A trip north

Zubara FortWe had a very nice day today with Amal on a half-day trip to the north of Qatar. The excursion began at 9:00 am when we were picked up by a driver from Qatar International Tours who took us to our first stop of the day: Al Khor, Qatar’s second largest city. There was nothing much in this sleepy city besides a beach and a museum. We were amazed to see how little development had occurred in the second largest city when compared to Doha. Somehow it made us feel grateful to live in the Qatari capital.

We continued our trip north and stopped by Zubara fort [seen here], which was built in 1938 for military purposes and used against the Brits and Bahrainis. This was followed by a stopover at some excavations nearby. We then made our way further north to the last point in Qatar before the sea: al-Rowais, where we stopped for lunch at a traditional Qatari house. We also got to visit a high-end tent Majlis (complete with pool table and A/C), which is where Qatari men hang out.

The falconerThere we had a nice chat with a young Qatari man by the name of Ali about traditional marriages here. Amal and I asked him about the Qatari marriage tradition of not seeing one’s spouse until the wedding night. Ali had no problem with it and fully respected it, saying his parents have been happily married for thirty years now following the same tradition. After our brief chit-chat, Ali took us inside an adjacent house where he raised falcons. He insisted on us holding the birds and taking pictures with them. This was loads of fun. Those falcons are just fascinating creatures.

All in all we had a great time. It is a trip I would highly recommend to anyone visiting or currently residing in Doha. It is always refreshing to see Qatari landmarks besides air-conditioned malls and five-star hotels.

Doha snapshots

Al Kut interior
Corniche pot fountain
Al Kut gate
This month we are going to be doing some exploring in Qatar primarily for a writing project we are working on and secondly to make sure we’ve seen most everything this country has to offer before we leave for good. Here are a few of the things we saw on today’s outing.

The first is the interior of the Moorish-style Doha fort, dubbed Al Koot fort, which is currently closed for refurbishing. We managed to sneak in anyway. The second here is of a famous monument along the Corniche: The one and only water jars. The third is of the gate of the fort, which was established in 1925. Qatar is famous for these beautiful medieval-looking wooden doors. All images enlarge on click.

Majida, the Lebanese diva

MajidaLast night, we once again conquered fear of another Doha terrorist attack and made our way to the city’s iconic Sheraton Hotel to see Lebanese singer Majida al-Roumi in concert as part of the Doha Cultural Festival. It was exhilarating. We had a blast! Majida gave a top-notch performance that I will personally remember for years to come. She kicked off her concert by praying for the safety of Qatar, something I found very considerate and unexpected.

Majida performs amid the stunning lightsHer first song was Beirut ma bitmout, or ‘Beirut won’t die.’ She performed it so passionately. It was very touching in light of the political tensions occurring there these last months. The audience — a good portion of whom were Lebanese — clapped and cheered as she sang the lyric calling for the "removal of the foreign hand," which I assumed was a reference to Syrian interference in Lebanon. This is the Middle East, you can never escape politics!

During the two-hour concert, Majida performed a number of masterpieces like Kon Sadeeqi, or ‘Be my friend,’ Kalimat, or ‘Words’ and 3am biesalouni 3aleik el nas, or ‘People are asking me about you.’ [links pull Real Audio feed] I surprised myself by knowing a number of her songs by heart. I guess they were buried there deep down in my subconscious.

Kon Sadeeqi in shaky closeupMajida looked absolutely stunning and performed so elegantly. I can’t believe she is almost fifty. She just looked amazing.

One interesting thing happened during the concert when a group of people that appeared to be Lebanese left the hall running with mobile phone to ear. I figured something must have happened like an explosion. I was right. As we were enjoying our time listening to Majida’s tantalizing voice, a bomb exploded in yet another Christian area in Lebanon. It is very sad indeed. But I quote Majida: Beirut Ma bitmout or Beirut won’t die.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had become over-saturated by the continual playing of the songs of Fairuz, another Lebanese diva. Last night I couldn’t help but wonder why Majida had yet to reach the pinnacle that Fairuz occupies in the hearts and minds of her Arab audience. Majida belongs at the same or even a more elevated position than Fairuz.

All in all, we had a great time! I’m still humming the tunes from the concert. I will definitely make sure to add some of Majida’s albums to our humble music collection very soon.

