Arts & Culture of Qatar

Despite its wealth – based on huge gas resources – the small emirate at the golf and its leaders decided in early days that education for its citizens has to play a central role for the future development of the state of Qatar. Therefore Qatari government declared the promotion of education and culture to be a cornerstone of national development strategies.

Ever since Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani has taken over in 1995 he has focused on the implementation of his ambitious plans for the creation of a modern Arabic country based on education that will develop Qatar into an intellectual and cultural center in the golf area.  Education, culture and environment play an outstanding role in his Qatar National Vision 2030. It did stop there.

Today the aspiring project Education City is almost completed. The stunning architecture of the institutes on campus makes Education City a highlight for every Qatar visitor.

On a compound of 14 square kilometers  Education City harbors a good dozen faculties of internationally well-known universities from the US, Canada and Europe, as well as prestigious international institutes. More than 2,000 students are studying medicine, economics, chemistry, design, fashion and journalism. Not just Qataris are accepted, but also students from all over the world. Scholarships are given to young academics from other Arabic countries as an incentive to participate in the knowledge-based development of the state. Qatar achieved to hire many well-known scientist and academics from abroad as teaching staff.

In 2006 the Qatar National Research Fund was established in order to promote Qatari and international research programs. Since then the Fund has supported more than 700 projects, among them numerous projects of German applicants.

To Education City also belongs Sidar Hospital. With more than 4000 employees it is one of the greatest and most significant hospitals and educational center for gynecology and obstetrics of the entire region. Qatar National Library with its highly innovative concept and newest techniques is about to open soon. It is accommodated in an impressive Building designed by the famous architect Rem Koolhaas. Next to it at Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) firms are developing application-related innovative scientific and industrial projects. Aside the QSTP is the Qatar National Convention Center featuring a magnificent facade modeled entirely to the local Sidra tree. It hosted UN Climate Change Conference COP 18 with over 12,000 conference attendees.

Education City is a project of Qatar Foundation that is being financed by the revenue of the petrol and gas business of Qatar’s state owned companies. Driving force and visionary of the foundation is Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser Al-Missned, mother of the current Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. Her unambiguous focus on education, technology development and cultural participation made her a role model especially for young women in the Arab world. The fact that she is the wife of the former Emir and stood in the foreground with her extraordinary role in the country’s cultural and social development clearly shows the new national identity of Qatar since 1995. Certainly many conservative Qataris did and do not share this progressive attitude. Especially since her clothing is traditional but western-oriented, additionally she is also not covering her face.

Her daughter Hind is leading Qatar Foundations since 2014 and pursues the tradition of her mother. Her daughter directs Qatar Museums which are one of the most significant cultural institutions of the country. The most famous museum of Qatar is the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA). It is situated at an exposed spot at the Corniche of Doha. Designed by I.M. Pei it is considered to be the most considerable museum of its kind on the Arabian Peninsula. Further substantial artistic institutions are Mathaf the Arab Museum of Modern Art and the Fire Station – a gallery for artists that develop their projects on a long-term basis.  

The National Museum of Qatar is about to open as well. It is an impressive building at the western end of the Corniche designed by Jean Nouvel in the shape of huge sand rose. An Olympic sports museum inside of Khalifa Stadium is also under construction, this is where the final match of the FIFA World Cup 2022 will take place. Sheikha Al Mayassa – boss of Qatar Museums – is considered one of the most outstanding and influential art collectors. Some call here “the Medici of Today”. Her children study the German language which highlights her sympathy for German culture.

Doha Debates is one of the most interesting institutions of Qatar Foundation. They have free discussions every month on political topics broadcasted by BBC. Also located at Education City is the children´s channel of Al Jazzera, the TV channel from Doha which is famous way beyond its state borders.

The world famous TV channel Al Jazzera was established in 1995 to break the American dominated journalism of the politics in the Middle East. The reason was the reporting of a western alliance on the war in Iraq that was taken to be one-sided and unfair by the Arab population. Since the beginning, Al Jazzera focused on the western tradition of (preferably) objective journalism on political coverage. Most of the hired staff have worked at BBC before. They had and have the opportunity of applying their journalistic standards.

