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Qatar, from A to Z: The top stories of 2015

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The past 12 months in Qatar have been filled with celebrations, tragedies and changes that have reshaped the nation and continued to leave their mark on the rapidly growing population.

As the year comes to an end, Doha News takes a look back at the most popular stories of 2015 – events that made us laugh, cry and buzz about life in Qatar.

From A to Z, here are some of the top stories that made 2015 a year to remember:

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap] is for the acquittal of five individuals held responsible for the deadly May 2012 Villaggio Mall fire.

Villaggio Mall
Villaggio Mall

In October, a Court of Appeals judge threw out several pieces of evidence used by the lower court to convict the individuals. That included testimony from family members of the 19 victims killed, some 13 of them children.

A month after the controversial ruling, Qatar’s attorney general directed prosecutors to appeal the decision to the country’s highest court, the Court of Cassation.


[dropcap]B[/dropcap] is for the baby boy born mid-flight aboard a Qatar Airways plane flying from Miami to Doha. The Boeing 777 was diverted to Gander International Airport in eastern Canada, but gained the extra passenger about 30 minutes before it landed.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

An ambulance and emergency medical crew met the plane and took the mother and her new baby to a hospital, where they spent the next day resting.


[dropcap]C[/dropcap] is for the construction crane that collapsed near F-Ring Road and old Airforce Roundabout, killing one man and injuring at least three others.

Crane accident
Crane accident

According to an official from local construction company MedGulf, which owned the crane, a subcontractor had been in the middle of installing the device when it toppled over.

The incident raised questions about construction safety in Qatar, fueling an ongoing debate about enforcement of pre-existing standards.


[dropcap]D[/dropcap] is for the dune buggy accident near Sealine beach that claimed the lives of two popular expat physical education teachers. Eamonn Morgan and Charlotte Sant were both in their 20s and had moved to Qatar in 2014.

Eamonn Morgan and Charlotte Sant
Eamonn Morgan and Charlotte Sant

The incident renewed questions about the safety of recreational sports in Qatar’s sand dunes and came several months after a Sri Lankan Airlines flight attendant was killed on a desert safari.


[dropcap]E[/dropcap] is for the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who began his third year as ruler of Qatar in June.

Emir Sheikh Tamim and US President Barack Obama
Emir Sheikh Tamim and US President Barack Obama

Though he has long stressed the need to cut wasteful expenditure, Sheikh Tamim’s address at the opening session of the Shura Council last month amid plunging oil prices finally seemed to hit the message home.

He drew considerable attention – and praise from many quarters – when he stated in frank terms that Qatar’s government can no longer “provide for everything.” In his speech, he also encouraged citizens “to take initiatives and be progressive.”


[dropcap]F[/dropcap] is the for the flooding that closed schools, damaged buildings and caused traffic in areas to come to a standstill last month as parts of Doha received a year’s worth of rain in nine hours.

Flooding near Ramada signal
Flooding near Ramada signal

Qatar’s prime minister subsequently ordered an investigation into why a seasonal storm caused so much chaos, which is expected to focus on damage caused to Hamad International Airport, the traffic department building, several schools and the Sheraton Doha.

Meanwhile, company owners, contractors and consulting engineers who may be liable for the damage wrought by the rain are being prevented from leaving the country during the investigation.


[dropcap]G[/dropcap] is for Gulf Mall, which opened its doors to customers in April, and opened the nation’s first IHOP in October.

Gulf Mall
Gulf Mall

Gulf Mall is the first of several shopping centers scheduled to open in the next few years, including the Mall of Qatar, Doha Festival City, North Gate Mall and Tawar Mall, which experts say will collectively lead to an oversupply of retail space in Qatar.


[dropcap]H[/dropcap] is for the human rights abuses that Amnesty International said in a recent report remain “rampant” on construction sites and in labor camps across the country.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However, the government has disagreed with this charge, saying it “does not accurately reflect the progress we have made in reforming our labor system” and arguing that Qatar is “committed” to protecting the nation’s hundreds of thousands of blue-collar expats.


[dropcap]I[/dropcap] is for the new ID cards that the Ministry of Interior announced in June to replace the passport stickers that explain the visa details of expats.

Qatar ID card
Qatar ID card

The new ID cards will have more information on them, including an individual’s home address. They are issued when residents go to renew their expired residency permits, and then serve as the only official document to prove one’s identity and residency here. Here’s what to do if you lose yours while traveling.


[dropcap]J[/dropcap] is for the jail sentences given to two senior Qatar Foundation (QF) employees for soliciting a bribe from an insurance company in exchange for renewing its contract with the organization.

In addition to the five-year prison terms, the two QF staff members were ordered to jointly pay a QR3 million (US$823,916) fine.

New public prosecution campaign
New public prosecution campaign

The two men, an Indian expat and a Qatari, were arrested in July 2014 during a police sting operation, amid a bigger push by authorities to curb corruption in government.


[dropcap]K[/dropcap] is for the kafala sponsorship reforms that were signed into law in October after more than a year of debate. The main change is that a new system to appeal refused exit permits will be added. However, contrary to an initial proposal, expats will still need their sponsor’s permission to leave the country.

Emiri Diwan
Emiri Diwan

Additionally, residents on fixed-term contracts should now be able to switch jobs once their contract is finished without their employer’s approval, though the government’s permission is still required.

Critics say the new legislation will do little for most expats, and point out that the changes are unlikely to take effect for another year.


[dropcap]L[/dropcap] is for the Land Cruiser melee on the Pearl-Qatar involving a shoving match and several SUVs ramming each other into a roundabout that was caught on video.

Dozens of residents blasted the incident as “shameful” and called for a heavier police or security presence, as well better traffic management, to help motorists control their tempers.


[dropcap]M[/dropcap] is for the mourning period of three days that was declared in Qatar for Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who died in January at the age of 90.

Saudi Arabia's late King Abdullah
Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah

Out of respect, Qatar groups canceled many events during this time, as tributes to the late monarch flooded in from the region and beyond.


[dropcap]N[/dropcap] is for the nine air-conditioning maintenance workers who were hailed for their bravery after they rescued 11 tenants from a burning building in Al Wakrah in June.

Rescuer Haider Ali
Rescuer Haider Ali

The men noticed smoke coming out of one of the buildings on the site and, after alerting their supervisor and calling emergency services, used their service ladders to reach the first-floor apartment windows.

Some members of the team climbed onto the roof of an adjacent building and crossed over to reach those trapped in a penthouse apartment.


[dropcap]O[/dropcap] is for oil prices, which remained low throughout 2015 and prompted forecasts that Qatar would run its first budget deficit in more than a decade. It also caused a spending freeze this year.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar’s finance minister said the country will not cancel major development projects or cut state fuel and food subsidies in response, but reports have emerged of budget cuts at state-funded organizations including Qatar Foundation, Qatar Museums and Al Jazeera.


[dropcap]P[/dropcap] is for photographing accident victims, which was explicitly criminalized under a new law approved by Qatar’s Cabinet.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

While lawyers said the practice could already be considered illegal under existing rules, the new law was the latest legislative effort by lawmakers to protect the privacy of residents despite the ubiquity of smartphones and social media.


[dropcap]Q[/dropcap] is for Qatar Petroleum, which underwent an eight-month restructuring process that is believed to have resulted in several thousand expats losing their jobs in response to low oil prices.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

As part of the cull, several long-standing and experienced staffers apparently had their contracts terminated, including those over the company’s official retirement age of 60.

Several months later, Qatar’s energy sector was hit by another round of layoffs as RasGas and Maersk Oil reduced their respective headcounts.


[dropcap]R[/dropcap] is for the runway lights that were struck by a Qatar Airways plane taking off from Miami in September. The Boeing 777 incurred “substantial” damage including a 46cm tear in the fuselage, but its crew – apparently unaware the aircraft had collided with the approach lights – continued their flight to Doha without incident.

Damage to aircraft and approach lights at Miami airport
Damage to aircraft and approach lights at Miami airport

An investigation found that the plane entered the runway from an intersection located approximately a third of the way down the runway. This left it without a sufficiently long stretch of runway to safely become airborne.

A preliminary report blamed miscommunication among the flight crew and mistakes by the captain. However, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker disagreed and said the error originated with air traffic control staff in Miami.


[dropcap]S[/dropcap] is for the sandstorms that swept through Qatar early in the year, which caused flight delays and school closures after covering the country in an eery orange haze.

Dust storm in early April
Dust storm in early April

The dust caused some 2,600 children to be treated for respiratory-related problems at public hospitals over a two-day period in January alone.


[dropcap]T[/dropcap] is for turbulence, which caused abrasions and other injuries to some 40 passengers aboard a Qatar Airways flight as it approached Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport
Ninoy Aquino International Airport

Passengers waiting to board the return flight said they saw people coming off of the affected aircraft on wheelchairs and being met at the airport gate by medics with first aid kits and at least one small oxygen tank.


[dropcap]U[/dropcap] is for the US Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which warned international companies operating in Qatar about two separate incidents in which company bus drivers were attacked and injured.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Both incidents took place on the under-construction QR3.26 billion orbital expressway and truck route that is being built between Al Khor to the north of Doha and Mesaieed to the south of the capital. In one of the incidents, a man driving an SUV pulled over a minibus and reportedly fired a gun at the other vehicle.


[dropcap]V[/dropcap] is for Victoria’s Secret Fantasies: Strawberries & Champagne perfume and scented lotions that were pulled off store shelves in Qatar for contravening the “customs, traditions and religious values” of the nation.

Strawberries and Champagne lotion.
Strawberries and Champagne lotion.

Acting on complaints, inspectors from the Ministry of Economy and Commerce also removed bottles of perfume that featured the Playboy bunny logo.


[dropcap]W[/dropcap] is for the wage protection system that came into effect this year, requiring companies to pay employees electronically through direct deposit.

The measure is aimed at making it easier for expats and the government to scrutinize and document any late or non-existing payments, one of the biggest complaints among blue-collar workers here.

Residents line up at a bank to open accounts ahead of the WPS.
Residents line up at a bank to open accounts ahead of the WPS.

However, its rollout saw several hitches including long lineups outside banks as expats waited to open an account and a rare strike at the Msheireb Downtown Doha construction site, where a subcontractor said technical issues prevented it from paying workers.

Entering 2016, several blue-collar expats are still viewing the new system with skepticism.


[dropcap]X[/dropcap] is for the x-ray machines, metal detectors and other security scanning equipment that appeared at malls, hotels and the religious complex this summer in the run-up to the Eid Al Fitr holiday.

Newly installed metal detector at Marriott Marquis Doha.
Newly installed metal detector at Marriott Marquis Doha.

The measures were the result of a government directive and followed a deadly mosque attack in Kuwait, in which 27 people were killed and more than 200 injured.


[dropcap]Y[/dropcap] is for Yemen, where some 1,000 Qatari soldiers were deployed to fight Houthi rebels in early September. The move came several months after Qatar joined an aerial bombing campaign of Yemen and marked an escalation in Qatar’s involvement in the conflict.

Muhammad Hamid Sulayman, soldier killed in Yemen
Muhammad Hamid Sulayman, soldier killed in Yemen

Meanwhile, a Qatar special forces soldier was killed in November, the country’s first reported casualty in the conflict.


[dropcap]Z[/dropcap] is for Zaiqa, an Indian restaurant in the Industrial Area that began offering free meals to some of its cash-strapped customers in March.

Zaiqa restaurant
Zaiqa restaurant

The generosity elicited praise from people across the country, but many also expressed anger that some residents of Qatar – one of the richest countries in the world – could not afford a simple meal.

One person living in the Industrial Area at the time said many people residing in the vicinity struggle to afford food because they are not paid on time.

What was your top story of the year? Thoughts?

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