By Fazeena Saleem
There is growing concern in the Qatari community about the kind of entertainment events that are organised by expatriates and the hospitality industry in the country, with young Qatari men and women terming some of the events “culturally inappropriate”, and even “extremely offensive.”
As year-end celebrations are in the offing, the voicing of such concerns has increased.
Some citizens suggest that they should not be invited to events that don’t conform to Qatari traditions and culture. Others say the relevant authorities should carry out a study to find out what sort of events can be held in Qatar to fulfil the expectations of citizens and residents alike while respecting local culture and norms.
Many expatriates, on the other hand, argue that their celebrations and entertainment events are mostly private, and companies that organise such events claim they try to strike a balance between respecting the country’s culture and meeting the expectations of expatriates.
Qatari youth argue that the concerns about such events are not theirs alone.
“I think Qatar should avoid events that are extremely offensive. It’s not necessarily an expatriate versus Qatari thing. There are expatriates who could also find such events distasteful and against the fabric of this society, and in turn there could be Qataris who are very liberal and welcome these events, although I believe they are not the majority,” said Nasser Al Naama, who is studying painting and printmaking. He writes columns for online media and is also an entrepreneur.
He argues that Qatar is not against entertainment, but the country should not allow anything that could harm the country’s traditions.
“There is already a wide range of events taking place. Qatar is certainly not the sleepy backwater many purport it to be, but I think there should be more events that are enjoyable and entertaining for the youth. I personally like going to music concerts, but I wouldn’t want the artists you see going to Dubai performing here because it would be at the expense of values, customs and religious sensibilities of the local people. It could cause resentment and divisiveness between people here,” explained Al Naama.
Some locals referred to a recently cancelled dance event following huge opposition from the local community on social media websites.
The show, named ‘Dance Festival’ was supposed to bring performers and dancers from several countries to Qatar.
One commentator opposed to the event said: “It is amazing people are expecting it to rain here when they are organising a dancing festival on Ashura day.”
Another said: “What do they mean by dancing? Is it traditional, folk or simply dancing like in nightclubs?”
Referring to the event, a young Qatari professional said: “There was a dance festival a few weeks ago that got cancelled due to opposition from the local community.”
“I don’t know much about this event, but I guess if the majority of Qataris voted against it and it offends their religious sensibilities, then that should be respected,” he said.
In Qatar’s population of over two million, expatriates predominate. Official figures suggest that people from more than 70 countries live in the country.
Among the GCC states, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have the largest numbers of expatriates relative to their local population, according to a study.
A new population wave is hitting Qatar’s shores as the country embarks on an ambitious programme of infrastructure development. The infrastructure projects are projected to create 120,000 jobs a year over the next two years.
Although it has a large expatriate population and plans to develop tourism, Qatar has not opened up like Dubai.
“I think this should be celebrated, because Qatar still maintains its cultural identity,” said the Qatari professional who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We will soon hear about different events on New Year’s Eve. Hotels will announce all kind of offers. Many new things could enter the country gradually with the growing expatriate population, yet it is necessary that everything comply with our traditions, culture and religion,” he added.
Some celebrations and entertainment events are relatively new to Qatar and have been introduced by expatriates and the hospitality industry. Halloween and year-end celebrations were rare in the country until some years ago.
Some Qatari youth welcomed the move by certain hotels to stop people in Halloween costumes and face masks from entering.
“I have heard that some hotels did away with the masks at Halloween parties. Such moves are appreciated,” said Shabeb Al Rumaihi, a student of international relations.
“I think, from a cultural perspective, that these events should be private, not public. Whoever is organising them can invite people who are interested. If it’s an event inside a hotel, they can have a database of their guests and invite them.
“Qatar has a cosmopolitan society and there are people from different cultures, but they can’t force us to do things we don’t want to,” he added.
Another new kind of celebration for local youth is the “after event party”, which is commonly held after a musical or theatrical performance or some other event, such as a wedding or a corporate event. Guests are usually limited to friends of the host.
“Recently we were invited to an after event party. It was the first time I had heard of such a party, and when we reached there, it didn’t have a pleasing atmosphere for us. It is better they don’t invite us to such events,” said a corporate worker.
He argued that invitees should be informed about the nature of the event beforehand.
However, some expatriates say that certain celebrations are unavoidable and they keep them private, adding that they can’t be held responsible for events organised by hotels, which mainly target business.
“To my knowledge all my friends keep their celebrations private. Some have celebrations at home or within the residential compound. We do go for events organised at hotels and I’m sure they follow all guidelines meant for such events,” said a western expatriate who didn’t want her name in print.
An Asian expatriate working for a private company said, “People look for entertainment and hotels make business out of their expectations. One can choose to go for an event or not, but the nature of the event is not decided by the guest.”
“I believe certain things like costumes and even performances are taken into consideration when an event is organised here. There was an international ballet troupe here recently and they even adjusted their costumes and wore less revealing clothes than they usually wear,” he added.
Event managers are also concerned about observing local norms and respecting the country’s culture.
Once an event has been finalised and the event management companies have got confirmation about the artistes and the venue, they seek approval from the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage. The ‘Harazad’ division at the Ministry of Interior decides about the level of security required, depending on who is attending the event.
According to an event organiser, there are only a handful of event organisers in Qatar. If it’s a DJ event or something similar, the organisers have to give details like whether alcohol will be served, the age of those who would attend the event, and the medium of invitation, to the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage.
“It’s an Islamic country and the dress code has to comply with their culture. This is important to any kind of event,” he added, noting that recently they had faced issues in getting visas for artistes from countries like China and Russia, although the event was a corporate party.
Another prominent event organiser, who has been working here for several years, explained that the nature of tourism Qatar was seeking was different from other countries, and it was compulsory to comply with the local culture.
“I believe that Qatar is very sensitive about its culture and traditions. It would take a long time for people to accept change, but it’s improving slowly. Things are not as they were three years ago,” she said.
“Qatar wants to thrive in tourism but doesn’t want what they call ‘cheap tourism’. They want people to come here for a purpose, not just to party,” she added.