For many Arabs, Al Jazeera was and is an achievement for a better understanding of politics and society in the Arab world and beyond. With its unbiased and enlightened reporting, Al Jazeera has certainly also made many opponents, especially among those in the Arab camp, which consider a free reporting on the conditions in their countries to be detrimental. Western-style journalism does not necessarily reflect the tradition of monarchical or autocratic political systems.

Since Qatar’s political opposition to the ruling Assad regime in Syria has turned it into an indirect war party, some have accused pro-state Al Jazeera of broadcasting partisan coverage of the war in Syria. The current Egyptian government, which has come to power through a military coup, also complains about critical reporting and has closed the Al Jazeera office in Cairo as a result. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt demand that the station is to be closed. The government in Qatar, in turn, sees this as an inadmissible interference in Qatar’s internal affairs, insisting on independent journalism at Al Jazeera.

With its BE In Sports channel family, Al Jazeera has since become one of the most important rights-holders and recyclers for sports broadcasts in the Near and Middle East.

With all its education, culture, open debates and the named institutions like Doha Institutes, Qatar is considered by many Arab residents to be a leading center of modern critical thinking in the region.

Another center for arts and culture is the modern cultural village of Katara, right on the seafront between West Bay and The Pearl. Built in 2010, the village consists of concert halls, theaters and exhibitions, and also houses some of the country’s most important cultural institutions. These include the Doha Film Institute, the Qatari Fine Arts Society, the Visual Art Center, the Qatar Photographic Society and the Qatar Music Academy. Performances of opera and other music productions take place in the large Roman amphitheater.

Also based on the site of Katara is the Philharmonic Orchestra Qatar. It plays western and Arabic music and wants to inspire locals and foreigners to get to know and enjoy music from other cultures. The orchestra of professional musicians from Europe and the entire Arab world plays about 40 different musical programs each year. It gives concerts not only at home, but also around the world such in the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Konzerthaus Vienna.

The Qatari attachment to their tradition is reflected in the elaborately renovated Arab market Souq Waqif. Many galleries and shops feature artfully woven Iranian rugs, fragrances of all kinds, contemporary crafts, and countless restaurants and hookah bars.

As part of the Qatar Foundation, the Royal Stud Al-Shaqab is responsible for preserving the heritage and appreciation of the Arabian Horse Breed. The name of the stud farm and equestrian center is an area where fights took place between the ancestors of the Al-Thani and the Ottomans. The historic victory at Al Shaqab, in which horses played a special role, led to the independence of Qatar. Until today weekly horse races in the season are very popular within the population. The stud farm, which also maintains excellent relationships with German equestrian and hippological institutions, is one of the world’s most successful breeding studs for Arabian horses.

“Qatar, The Arab Capital of Culture 2010” was the starting point for a program that aims to create an international awareness of Qatari culture. The “Culture Years Program” brings cultures from all over the world to Qatar in order to create an understanding between nations. Under the auspices of Sheikha Al-Missaya bint Hamad Al Thani, Qatar Museums organized a variety of bilateral cultural exchange programs in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture. Thanks to the support of the partner countries, a series of exhibitions, concerts, competitions and cultural events have been organized. Previous years of culture took place with the following countries: Japan, United Kingdom, Brazil, Turkey and China. In 2017, the “German-Qatari Cultural Year” took place. The Indian-Qatar Cultural Year 2019 has already been announced to follow.

The rapid economic development not only led to a great wealth of the country, but also brought diverse cultural influences from other parts of the world into the country. The government of Qatar is taking this development into account by demanding respect for other cultures and giving them space in their own country. At the same time, the country is anxious to preserve its own identity. This seems even more important to the country’s leadership, as in the near future only one in ten Qatari people will be an “indigenous” Qatari.