When images of the Doha International Bookfair fill social media each year, I’m reminded of the extraordinary journey I took to launch Qatar: Sand, Sea, and Sky at the 2011 bookfair. The origins of the book trace to the first week our family arrived in Qatar in August 2004, as my husband took up his post as the U.S. ambassador.
During that week, we visited many places including a stifling hot but delightful Al Shaqab Stud and a chilly City Center, then a large part of the West Bay skyline. Also during those days, I sent home a 17-page email to family and friends, and some of those words are part of the book.
With that in mind, I got out a copy of my book out last week and found that while the text and rural photographs still seem relevant, the cover photo of a dhow against the dramatic 2010 skyline is symbolic of how much change has changed since then.
Henry Dallal captured that great image as well as the other images in the book. We were up so many days in the pre-dawn to catch the morning light from Doha to Dukhan and from Al Shamal to the Khor Al Udeid in view of the southern border. We camped in the dunes, explored the mangrove swamps, rode and went falconing.
I return to the desert and the sea each time I’m back in Qatar and find those places essentially unchanged except for the positive focus on litter clean-ups and the archaeological restoration of old forts and villages. But Doha and other towns have burgeoned so rapidly that even locals get lost on the extensive new road system and offerings in almost every area are mind-boggling— new light rail, museums, schools, universities, hospitals, hotels, iconic mosques, museums, public art and a skyline that is reminiscent of my book cover but dazzling with so many more eye-catching towers.
Qatar: Sand, Sea, and Sky still makes me proud and creating it was the adventure of a lifetime. I still can feel the bedrock beneath my feet, the squishy sand of the mangroves, and the wind whipping through my hair as we rode horses on the bluffs of Umm Bab years before the monolithic panels of Richard Serra’s East-West, West-East.
Nonetheless, a new book is needed. I called this book from the brink of being printed when Qatar won the bid for the World Cup. Henry happened to be in the region and hopped a flight to catch exciting images of the bid team’s triumphant return to Doha, and I updated the text.
But the thrilling years between then and now, as Qatar pulled Vision 2030 forward by 8 years to complete projects for 2022 that take most cities decades to accomplish, remain undocumented in general-interest book form. I hope some of the talented Qatari photographers and writers take up the challenge!
-This piece was written by Diana Untermeyer, Author & QAI’s Cultural Advisor
The U.S. Embassy’s Booth at this years Doha Internation Book Fair
The @USEmbassyQatar had a distinguished presence in the #DBF2020 for the 25th time, by offering more than 7000 titles for American authors publishers and various activities for children in cooperation with the @qscientific. pic.twitter.com/rp0K2wmKMh
— معرض الدوحة الدولي للكتاب (@DIbookfair) January 14, 2020
(Image Source: Twitter – @DIBookFair)
On 19 December 2019, the New York Times profiled Doha’s famous falcon hospital. Author Tariq Panja detailed the advanced medical facilities at the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital, considered to be one of the most advanced in the world. Subsidized by the Qatari government, it treats over 150 falcons every day for regular checkups to threatening illnesses. The falcon hospital’s well-funded operation is a testament to the unique status the falcon enjoys in Qatar as a symbol of national pride.
The falcon’s importance in Qatar is unmistakable:
In Qatar, as in several other countries in the Gulf, the falcon fulfills a variety of roles, from family pet to status symbol to racing competitor. But falcons also provide an important and valued link to the region’s ancient Bedouin culture.
The falcon hospital offers some of the world’s most specialized and advanced treatments for the bird of prey:
Treatment options and special equipment offered by the hospital: blood and kidney tests; feather replacements; endoscopies. Speaking faster and faster, he eventually stops to draw a breath and say, “We have everything.”
Set over multiple floors, the facility, subsidized by Qatar’s ruler, treats about 150 falcons a day. Most of the birds come for checkups after being bought in the many shops selling falcons nearby, or to have what staff members nonchalantly describe as a mani-pedi, the falcon equivalent of a manicure in which its beak and talons are sharpened while under general anesthesia.
