In December last year Qatar announced banning the sale of alcohol in The Pearl, a luxurious residential community. This announcement, just like any other announcement coming from Qatar, invited a slew of opposition from both foreign and local media alike.
Speculations and predictions of Islamic takeover of the country and loss of insurmountable amounts of money washed over analysts’ writings. Some deeming this a natural by-product of the situation in Bahrain, others warning of negative implications it might have on Qatar hosting the FIFA World Cup in, yes you said it, 2022. The implications of this decision have been foreseen twelve years into the future.
After all the dramatic articles written on Qatar’s ban of alcohol I feel I must emphasise that the ban is not a general one but one that is concerned with a single area of the country. Qatar allows the sale and consumption of alcohol in up-scale hotels and certain designated areas and this specific ban will not affect the existing law.
Having said that, is it really that bizarre for an Arab country, which operates under Sharia Law, to take such a step?
Granted, Qatar practises a moderate form of Sharia, just like some of its neighbouring Gulf States, nevertheless it is still governed by religion. Gulf countries have no segregation of religion and state, therefore, are bound by the rules of Islam, hence my bewilderment at the extreme interpretation of this step.
The greatest cliché used by commentators today is playing the religion card at the first chance they get. None of those, who predicted and speculated, asked why this decision was actually taken. None of them stopped to wonder what propelled a moderate country like Qatar to issue such a restriction keeping in mind the increasing population of expatriates.
The Pearl is a residential community targeted towards families. Residents of this community have complained of loud noise and lewd behaviour occurring on the island due to the excessive consumption of alcohol. That combined with the increasing rates of alcohol-related car accidents and problems with alcohol addiction have resulted in social concerns as opposed to religious ones.
It is true that in most Gulf countries the population ratio tips heavily towards the expatriate, but that does not mean that governments should turn a deaf ear to the legitimate concerns of its people. One could even say that it would be unwise at this period of time to do so considering the highly charged situation in the Middle East.
It is unfair to speak on behalf of expatriates residing in Qatar and assume that a specific decision such as this one could affect their living standards. Expatriates, who choose to make Gulf countries their homes, are respectful of their rules and on the most part abide perfectly by their laws.
Other Gulf countries have a complete ban on alcohol, is it fair then to assume that all expatriates residing in these countries lead disruptive lives? On the contrary people are free to practise their religion for they are all religiously tolerant countries, where churches welcome worshippers just as mosques do.
The consumption of alcohol, just like the smoking of cigarettes, is a choice that can have negative implications on more than just their user. They affect the health and well-being of those in the surrounding vicinity. Qatar made a decision with the preservation and betterment of the community in mind and based on legitimate complaints.
This ban seems to have the most negative impact not on the country’s society but on its businesses. The major opposition to this ban came from restaurant owners on The Pearl and their liquor suppliers for people who wish to drink in Qatar can still visit places other than The Pearl. And so the inevitable question rears its head once again. Is it worth sacrificing the stability of society for the prosperity of the business world?
It is imperative that countries be welcoming and respectful towards their expatriate community, yet all the while hold on to the social and moral fabric of their society.
It is easy to fall into a pit of Islam-based generalisations when hearing of decisions coming out of an Arab country. It is best that we steer away from generalisations altogether for they rarely hold any truths and mostly rob us of common sense.
This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper on 22nd Jan., 2012.