Is Doha the New Dubai?

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Having lived abroad in the States & the United Kingdom for about a decade now, I often think of slowly making my way back closer to home. Although I was born and raised in Bahrain until I was 10 years old, I don’t think I would consider moving back there as a single, twenty-six year old guy who has been exposed to living independently in the West for so long.

Naturally, Dubai is one of the cities that come to my mind when I think of moving East. As you know, the city is going through a rough time right now, but one can’t deny the fact that Dubai is an ambitious, multi-cultural, & fascinating city, which still has a lot of potential to grow and succeed. It’s one of those rare cities with fast cars, luxurious yachts, & fancy villas all on a man made island where you can hear Muslim Prayers around the city while driving to a Cold Play concert; having the choice and opportunity of enjoying the best of both worlds.

However, is Dubai the only obvious choice? Recently, two friends of mine just returned from their “amazing” trip to Doha and have managed to be really impressed with the city. After patiently listening to them rave about the city and watch their efforts to convince me to move there, I just had to ask – Is Doha the new Dubai?

Maybe not … as they resented me for asking such an idiotic question and instead, ridiculed me for making such a sweeping statement with no concrete evidence as Dubai and Doha are poles apart. They said that Dubai comes with a lot of “glitz & glamour” and is a city that is aspiring to be the “world’s biggest and capital”. They are constantly looking to compete with the rest of the world starting from something as petty as to having the biggest pillow fight, to the tallest tower, the most gigantic mall, and to even having biggest buffet in a restaurant in their city.

Doha, on the other hand, is completely different. Upon landing at Doha Airport, you are apparently taken back several years as the manual staircase attached to the airplane leads you to a bus, which transports you to the terminal in a very old-fashioned way. You are surrounded by Hondas & Toyotas as you are driving into the city, which is full of stop signs and noisy traffic. There isn’t even a real skyline except West Bay, which is an area still under construction and nowhere close to being completed. But there is still something magical about the city, which a lot of people haven’t discovered yet. The streets are lined up with old villas and are simple & pure looking and “driving along the corniche, which has some of Doha’s best hotels, one can see the artistic wonder of the genius I.M. Pei, the Museum of Islamic Art. His white-stone building with its imposing yet sober design glitters in all its glory under the bright sun on its own man-made island. Inside the gallery, the collection of Islamic Art is fascinating and simply brilliant with everything, from textiles to ceramics, to jewels, to even paintings from different periods and continents.”

My friends believed that the famous museum is what defines Doha and as one of the hottest spots in town; it attracts many locals, tourists, historians, & artists to flock into it to appreciate the collection. It seems like the vision behind the ruler might be to make the city the “culture capital” of the Middle East, and from the sounds of it, it might just be on its way there.

“The strong smell of spices mixed with sheesha is mind blowing when you come to the Soug Waqif, where the old meets the new. This 200 old souq was rebuilt in recent times but still manages to retain its innocence.” Apparently, the souq has tiny shops with antique jewellery, exotic carpets, and trendy new coffee shops, which attracts all walks of life. Unfortunately, one day just wasn’t enough to explore the area, which also has many boutiques carrying local, middle-eastern, and foreign designer wear but my friends tried to make the most out of it in the short time they had over there. In fact, they even went as far as saying that this place has got the “London’s Portabello Road to New York’s Street Fair” vibe and upon each visit, they are sure that there is a new treasure to discover.

Would I leave London’s Portobello Road and hop over to Doha’s Souq Waqif? Probably not but I can’t deny the fact that this is one city that I should definitely be keeping an eye out for in the future …

The picture above is of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar and from my friend’s “Simply Doha” album.

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16 comments

  1. My Aunt and Uncle live there and have a good time. My cousins also say that it was a great place to grow up similar to any other country in the middle east.

  2. I’m not too sure about comparing it to Portobello Road 😉 ha ha!

  3. Ahmad M · · Reply

    I’m glad you arent comparing it to Dubai 🙂 If you were, we would have a problem but since you’re not, great post and I agree with youuuuuuuuu!

  4. I’ve never heard of this museum. FI’m facinated! What in particular did your friends like about it?

  5. Aag Bagola · · Reply

    Doha is the place to watch. The city is bound to become one of the most fascinating places in the middle east with its abundant supply of natural resources, leadership that is committed to investing in and improving education standards for locals (Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon etc. have campuses there) and the continued promotion and celebration of local art/culture.

  6. I sometimes feel like Dubai is based on a ‘wanna be-ish’ and fake attitude. There are other cities in the middle east which seem to be more grounded in their culture and charm. Dubai’s environmental and landscape progress will eventually hit rock bottom with the bubble very close to bursting but even then I guess Dubai is attracting talent from all around the world. I do have to admit though I do think about moving back to the middle east as well but Dubai somehow scares me but still has an exciting vibe to it all. Hit or miss I guess.

  7. Aag Bagola · · Reply

    The “Simply Doha” album has some amazing pictures. Maybe you should share some of them with everyone else as well. Also, I heard the same friend recently went to Jordan. How was that trip similar/different to Dreamy Doha?

