With reporting from Marium Saeed
This year’s National Day marked a turning point for Qatar, which celebrated the father and son who ruled over the country in 2013, and attempted to unify its burgeoning population under the theme of “One Love.”
Qatar definitely accomplished its first goal. Residents, for example, were besides themselves with glee yesterday morning when new Emir Sheikh Tamim and former leader Sheikh Hamad shook hands, hugged and kissed those eagerly receiving them on the Corniche.
Festivities were also undoubtedly the biggest they’ve been since Dec. 18 was established in 2007 as the official day that the country celebrates its past, present and future.
But in a country this diverse, home to more than two million people who hail from dozens of different countries, speak over 100 languages, observe different traditions and religions, and have vastly different economic situations, unity has proved to be a far more elusive aim.
Following a year of intense scrutiny over its treatment of the growing but vulnerable low-income expat demographic, Qatar sought to be inclusive this National Day, establishing a “One Love” theme with celebrations across the nation.
Expats were invited to partake in cultural events native to their own countries in West End Park, which had events for Indians and Sri Lankans; Al Wakrah Stadium (Pakistanis and Bangladeshis); Al Rayyan Stadium (Filipinos, Indonesians and Malaysians; and Al Khor Stadium (Nepalis).
Tens of thousands of people turned out for these festivities, and enjoyed them. But the problem appeared to when single men from these nationalities attempted to partake in some of the more mainstream events, like the Corniche parade, or the events at Darb Al Saai, which were belatedly declared family-only zones.
At the Corniche yesterday morning, hundreds of men were observed being turned away from the celebration. Speaking to Doha News after the parade, a Nepali expat named Bikash said he was asked to stay behind until the army’s march was over, after which everyone was allowed to enter past the security check points.
The exclusion – which also applied to families who turned up late to the parade – served as a stark reminder to some that Qatar is not an integrated society.
Perhaps demographics makes this impossible.
Men outnumber women three to one, and in seeking to preserve the comfort of females, certain events were determined to be family-only zones.
But not clarifying that earlier on prompted a chorus of protests from the excluded. On Facebook, Bernard Lo said:
Well I woke up early 3 am so that I can see the parade but sad to say we are there already in cornice and the security tell as to leave the area and not allowed to single or bachelor to stay in that area. this is not fair for as we are also expat who build your future.
Residents also expressed upset on Twitter:
Natonal Day on the Corniche somewhat soured by the sight of 100s of migrant workers blocked from entering. Petty and mean. #onelove
— Chris Leonard (@hooHar) December 18, 2013
— QIC Advantage Club (@Advantage_Club) December 18, 2013
Many have argued that while Qatar has its schisms, it is working to patch them, but that this will take time.
Khalifa Saleh Al Haroon, co-founder of ILoveQatar.net, put out this video in time for National Day, showing expats and locals from different walks of life coming together for a cup of coffee at the end of the day:
Despite good intentions, he drew flak for it from some critics, who said it doesn’t reflect reality:
— Faraz Abdul Latheef (@Brown_Shawarma) December 18, 2013
Meanwhile, Bikash said he and others in his situation are hoping for a change, so that single men can be included in all National Day celebrations.
But even if things remain the same, he added that he would continue to come to the Corniche at around 5 or 6am on National Day to watch the air shows at a distance.