Book Review: Qatar
by Martin Caiger Smith
Note: This is an early edition of Qatar. You can now read our review of the new and much improved version of Qatar.
Which is ironic, because my principal pleasure in this book was seeing how different Qatar was when this book was published, 22 years ago. Much was different, from the young looking Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, then the Heir Apparent and pictured next to his father, Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al Thani, who also looked fairly young, to Doha, then virtually devoid of large buildings except for the Sheraton hotel at the end of the newly built Corniche.
It was also a much smaller country, in terms of population. Only 270,000 people lived in the country - just a fraction of the estimated 1,400,000 that inhabit Qatar today.
The book starts off with a fairly comprehensive introduction to the country, although much of the information is, of course, fairly irrelevant to the country today. The book also appears to have been officially commissioned, and an impartial view can hardly be expected, as this sentence from the introduction shows:
"Qatar, despite its small size and population and its relative youth, is a nation with a clear vision of its position within the Arab world and beyond, and is fully conscious of its role in international affairs. It is a nation confidently on the advance; yet it values its heritage and traditions and will not jeopardise its own strengths and identity in a headlong rush of development."
The last sentence is rather ironic given the breakneck pace of development that is taking place today.
However, the main purpose of this book is to showcase Qatar in a series of pictures, and this is also the main reason for buying the book. Pictures include dhows anchored off rocky coasts, and fishermen mending nets in Doha harbour; long sandy beaches (I must find out where!) and ruined villages along the coast; falcons in training and Qataris participating in traditional dancing.
Not every photograph is interesting - I am not sure why the publishers felt it was necessary to include a photo of paint cans, and I am personally not very interested in hospital corridors. However, it is because of the overall quality of the photos that I could recommend this book to anyone interested in how Qatar has changed over the years.