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PHOTOS: The 2013 Qatar International Food Festival by Omar Chatriwala

Today is your last chance to check out the Qatar International Food Festival (renamed from the Doha Food Festival of previous years).

On at the Museum of Islamic Art Park, the grounds are sprawling compared to previous years, and between dining in the sky, snacking on the sea, walking through the numerous food stalls, or taking in the cooking and fitness demonstrations, it’s quite a spectacle.

Today’s hours are from 2pm-10pm. Vouchers are sold in QR40 increments, with a QR10 service charge - so make sure to buy more upfront if you think you’ll need them, to minimize service fees.

Also, parking at the MIA is limited, and has been closed off completely in the evenings. To avoid the hassle, park at one of the designated lots - at the Ministry of Interior building on the Corniche or a parking lot across from Al Sharq Village & Spa. A shuttle will transport you speedily to the festival. More tips here.

Thoughts?

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We’ve launched our first Doha News publication! 
dohanews:

Announcing Doha News | 2012 Year in Review - a publication of our most important stories of the year.
From the Villaggio fire to COP18 and the jailing of the poet Ibn Al-Dheeb, here we present the 10 stories and photo features of 2012 that resonated most in Qatar, and around the world.
Published via HP’s MagCloud service, the periodical is available on iPad app, Web Viewer and PDF download. You can even order a print version to anywhere in the world.

The magazine is 34 pages of advertisement-free journalism you won’t find anywhere else, including a 12-page spread on our extensive coverage of the Villaggio fire.
Proceeds from Doha News | 2012 Year in Review go toward supporting the work we do every day. (Full disclosure: The digital issue is priced at $3.99 and print at $9.99, but we’ll only make between $2.19-$2.79 per unit sold.)
If you want to get a look at all the stories featured, click through to MagCloud, and hit the “preview” button under the cover. It’ll let you flip through the whole publication, but will probably be too small for you to actually read.
Let us know what you think - would you like to see more of these publications? Would you want it available to purchase as a hard copy in book stores?

We’ve launched our first Doha News publication! 

dohanews:

Announcing Doha News | 2012 Year in Review - a publication of our most important stories of the year.

From the Villaggio fire to COP18 and the jailing of the poet Ibn Al-Dheeb, here we present the 10 stories and photo features of 2012 that resonated most in Qatar, and around the world.

Published via HP’s MagCloud service, the periodical is available on iPad app, Web Viewer and PDF download. You can even order a print version to anywhere in the world.


image


The magazine is 34 pages of advertisement-free journalism you won’t find anywhere else, including a 12-page spread on our extensive coverage of the Villaggio fire.

Proceeds from Doha News | 2012 Year in Review go toward supporting the work we do every day. (Full disclosure: The digital issue is priced at $3.99 and print at $9.99, but we’ll only make between $2.19-$2.79 per unit sold.)

If you want to get a look at all the stories featured, click through to MagCloud, and hit the “preview” button under the cover. It’ll let you flip through the whole publication, but will probably be too small for you to actually read.

Let us know what you think - would you like to see more of these publications? Would you want it available to purchase as a hard copy in book stores?

HuffPost Live invited me to join a segment with host (and former colleague) Ahmed Shihab-Eldin to discuss the case of Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami, who was sentenced to life in prison last week for apparently seeking to overthrow the government through his poetry.

What I didn’t realize was that the show, in which I was joined by journalists Amber Lyon, Imran Garda and Shirin Sadeghi was actually focused on “Al Jazeera’s Hypocrisy” for how it covered the poet’s story. 

Without a doubt Al Jazeera soft-balled its coverage of al-Ajami, who uses the poetic name Ibn Al-Dheeb (Son of the Wolf). As far as I know, there was no mention of him on either of Al Jazeera’s main news channels, and while a story was published in English on Aljazeera.com it was short and drew heavily from Reuters’ story, rather than on original reporting.

But is going soft on this not insignificant issue enough to completely undermine the credibility Al Jazeera has built story by story for years? Doesn’t seem like it to me.

Thoughts?

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Hundreds of Qatar residents marched toward the US Embassy in Doha after Friday prayer today, joining their voices to protests being held across the region against a YouTube video that disparages the Prophet Muhammad.

Police estimated at least 2,000 people turned out for the tightly-controlled rally, which was called for by prominent Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.

"There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger, Muhammad is our prophet, Muhammad is our love," was the initial chant as protesters marched from the Omar ibn Al-Khatab mosque alongside the Doha Expressway.

But another chant taken up by some was more controversial: “Obama, Obama, we are all Osama,” in evident reference to Osama bin Laden.

When asked about the Osama chant, one rallier, Hisham Al-Jindi, said it was meant to send a message. “We are at peace in everything, except our prophet. We can fight only for our prophet,” he said.

Others explained that they were at the rally to show their disappointment in the film. “The prophet is a good person, even non-Muslims agree on this. So, why is this always happening?” asked Indian citizen Asif.

Ahmed, from Egypt, told Doha News: “This is my prophet, my Islam is not like the movie.”