Doha blast update; responsibility claimed

Today, Doha residents gathered in the late afternoon to show support for victims and to condemn the attack. It has also been determined that the deceased, Briton Jonathan Adams, 40, was the director of the play taking place at the time of the attack. Additionally, the attacker, Umar Ahmad Abd Allah Ali, was apparently an Egyptian national that had lived in the Gulf state of Qatar for the last 15 years, working as an information technology engineer for state-run Qatar Petroleum.

The attack has been claimed by an as yet unheard of group calling themselves "Jund al-Sham Organization," or the Organization of Soldiers of the Levant, an area comprised of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. The organization issued a statement claiming responsibility, although that statement cannot be confirmed. They also indicated another statement would be released forthwith detailing "the martyrdom-seeking operation carried out by a lion from Jund al-Sham in Qatar."

Egyptian religious scholar Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi denounced the attack, telling Aljazeera.net "Islam strongly forbids the shedding of blood without a reason." Additional details on the story are available here.

Doha blast daylight photos

This morning I took my camera and headed to the blast site. I saw the damaged theater, a large number of local police in addition to some crime scene investigators. The blast was extremely powerful, as evidenced by the damage to the adjacent buildings. My full updated report is here; the deceased has been confirmed as Briton Jonathan Adams.

Glass was all over the street across from the theater and some house windows were shattered. It was a nasty scene! A number of the neighborhood cars were also damaged. The residents I spoke with were still shaken by last night’s blast and couldn’t believe that this was happening in relatively quiet Doha. Officials are now indicating that the bomber was an Egyptian national named Omar Ahmed Abdullah (Click here for photo). The Egyptian embassy is investigating the claim.

Here are some pictures of the blast site and the damage it caused to adjacent buildings. All images enlarge on click.

A blast-damaged BMW

A BMW damaged by the blast and resultant shrapnel awaits a tow-away.

Vip stop

A senior security official (in white) checks in on the continuing investigation.

Site cleanup

A crane is moved in to remove the larger debris, as the site is excavated.

Blast damaged neighborhood home

Damage to the front of a neighbor’s home where numerous windows were broken.

Investigation continues

Security and forensics officials continue to comb through the blast debris.

Blast shrapnel

A neighbor displays shrapnel found in the street after the blast.

Update: Additional information on the blast, including claims of responsibility and details on the bomber and deceased have been determined. They are further expounded upon in a new post here.

Post-blast contemplation

It is early here and I still can’t get my mind off last night’s bombing. What really blew my mind was the fact that I was just discussing the possibility of terrorist attacks in Doha the day before with my
friend Amal. She was telling me about the recent Qaeda statement warning of attacks in Doha and I just told her to brush it off. We’ve lived all of our life in the Middle East, I said … "We can’t live in fear all the time. Life has to go on." I was mistaken. Fear can actually reach you when you are so physically close to where an attack occurs.

I have to admit this has scared me. Life will not be the same here after what happened. We have to be vigilant all the time and will think twice before we leave the house. We were so excited about attending
next week’s Doha Cultural Festival — probably one of the most exciting things that happens here — but after what happened last night we decided not to go. A full theater could be a possible target. We
will pass.

To be frank, I was not surprised that this happened here. Terrorist attacks are happening in neighboring Saudi and Kuwait, why not here. In February of 2004, former Chechen president and rebel leader Salim Khan Yandarbiyev was blown up in Doha near a mosque by agents of the Russian government, says the Qatari prosecutor. Regardless of who, it made it clear, it could happen here.

The borders for GCC (Gulf Countries) members are open, any GCC resident can move freely. I hate to sound judgmental but the signs were here. Religious extremism is not a absent from Qatar. Only last week I was in a cab and the driver was listening to a speech encouraging people to go to Jihad across the globe. The preacher highlighted specific areas: Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir. The driver didn’t seem to be bothered by what he was hearing, he just sat quietly absorbing it all. The two of us listened to that speech in the cab from my house to work. It was still going when I got out.

The fact that an Egyptian national decided to blow himself up as a form of Jihad (since he’s killing mostly westerners) should not come as a surprise. Many here are likely being convinced by what extremists preach; brainwashing is possible, just sit in a cab all day listening to the sort of stuff I’m describing. I never felt this type of extremism in Jordan. People there are just more aware and
skeptical of whatever ideology comes their way. Things are, unfortunately, not the same here.

Stay tuned. An update is coming in the next few hours. I hope to have some pictures.