In 1980, Qatar was a country of only 0.2 million people. Fast forward to today, and 2.8 million people call Qatar home.
It stands to reason that as the population has grown, the country would change, too. So, we spoke to some long-term expats to get their take on how Qatar has changed for them.
Imagine standing on the corniche, and the only building around was the now-iconic Sheraton Grand Doha Resort & Convention Hotel. Julie, an expat living here since the 1980s, says that the most striking change she has seen is with the infrastructure of Doha. She remembers Doha gradually building up around her, with the view from The Sheraton changing from vast emptiness to tower blocks going up, one by one. She also remembers a time where there was only one electronic shop called National. This is a far cry from the sprawling malls of today that are filled with various electronic shops from around the world.
It’s true that in today’s Qatar, the buildings are bigger and shinier. What was once upon a time a casual street, West Bay—Doha’s commercial district—is now an urban playground filled with skyscrapers and shopping malls. Other examples of the country’s transformed landscape include:
- the sprawling expanse of Doha Festival City and its famed IKEA store
- the undulating greenery of Katara Hills
- the colourful apartments of Viva Bahriya
Of course, you also cannot go without mentioning the impact of this country’s strong sports culture. Two of the most prominent manifestations of this are the iconic The Torch Doha hotel in Aspire Zone and the numerous newly-built world-class football stadiums.
Additionally, with expanding cities come ever-changing road networks. Chaotic single-lane roundabouts (remember the drama at Sports Roundabout?) have transformed into seamless four-lane highways. Journeys across the city are also infinitely easier with the newly-opened Al Shamal Corridor, which is a welcome alternative to taking different routes to the same destination each time. Getting from point A to point B has never been easier.
Qatar is certainly a world away from the sleepy town of forty years ago.
A Shopping Haven
The retail scene has also evolved. Today’s glamorous shopping mall experience cannot be more dissimilar to the unembellished open markets commonplace in the 1970s. In the last five years, we have seen the opening of luxury “super malls” like Mall of Qatar and Doha Festival City, representing the ultimate shopping experiences for tourists and residents alike. Cat, who has been in Doha for the last decade, calls the appearance of international brands and shopping labels in local malls “incredible”. It’s not uncommon to see the high street brands from Europe and America nestled alongside designer labels, with new brands constantly entering the market.
Even supermarket shelves reflect the ever-diversifying nature of Qatar’s population demographic, as you can shop for everyday essentials from brands from all over the world. Al Meera’s recent partnership with the UK supermarket giant, Sainsbury’s, for instance, is a striking example.
Kids Can Do More
“When I first moved here with two young children, five years ago, there were a couple of soft play indoor centres and Aspire Park to run around with the children in,” says Rachel, a mum of three. Since then, much has changed, with more places opening up that are both child and parent-friendly. “Now I have numerous options to take them to, from role-playing at KidZania to a wide variety of parks and playgrounds, all now with coffee shop options.”
A couple of other shiny examples include the newly built water park at Hilton Salwa Road and the Angry Birds indoor theme park at Doha Festival City. This trend has continued over the recent years, where (outside the current climate) there has been an increasing number of kid-friendly activities such as new indoor playgrounds, parks, and sporting activities. The options for the younger residents of Qatar are opening up exponentially.
One thing you expect when you live in the Gulf is sand—after all, it is the desert. You imagine sandy plains and towering mountains of orange sand. One of the biggest changes that Cat has seen is the change in surroundings. From seeing rubble and sand at every turn to little pockets of sprawling greenery. Notable green spaces include Al Bidda Park, 5/6 park, and Oxygen Park.
“When I first arrived in Qatar, everything had to be taken to each particular ministry in person. Over the years, as more has moved online, navigating processes such as renewing your health card or Istimara it’s become a much simpler process,” says Joey, who has lived here for six years. With the introduction of Metrash, Hukoomi, and more recently, EHTERAZ, the technological advances that Qatar has made have improved processes to no end.
From Unknown Entity to Brilliant Host
It wasn’t unheard of for people to say “where?” whenever you told them you lived in Qatar, with many often melding the whole of the Middle East into one lump place. “I often found that if my friends back home had seen something on the news about Dubai they would ring and ask my opinion on it, seeing as I lived there. Except I didn’t—no matter how many times I told, them they couldn’t get their heads ’round the fact I lived in Qatar,” shares Danielle, who moved here eight years ago.
Now, with the rise of international events taking place in Qatar and the lead up to the FIFA World Cup in late 2022, Qatar is firmly on the map. No more having to explain where you live. And no, it’s not Dubai!
A Gateway to the World
It’s hard to believe that Qatar Airways was only founded in the early 1990s, given its current powerhouse, five-star airline status.
Before this, the national airline was Gulf Air, which serviced the whole of the Gulf region. Rowan, a five-year expat in his late 30s, remembers his father, then a Gulf Air pilot, coming to Qatar when he was a child living in Bahrain. His father would stay in The Sheraton, with little else around, while he did flight simulator training. Today, Qatar’s own carrier flies to over 150 destinations, connecting people from every corner of the globe to this modern cosmopolitan hub.
More to Come
It is safe to say that Qatar has made massive strides in the last few decades. As further developments and international events head to Qatar, it is exciting to see what’s in store for the country as it continues to progress.