Saturday, March 03, 2012

Intolerable Acts

This town
Is gonna be like a ghost town.
All the clubs have been closed down.

This place
Is gonna be like a ghost town
Bands don't play no more
(Too much fightin' on da dancefloor)

The presence of intoxicating alcoholic beverage in Qatar has for many years been a touchy subject. On one hand, we have an indigenous society for whom alcohol is forbidden by both religion and the law of the land, and on another there is a majority of residents who regard a drink as a normal part of adult life.

So for many years there has been an arrangement whereby non-Muslim residents have a permit to acquire liquor for personal consumption in private. It’s also possible to buy and consume liquor in certain hotel bars and restaurants. Current practice is that any prospective drinker has to present a valid passport or ID card before being allowed in. Whether this is to shame us into not actually visiting a bar (good luck with that), or to keep track of who drinks, or is merely a way of giving a couple of doormen something to do is unclear.

And then a couple of years ago, everything changed as The Pearl appeared. This man-made development, won from the ocean by reclamation, isn’t technically in Qatar. It’s a gated community on what is almost an island. The normal rule that non-nationals can’t own real estate doesn’t apply, and thus foreigners have purchased apartments and business units. It’s luxury living, with the developments in crescents around marinas full of motor yachts. We all know how waterfront properties command high prices, don’t we? 

Another aspect of the not-quite-in-Qatar-ness of The Pearl is, or more accurately was, the relative freedom to buy drinks.

Until, according to one of my associates who “saw it happen”, there was a punch-up.

A couple of drunks have a fight, and are presumably arrested, fined, given very short haircuts, imprisoned, and deported. Good: most adults are fully capable of imbibing without becoming incoherent or aggressive. Assault, drunken or otherwise, is unacceptable; it is right and proper to punish the guilty.

The Qatar authorities have reacted by shutting down all liquor outlets throughout The Pearl. This appears to be a form of collective punishment. Why should all residents, all visitors, all businesses, and all employees suffer because of the unacceptable behavior of a tiny minority? Restaurants that did a booming trade up until the liquor ban still have to pay their high waterfront rents , but now struggle to find customers. Businesses close down. Employees lose their jobs and have to go home. Their children don’t get educated. Their relatives don’t get medical care.

Incidentally, I await with interest to outcome of the discussions between FIFA and the State of Qatar with regard to the supply of vast quantities of booze to very large numbers of thirsty foopball fans. In Brazil, the 2003 law preventing sale of beer in foopball arenas is in direct conflict with Budweiser being a major sponsor of the tournament. “The selling of beer in stadiums is part of the fan culture and will also be part of the 2014 FIFA World Cup,” said FIFA in January. And what about in 2022?


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