Hospital treatment procedures range from the mundane to life-saving:
Others arrive to have radio transmitters and GPS devices fitted so their owners can keep track of the expensive birds when they take them out to hunt. The devices are typically attached to tail feathers, though some require invasive implantation surgery.
The most serious work — orthopedic surgery to mend broken bones that in the wild would mean certain death — takes place in an inpatient unit housed on another floor.
(Image Source: Twitter – @ItalianFalconry)
On 07-8 December 2019, the Doha International Conference on Disability and Development was opened by HH Sheika Moza bint Nasser. Her Highnesses opening remarks focused on societal failures to address disabilities that are not visible; such as those brought on by psychological illness, environmental stresses, extreme poverty, and conflict.
“If our concept of disability is based on visible disability, and ignores hidden disability, then doesn’t the illiterate suffer from an educational disability? Is ignorance not an intellectual disability? Isn’t there also such a concept as a political disability? And isn’t the violation and assault against others a moral disability?” HH Sheikha Moza said.
She continued: “I also believe distinguishing people apart based on the definition of disability implicates a form of discrimination. Sometimes, I even feel that the exceptions we make for people with disabilities, with the intention of showing sympathy toward them, do more harm than good.”
The Doha International Conference on Disability and Development is a landmark event in the disability advocates community and was attended by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. The conference concluded with calls to make education and employment more accessible to those with disabilities, and for the global community to invest in their differently-abled brothers and sisters.
(Image Source: Twitter – @UN_Enable)
On Tuesday, 03 December 2019, the Qatar-America Institute was honored to participate in the Qatar National Day Celebration, held at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The annual event, hosted by the Embassy of the State of Qatar to the United States, welcomes government officials, various Qatari and American dignitaries, and members of the public to join in the celebration of the ascension of HH Emir Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani in 1878, who is considered to be the founder of the State of Qatar.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin gave remarks at the event. Each of the officials praised the strong relationship between the United States and Qatar and highlighted the economic, security, and strategic significance of the partnership, and called for continued cooperation and trust between the American and Qatari people.
The Qatar-America Institute (QAI) joined several other organizations, including companies, non-profits, and cultural, business, and educational institutions, in offering interactive exhibits that called attention to different aspects of the U.S.-Qatar relationship to attendees.
QAI welcomed event-goers to experience 9 different scents indigenous to the Arabian peninsula, and central to the economic and social life of Qatar.
Bottled in a traditional Marash, or small metal vial, attendees were welcome to smell or wear: Musk Rose, Saffron, Rose Saffron, Arabian Jasmine, Frankincense, Ambergris, Rose, White musk, and Agarwood/Oud.
Additionally, QAI exhibited a “Top 10 Facts About the Qatar-U.S. Relationship” display, providing for a brief educational introduction to key elements of the relationship.
Celebrants were also given the opportunity to sign up for QAI’s newsletter, enter in the FOCI photography competition, and given U.S.-Qatar flag pins.
The Qatar National Day celebration served as a visible reminder of the unity between Qatar and the United States, a gathering of friends, and a celebration of the rich history and culture of Qatar and its people. QAI was delighted to take part in this year’s reception and congratulates the Embassy of Qatar on its success.
November 21st marked the three-year mark before Qatar hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (S.C.), H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi, said during an interview that the preparations are now in full swing. In preparation for the event, Qatar will gain valuable experience by hosting the two upcoming sporting events (the Arabian Gulf Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup) before the year’s end.
The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy is tasked with overseeing all facets involved with the completion of the venues, infrastructure, and operations of the World Cup.
