. We all have our own freedom, but in public we need to check the rights of public too. One’s freedom should not hinder other person’s rights and people should realise that rights come along with duties,” said Mariam Al Ali.

However some argued dressing in skimpy clothes is not freedom, but rather lack of self respect. “We would say the western idea of freedom and right is twisted and is not based on truth. For example, when it comes to dressing, the so called right is more or less like what men want to see,” said Tammy, a US expatriate.

“Our policy is you see what we want you to see rather than you decide what you need to see. We choose to whom we show our beauty. It is not for public attention,” one of the Qatari women said

THE WORRIES

One of the key problems, most of the Qatari women who spoke to The Peninsula, was on encroachment on their identity. “We are a minority in our own land; this does not mean we leave our identity. We are trying to pass it over to next generation and all these influences is a threat to our identity as Muslims, Arabs and Qataris,” Al Naimi said.

“All the expats come here for a reason, mainly financial, and hence they need to respect the culture here but now its more on destroying the society,” she laments. “Even in some schools and colleges, teachers dress badly. Even if it’s a girls-only school, it does not mean teachers show their body parts which we ourselves do not show to our children. Wearing translucent dress, shirts which are waist length and short skirts are in no way modest for a teacher,” said Al Ali

PROTECTING IDENTITY

Some Qatari women revealed the measures they take to ensure their children are not influenced by the changes. “My children have gone to the malls or shopping centers only few times. I want them to know what the Qatari identity is. They are not usually taken for shopping here. For their amusement and entertainment, I built a house away from Doha with all the amenities.

“So the question would be how will they learn to live in the society if they are kept isolated? Its just that we do not want these influences at very young age. After they get to know their roots, children will go out and understand the world,” said Asma.

“Earlier, when I was young, we used to go out to the beaches and enjoy as a family. But now we cannot take our children to the beaches as people wear indecent clothing even in public beaches,” said Sara Yousuf.

“Even some of the Qatari media post almost nude pictures, especially when it comes to movies. So we do censoring at home so that our children at young age do not have to distinguish between the right and wrong,” Sara said. “I would love to take my children to hotels here and enjoy time with them in the pool. But how can we do it when many are indecently dressed,” said a Qatari woman.

DRESSING WHEN ABROAD

Even when dress code is debated here, Qataris are much criticised for not abiding to the Qatari customs while abroad. “These are mainly people who are ashamed of their identity. Abaya or hijab is part of culture and our culture is based on Islam, which is same throughout the world. Hence, indecent dressing while abroad tarnishes the whole Qatari community. I have gone abroad, and even recently when I visited Thailand, I was wearing the exact costume – abaya — which I wear here. They should respect laws of other countries when abroad but at the same time try to protect their identity,” said Sara.

“I was educated in the US. I did face few problems but I knew the influences were coming from all directions and made sure I held on to my traditions,” said Asma.

THE CULPRITS

Majority of the Qatari women say that some of the Arab communities themselves are responsible for violating the dress code. “We feel that majority of the westerners and Asians know and understand us and respect the culture. People from sub-continent culturally they have their own modesty which is almost similar to ours. If these people are dressing badly it is because they think ‘if Arabs can do, why not we’,” says Al Ali.

“The sad part is that there are some Arab communities who mock themselves and us wearing skimpy dresses. Also some are so talented that they know how to dress exactly as Qataris and impersonate — they actually tarnish our image. They also talk indecently when faults are pointed out,” said Hessa Al Kuwari.

“Worse is when many dress indecent inside the abaya and pose as Qataris. The very purpose of abaya is to cover, but now it is turning into something that is used for showcasing the body,” Sara said.

SUGGESTIONS

1. Set up a new committee to establish and implement specific regulation with regard to dress code

2. Define exactly what modest dressing means

3. Malls should have individuals to warn people as they have people to keep out bachelors on family days.

4. While issuing visas, embassies should inform people about the dressing. They should also make strict rulings.

5. The existing laws on dresses should be activated by the authorities.

URGENT ACTION

Few of the women say there is an urgent need for a law or enforcement of existent regulations, as the situation is getting worse. “Over last three to four years, we are seeing women wearing very-short shorts in public places. I would ask what next? Will we have to see ladies in bikinis in malls in the next few years? It can happen if there is no enforcement,” said Sara.

“The identity change that we talked is not going to happen today or tomorrow. We will see the effect in some 10 to 20 years — majority of our people will not know what being an Arab or Qatari means. The values what we have will be lost,” Asma said. “We need development, but it should be framed in our identity. It’s not fair to cut our roots and establish on top of us,” she said.

The Peninsula

July 3, 2011 Posted by | Doha, ExPat Life, Middle East, News, Qatar, Social Issues, Values, Women's Issues | 3 Comments

   

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