Attendees, however, said they also condemned the deaths of Americans at the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya. “The person who did this should be punshed,” said Asif.

Al-Jindi, too, felt the United States wasn’t at fault for the film, but wanted to send a message that its creator needed to be held accountable. “[If] one American makes bad things, it doesn’t mean all American are bad,” he said.

This was the same sentiment expressed by Sheikh Qaradawi himself. During the Friday sermon, he told those gathered in the mosque:

"It’s unfair to put all the guilt on a full nation, they are few Americans and some Christian Egyptians who live in the US [that are responsible]…

Going to the embassies and breaking it or throwing rocks at it or burning it is not the right solution. We need to ask the USA to have an official stand against such acts of insulting religions, like other European countries.

He also said Qatar is producing its own film about the Prophet Muhammad and spoke at length about Syria, saying that Qatar, Arabs and Muslims all support the revolution there.

Qaradawi called on all Arab countries to help Syria, in many ways, including sending soldiers and weapons to the Free Syrian army. “It’s their duty,” he said. 

The post-prayer rally opposite the US Embassy was separated by the multilane Doha Expressway, and didn’t end up last long. Held in temperatures over 40° C, those gathered gradually dissipated before a much smaller group marched back to the mosque to end the rally about an hour later.

Credit: Reporting by Omar Chatriwala and Mostafa Sheshtawy. Photos by Omar Chatriwala

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A peek into Qatar’s Ramadan charity iftar tents, photos by Omar Chatriwala.

Every night during Ramadan, thousands of people break their fast at tents and halls organized by charities and sponsored by companies and private donors across Qatar.

Although typically lower-income male workers, visitors hail from various walks of life, countries and professions.

We attended one last night, jointly organized by RAF and Msheireb Properties, for those who work or live in the Musheireb area.

Organizers estimate some 400 visitors come to this tent each evening, although they stress more people come on nights that they serve lamb over nights when they serve chicken.

The meals typically take place very quickly. In 10-15 minutes, men break their fast, eat the food provided in their boxes, deposited trash in the compactor outside, clean up and go to pray maghrib (sunset) prayers - either in the tent or a nearby mosque.

Do you live near one of these tents? Have you ever visited one?

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International advocacy group Human Rights Watch has launched a landmark 145-page investigation into the labor conditions of migrant workers in Qatar, highlighting issues of abuse and exploitation, often in direct violation of law.

The report, entitled “Building a Better World Cup: Protecting Migrant Workers in Qatar Ahead of FIFA 2022,” aims to shine a spotlight on the labor issue here as it becomes more urgent amidst massive infrastructure developments for the upcoming global sporting event.

Says Human Rights Watch (HRW):

"The deeply problematic working conditions of migrant workers throughout the country mean that realizing Qatar’s World Cup vision may depend on their abuse and exploitation unless adequate measures are taken to address the human rights problems widespread in the construction industry in Qatar."

The organization interviewed more than 70 migrant construction workers in Qatar, as well as employers, government officials, and diplomats from major labor-sending countries.

According to its report, workers routinely suffer poor conditions and low wages, making as little as $6.75 a day for 9-11 hours of work. Labor camps the organization visited also crammed between 8-18 workers into a single room, and offered no drinkable water on site, in direct violation of Qatar’s laws.


HRW’s photo gallery: Poor living conditions for Qatar’s workers. Photos by Sam Tarling


Despite the awful situation, most aren’t able to leave the exploitative situation due to:

  • Exorbitant recruitment fees, paid for with high-interest loans
  • The restrictive kafala (sponsorship) system that prevents workers from changing jobs or leaving the country without a sponsor’s permission

Qatar’s Ministry of Labor says it is “inconceivable” that there are instances of forced labor in the country, given that workers have a legal right to break contract. HRW responds:

Conditions of forced labor are not obviated by the right of a worker to break his contract and return home. When workers owe onerous recruiting fees, are not free to find new employers, and do not have custody of their passports, they are, in fact, very likely to be in conditions of forced labor, as defined by international law.

Although some labor rights are guaranteed under Qatari law, the report identifies significant flaws both in the monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure standards, as well as opportunities for redress on the part of abused workers.

For example, Qatar employs some 150 labor inspectors, but they don’t speak the common languages of workers, and never interview them in the course of inspections. And while the ministry maintains a labor complaints hotline, complaints can only be received in Arabic and English.

Workers who do manage to lodge formal complaints have succeeded. But the process can be lengthy, and workers must support themselves as they lose their jobs, salary and housing once the complaint is lodge.

It isn’t the first time these issues have been brought to light. A year ago, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) released its report and documentary about labor abuses here, and Qatar’s own National Human Rights Commission has done the same, calling for changes to the sponsorship system.

As yet, few tangible reforms have been made. But David Segall, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator, says Qatari authorities have assured them they are taking the findings “very seriously.”


Read Human Rights Watch’s report in full (sans photo feature):


Credit: Photo by Karen Blumberg

What are your thoughts on the report?