Secretary-General Al-Thawadi stated that two out of the eight stadiums are fully functional and that by midyear 2020 three more stadiums will be fully operational. All eight stadiums are expected to be ready by the end of 2021. Qatar’s national infrastructure plan is also on schedule, with the Doha Metro Red Line expected to be fully operational by the end of 2019 and the entire multi-line system to be completed within the first six months of next year. The Arabian Gulf Cup and FIFA Club World Cup will serve as dry runs for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. These events will allow S.C. to assess its preparedness in areas such as crowd control and fan experience to see where they are performing well and where further improvement is needed.
The SC is looking beyond just keeping development on schedule and getting a couple of trials. Secretary-General Al Thawadi also aims to breakdown stereotypes of the Arab world and further educate visitors on Qatari values and culture.
“First of all, we’re looking at building bridges. There’s no platform in the world today that brings people together like football – and in particular the World Cup – where people on a human to human level can build a very close relationship, can get rid of stereotypes, can appreciate the differences between us in terms of culture and backgrounds, but can nevertheless get together as human beings and as football fans as well.”
– H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
Secretary-General Al Thawadi pointed out that the World Cup has advanced and refined Qatar’s policies on four main fronts; economic development, human development, social development, and environmental development (the four pillars of Qatar National Vision 2030). Qatar has also taken large strides in improving migrant rights through the Workers’ Welfare reform and established programs such as Generation Amazing that uses soccer as a sport to help develop leadership and life skills for youth in underprivileged areas.
Additionally, Qatar has taken the impact of climate change into consideration as it prepares for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. An aspect of this policy is the creation of a solar farm that will play in making the 2022 World Cup the first carbon-neutral World Cup in history.
“My message to the millions of fans that are looking to come to Qatar in 2022: welcome to Qatar, welcome to the Middle East. We’re excited to host you, we’re excited to welcome you and for all of us to celebrate the greatest sport on earth and the greatest event on earth.”
– H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
(Image Source: Twitter – @visitqatar)
On November 26th, 2019, The Art Gorgeous, a digital periodical that focuses on art and fashion, published an article that highlighted the rise of Qatar as an attracting destination for fashion and art-related events. This was witnessed with Qatar Museum’s latest art exhibition, KAWS: HE EATS ALONE, held at Doha Fire Station, Garage Gallery.
The exhibit and installation commenced on October 25th, 2019, and will terminate on January 25th, 2020.
Most notably, the article emphasized the role and influence of 10 women in shaping Qatar’s nascent art and fashion industries. Some leading women in these fields include H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz bin Jassim Al Thani, and Marilena Koutsoukou.
H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is involved and engaged in multiple facets of Qatar’s informal and formal education and arts sectors: she is the chairperson of Qatar Museum, Doha Film Institute, and Qatar Leadership. Her current objectives are to improve and bolster the country’s human development, culture, and economic growth via the power of education, which in turn complements the goals in Qatar National Vision 2030.
Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz bin Jassim Al Thani, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and of the London School of Economics, is the Director of the National Museum of Qatar. Here, she provides her curatorial and managerial expertise and leadership, and, in tandem, she monitors the overall educational programs, exhibitions, and conferences held at the museum. Previously, Sheikha Amna bint Abdulaziz worked for Goldman Sachs at Qatar Financial Center and was the Director of Finance and Strategy for the office of QM Chairperson H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa.
Lastly, Marilena Koutsoukou is the Director of Muse/Lab. Marilena received a dual degree in International Relations and Economics from Tufts University and obtained an MA in Museum and Gallary Practice from University College London (UCL). In addition, other than her current position at Muse/Lab, she is also the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art advisor in the Middle East and cooperates with other cultural institutions in Qatar.
Currently, Marilena is occupied with her latest project, Aegean Desert: a photography exhibition of HRH Prince Nikolaos, who was inspired by Qatar’s mesmerizing deserts and Greece’s blue sea. This project marks the first institutional art collaboration between Qatar and Greece.
From a macro perspective, Qatar’s emergence and appreciation of the arts have made the peninsula an attractive international destination for many prestigious art institutions and artists, and, most importantly, it has underlined the country’s commitment to harnessing the arts to foster cross-cultural dialogue and understanding. Conversely, from a micro perspective, the predominant role of women in the country’s art industry demonstrates the fundamental role that women have in further propelling Qatar’s global prestige in the arts, including its sustained economic growth.
