Qatar's dress code - we are not 'one of you'
The gap between provision and support for healthcare, higher education and businesses between Qatari citizens and expatriates is astonishing
Qatar has decided to impose a new dress code in the country. Quoting the constitution, the social media-based campaign urges tourists to cover shoulders and knees when in the country, and insists that leggings are not pants. While many fashionistas will agree that leggings do not replace trousers, the dress code has come under scrutiny from the general public.
Calls for modest clothing are not new, but this particular campaign seems to come at a convenient time, just weeks after a survey showed that two thirds of Qatari youth believe that the large expat population threatens the local culture.
The lines, however, seem to be blurred. Qatar seems to be edging off a cliff, wanting to take the leap into modernism but wanting to stay put at the same time. The country asks tourists and expatriate workers who help build the country and shape the economy to cover up and dress modestly, respecting the culture of the country but still offering alcohol and night clubs. This begs the question whether the campaign is driven by religious or social incentives. A classic case of “for your eyes only” is plaguing the nation, which turns a blind eye to alcohol consumption, which too is banned in Islam.
Respect is mutual
What seems to be most shocking, however, is the bold statement made on the fliers: “When you’re in Qatar, you’re one of us.”
Expatriates, who make up over 80 percent of Qatar’s population and drive 92 percent of the economy, do not even have access to free public education in Qatar. The seats in public schools are reserved for Qatari citizens, exceptions being made only occasionally.
Even when it comes to basic access to healthcare, citizens receive free public healthcare when expatriates are expected to pay an annual fee for access.
The gap between provision and support for healthcare, higher education and businesses between Qatari citizens and expatriates is astonishing.
The most valuable thing expatriates can own in Qatar is a car – not land, not businesses, and not property. How can the campaign even suggest that we are equal in Qatar when clearly we are not?
Even when it comes to employment, perfectly competent life-long resident expatriates are denied employment on the basis of their passports under the Qatarization policy.
Expatriates cannot even travel without the consent of their sponsors. How is it that the expatriate foundation that holds the ever-growing pyramid that is Qatar be treated like a commodity? Human beings are not a commodity or a service, and just as the country expects respect, it must respect its expatriate population.
All is fair in love and war
The Qatari dream: nice cars, gardens, and warm in summer heat. Long gone are the days when Arabs would make their way to the American Dream – Qatar is the new land of the dreams. Or so it likes to make the public think. This is after all what expatriates sign up for when signing a job contract in the country.
The government does not attempt to hide any of the inequalities between citizens and expatriates, and rightly so. If the country wants to offer its people a good life, then so be it. But the Qatari government cannot even suggest that expatriates and nationals are treated as equals. I do not expect a random government to offer me free healthcare, allow me to vote, or offer me the right to own anything more valuable than a car; the fact that I can do this in the UK as a student still amazes me.
While I completely respect the culture and traditions in Qatar, and I will happily adhere to the dress code, I do this out of respect for the citizens and the religion. I do this out of respect for the region and to preserve a culture and heritage that I believe to be extremely rich and strong. I will respect the dress code because I too believe that leggings are not trousers. The premise that expats and citizens are treated as equals, however, is something I do not respect and will not respect until basic rights are made equal in Qatar.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir