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Monday, March 8, 2021

A recap of the first Doha News Community Meetup

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UPDATE: New Zealand TV channel 3News has posted a video and story about last night’s meeting, leading with the line that Gympanzee staff have been asked to speak publicly about the fire.

UAE newspaper The National also has a report from last night’s meeting, emphasizing new details about how the scene unfolded. In particular, a friend of one of the Gympanzee teachers who died on Monday said that security guards had told the staff not to worry about the smoke, hence why they didn’t immediately evacuate.

How many people have heard fire alarms go off in their buildings and told not to worry about it? Nearly every person last night raised their hand.

Therein lies the problem, said Khalifa Haroon, founder of ILoveQatar.net, during an emotional but constructive community discussion last night that he hosted with Doha News.

A diverse crowd of some 100 people gathered for the meeting to mourn the 19 people killed in the Villaggio fire and ask difficult questions about whether the tragedy could have been prevented.

“It was a system error,” one Qatari member of the audience said, pointing out, among other things, the failings of the sprinkler system, the fire alarm, the emergency response.

Who exactly is at fault remains a question that audience members couldn’t answer, only expressing hope that the investigation hold the appropriate people accountable.

Other topics of concern, including the safety of labor workers on construction sites, the Qatari/expat divide and the lack of an English-language local news TV station were also raised.

We may not be Qatari, but this is our home too, one expat told the audience, saying the relationship between locals and the majority foreign population is a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Which means, he added, that expats are equally responsible for bringing change to safety standards in the country.

Questions about the future of Doha News and our ability to operate here were also raised.

We shared that fortunately, we have not experienced any intimidation or censorship from Qatar for what we publish, and we believe that’s largely due to the high journalistic standards we hold when producing our content.

With regards to the future – we’re still trying to sort that out!

The evening concluded with a moment of silence following a heart-wrenching plea for answers from Gympanzee employees, who questioned the rescue effort and asked why innocent children had to die.

Credit: Photo by Shabina S. Khatri

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