  8. Ok, read it. I see your point… but let’s not forget that Souq Waqif wasn’t built using wet mud 5,000 years ago either. It was built yesterday, by labourers, just as Souq Madinat Jumeirah was.

    The only difference is Souq Madinat Jumeirah has been massively commercialised, and is more famous than Souq Waqif is. So that goes back to my original comment – they wish Doha was the new Dubai and Souq Waqif was as popular as Souq Madinat Jumeirah and had the footfall Souq Madinat Jumeirah does.

  9. But that’s the point they aren’t wishing for it to be the next madinat jumeirah

    1. Salman · · Reply

      Not in the exact sense of what Madinat Jumeirah has become, but definitely in popularity and footfall. You wouldn’t build a mall to have no one come there, you’d want hoardes of people in the shops.

  10. This is what most ppl who come for a day to doha say about it. But when u’ve lived here for a while u realize wat its really like.

    i mean i wont say i hate the place coz u have everything that any western city has, like malls, bars, clubs, restaurants, etc. its just that its all so artificial but then again i can say the same for dubai and all the other cities in the middle east. and all these cities have a “dark secret” as well.

    these cities still treat the expats like third-rate citizens where we have absolutely no rights.

    a good example, especially during this economic downturn, is that if a person gets fired and he has loans from a bank, he will not be able to leave the country until he has paid them off. on the other hand, as soon as the person gets fired, his organization instructs the bank to freeze all the person’s accounts. so basically unless the person has some savings outside the country, he has no money whatsoever and hes stuck in the country until he repays his debts. oh and i forgot, since the person owes the bank, the bank files a case against the person, and the penalty for not paying off your debt is jail for 6 months or so i think.

    so ive heard of lots of ppl in dubai living in their cars with no money to eat and no way of leaving the country.

    and this is for expats like us who have proper jobs in banks and other companies. the labourers are treated like animals. i could go into details but it would take a while.

    so basically when things were moving along economically it was all hunky dory, but as soon as the bubble burst, “the oasis turned into a mirage” and just like that its gone.

    Other then that, I have been here for 8 months now and settled in.

    1. Salman · · Reply

      Hashim, I think that’s great and not very different from the UK. If I were sponsored by my employer and lost my job in the UK, I’d have to leave too.

      The only difference is that my employer wouldn’t tell the bank. However, banks here wouldn’t lend me any money without me having been here long enough to establish a credit history either. So in the case, the banks protect themselves in this way, and even if have the ability to pay back, a bank won’t loan me the cash till I have a credit history.

      Whereas in the Gulf, cash is more easily, but that ease of access to cash comes at a cost – more stringent rules around it. Can / Should the governments be blamed if people behave irresponsibly and live large and then realize they can’t afford to pay back?

      Should the banks stop loaning money to people?

      If they didn’t have these rules in place, everyone would come there, live large for a few years and leave.

  11. The dark side of the middle east is no longer hush hush-its an open secret. I think even the most ignorant of people know about it and those that have lived in the middle east have experienced it in some way or the other or seen it happen to those close to them. The point of this article was to give a general description of the city and the vibe it gives.

  12. what an easy life! how many people can randomly decide which country to move to next, with no thought given to career progression, job opportunities, families etc. i guess you have a job waiting for you anywhere?

  13. Thanks for your comment, O.

    I thought that it was understood that when one is deciding to move to a new city, it’s after they have already thought about career progression, job opportunities, and where there families are based. I doubt that someone would get a divorce, leave their kids, quit their job, and aimlessly hop on a plane to Dubai or Doha. ha ha!

    Who said anything about a job waiting anywhere? Unfortunately, i think you missed the point of this Blog post.

  14. i have lived in saudi arabia for a lot of years…getting a large part of my schooling in Jeddah.

    and to those who have a problem about their rights, the obvious answer is: go back. its not like the khaleejis want so many expats.

    the reasoning behind this is simple: the oil and gas rich states were desert for a large part of the previous century, with modernisation coming in only during the late 70’s. this also meant that the education infrastructure was virtually non-existent. on top of that, the local popultion was tiny. the rulers of these countries were worried that if they gave too many rights to foreigners, they would all move and settle there on a long term basis(especially those from other non-oil arab countries, and from pakistan, india and the far east), and the local populace would not benefit (as much).

    to prove my point, look at the uae. they gave more rights to foreigners in letting them set up private companies et al., and if you look at a demographics chart of the uae, you will see that 90% of the population is foreign.

    you can not blame the khaleejis for treating expats from poorer countries like 3rd rate citizens. the truth is most of us are there for the economic opportunity (which is not available in our own countries) and would only stay there between 2-10 years, and leave with our savings. thereby meaning a net drain on the economies of the GCC.

    as for the vibe of Doha, it reminds me a lot of the vibe you feel in Jeddah. it has that same “relax in the sun” factor and is very unpretentious.

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