For further information on Qatar’s artistic revolution, TRT World, a Turkish international news channel, released a video on how Qatari female artists are spearheading Qatar’s art scene.
(Image Source: The Art Gorgeous)
The City of Houston proclaimed Tuesday, November 19th, 2019 ‘Qatar Day.’ Qatar Day was proclaimed by Houston Mayor Turner in recognition of the State of Qatar’s efforts to support Houston’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
The $30 million gift from Qatar supported recovery projects in the areas of education, housing, and community development. All of the contributions from Qatar, administered by the Qatar Harvey Fund, have been dispersed ahead of the two-year anniversary of the hurricane in August 2019.
The press release on the Qatar Day Proclamation from the City of Houston can be found below:
CITY OF HOUSTON PROCLAIMS “QATAR DAY IN HOUSTON”
State of Qatar is Recognized for $30 Million in Support After Hurricane Harvey
HOUSTON, TX November 19, 2019 – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner declared today “Qatar Day in Houston” to acknowledge the State of Qatar for its generous support of the city’s long-term recovery efforts following Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
In a ceremony in City Council chambers at the council’s weekly meeting, Mayor Turner read aloud and presented a proclamation to Qatar’s consul general in Houston, the Honorable Rashid al-Dehaimi. Council Member Jack Christie had requested the proclamation.
In his acceptance remarks, Consul General al-Dehaimi told members of City Council that the $30 million Qatar Harvey Fund was established soon after the hurricane upon the instructions of His Highness the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and that all of the recovery funds were allocated prior to the storm’s two-year anniversary last August.
The Qatar Harvey Fund is chaired by Qatar’s Ambassador to the U.S., His Excellency Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al-Thani, who said after the ceremony: “The State of Qatar has a history of providing humanitarian assistance throughout the world, including after Hurricane Harvey. We wanted to help our friends in Texas, where our relationships in business, education, and medical and cultural exchange go back decades. It is an honor for us that today is “Qatar Day in Houston.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said: “The Qatar Harvey Fund has helped our City immensely, providing the means to enable a more complete recovery from Hurricane Harvey. On behalf of the City of Houston, we sincerely thank the leaders of Qatar and look forward to their continued friendship.”
Jack Christie, the At-Large Position 5 Council Member, said: “We choose to honor Qatar for the exceptional kindness and compassion that Emir Al Thani, his family, and the great people of Qatar exhibited towards the City of Houston. When the city was at its greatest need, with citizens hurting from floods, homelessness, and educational deficits, our Qatari friends answered the call for aid.”
The Qatar Harvey Fund was established by the State of Qatar in 2017 to administer $30 million in long-term recovery assistance to the people of southeast Texas following widespread destruction from Hurricane Harvey in August of that year. The Fund serves as a commitment of solidarity between the people of Qatar and the people of Texas and the U.S. The entire $30 million has been publicly committed to recovery projects in the areas of education, housing and community development. For more information about the Qatar Harvey Fund, please visit www.QatarHarveyFund.com.
On November 10th and 11th, 2019, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCU-Q) hosted the prestigious 8th Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art.
The Symposium occurs every two years, with each edition having its own unique theme. For this year’s edition, the theme was “The Seas and the Mobility of Islamic Art.” The event featured a panel discussion and debate on various subjects and topics, such as “Seas Imagined and Depicted in Middle Eastern Art, Maps and Geography”; “Transoceanic Movement, Muslim-Centered Design, and Architecture in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries”; and “Islamic Art in 11th-14th Century Chinese Port Cities”.
VCUarts Qatar, which is located within Education City in Doha, has spearheaded the country’s development of its nascent design industry and creative economy. VCUarts Qatar actively engages and collaborates with VCUarts Richmond via student exchange programs.
The co-chairs for the Symposium were VCUarts Qatar Art History professors Dr. Radha Dalal, Dr. Jochen Sokoy, and Dr. Sean Roberts. The Art History Program offered at VCUarts Qatar is the only undergraduate degree program in the entire Gulf region that combines and integrates Islamic Art with the overall trends and transformations pertaining to globalization.
Most notably, the event also hosted acclaimed scholars and speakers from various international academic institutions, such as Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, SOAS University of London, University of Vienna, and the University of Melbourne. Lastly, the event also featured an art exhibition, “The Sea is the Limit”, at the University’s Gallery. The exhibition showcased artworks from international artists that addressed transnational socio-political issues, such as refugees, borders, migration and national identity. The art exhibition opened on November 7th and will run until December 7th, 2019.
(Image Source: Twitter – @MarhabaQatar)
Growing Film Education and Culture Together: Doha Film Institute Partners with The Qatar-America Institute
On November 18th, 2019, the seventh annual Ajyal Film Festival kicked off. The festival, presented by the Doha Film Institute, will conclude on November 24th, 2019.
The theme for this year’s Ajyal Film Festival is “Find Film, Find Life”. The festival will screen approximately 96 films from 39 different countries. Feature-length films and short films will compete for three Ajyal Juries awards for each category. A total of six awards will be handed to those involved in the production of the films and shorts. The event will also play host to interactive and community-oriented activities that foster cinematic and creative dialogue.
Most notably, out of the approximately 96 films submitted, 50 were from the Arab world and 56 of the competing filmmakers are women.
The opening of the Ajyal Film Festival commenced with Elia Suleiman’s film, “It Must Be Heaven”. The film narrates Suleiman’s experiences of leaving his homeland of Palestine in order to find a new one. Additionally, the festival hosted several high profile players from both the international and regional entertainment scene. Participating during the opening of the festival, American actor Chace Crawford, stated,
“It is my first time in Qatar. It is amazing to get the young generations into the film making to get to see the cinema, to see short films, independent films. It is nice to keep the independent spirit alive. [I’ve] never seen such a festival with children juries and I think [the] Ajyal Festival is amazing,”
Lastly, the film festival will also pay note and celebrate the Qatar-India Year of Culture 2019. In light of the year, the festival will dedicate a “Made in India” section displaying a series of short films presented by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images.
Growing Film Education and Culture Together: Doha Film Institute Partners with The Qatar-America Institute
On November 12th, the Qatar Embassy in Washington D.C. along with the Autism Society sponsored the third annual Autism Awareness Gala. The event’s theme was the “Spectrum of Opportunity” highlighting the importance of creating job opportunities for individuals that have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The night also centered around celebrating both small and large companies, as well as industry leaders that are working to create inclusive work environments and that recognize the value that those with special needs can bring to an organization and society, as a whole.
The event’s master of ceremonies was Michelle Kosinski, CNN’s senior diplomatic correspondent responsible for covering the State Department. Previously, she served as the network’s White House correspondent during the Obama administration.
Keynote speakers were H.E. Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al-Thani (Qatar’s ambassador to the United States) and Sultana Afdhal (CEO of the World Innovation Summit for Health – WISH).
The event also featured fabulous performances by Lea Michelle who made her television debut as “Rachel Berry” on the critically acclaimed, award-winning musical series Glee. Along with Michelle appeared Koda Lee, who is most known for participating and winning the 14th season of “America’s Got Talent.”
Additionally, Congresswoman Cathy Rodgers was honored as a special honoree for her role in the passage of the 2014 ABLE Act, one of the most prominent and comprehensive piece of legislation since the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The event also honored tech giants SAP and Microsoft for leading the industry in employing individuals diagnosed with ASD.
Lastly, the Autism Society in conjunction with the Qatar Embassy announced a special job fair specifically aimed at expanding opportunities to those diagnosed with ASD. The job fair will take place at George Mason University in February 2020.