Qatar Cultural Awareness Information for Employees
Wees Furniture Company Employee Handbook (fictional)
By: Amy Wees
Wees Furniture Company (fictional)
The Qatari Emir (head of state) recently invested in a multi-billion dollar project to increase tourism, business, and education in the region. There will be a great need for high quality American furniture to accommodate new hotels, schools, and other tourist facilities. As a result, the Wees Furniture Company has opened a new division in Qatar in partnership with local furniture business professionals.
As an employee being sent to this new facility, you will be expected to adhere to local customs and courtesies and also understand how to best communicate with your Qatari counterparts in making sales calls and business partnerships in the area. This briefing is designed to introduce you to Qatar, its people, and culture and help you settle in and feel comfortable in providing excellent customer service for Wees Furniture Qatar.
Please review the associated power point presentation for visual aid.
Qatar (pronounced “cutter”) is a peninsula in the Persian Gulf 4,247 square miles in area (about the size of Connecticut) located in the Middle East (also referred to as South West Asia or “the gulf”). The capital of Qatar is Doha. Nearby countries include Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The land in Qatar is mostly desert and barren and the weather is warm with very hot humid conditions in the summer. (Funk & Wagnalls, 2002)
The history of Qatar is long and complicated, as is most history in the Middle East. Although the state has been inhabited since the Stone Age, Islam was introduced in 7th century a.d. and remains the primary religion and source of cultural values in the area today. After 7 a.d. Qatar became a part of the Ottoman Empire and Iranians ruled the state until the 18th century when the Saudi Arabian Wahhabis won control. The Thani dynasty and Ottoman Turks ruled during the 19th century leading into modern history. (Funk & Wagnalls, 2002)
In 1916, although still being ruled by the Thani dynasty, Qatar became a British protectorate until 1971 when the British left the area. At that time Qatar joined the United Nations with Emir Ahmad bin Ali Al-Thani at its head and claimed its official independence on September 3, 1971 (U.S. Department of State, 2010). The Al-Thani had a family history in the region for over 200 years and in 1972 Ahmad’s cousin Khalifa bin Hamad took over as emir and attempted to modernize Qatar by bringing in fertilizer and steel industries and working closely with Saudi Arabia and other western countries. In 1995 Khalifa’s son Crown Prince Hamad over threw his father and took the reins. Crown Prince Hamad expanded ties with Isreal and modernized the government to include allowing more freedom of speech in the media and holding municipal elections allowing women to vote and run for public office for the first time in 1999. (Funk & Wagnalls, 2002) A municipal council was formed as a result of these elections.
Most recently in 2001 the UN International Court ruled that the nearby island of Bahrain would maintain its territory but would no longer own land in the Qatar peninsula. Qatar and Saudi Arabia also came to a border agreement and signed a treaty to that effect. There has been no change in the ruling of the country from the Al-Thani family. After public disapproval of Crown Prince Hamad’s oust with his father over the thrown and abuse of his power as emir, he relinquished his position to his younger brother Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al-Thani (Qatar, 2010). A new constitution was approved by the public and came into effect in June, 2005. (U.S. Department of State, 2010) Sheikh Tamin was also named Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and made significant changes to corrupt public offices as well as appointed the first women to the Qatari cabinet (Qatar, 2010).
Qatar is a traditional sheikdom (meaning it is ruled by a Sheik). Although there are modern elements to the political system with recent changes made in voting rights and the constitution, Qatar remains an absolute monarch with the Al-Thani family holding many senior government posts (Qatar, 2010). After public disapproval of the corruption of Al-Thani cabinet members, the new constitution calls for 35 of the 40 cabinet members of the Consultative Council to be elected by the people, the remaining five to be appointed by the Sheik (Qatar, 2010).
There are no political parties in Qatar but the sheikdom has several modern governmental committees and departments similar to those in democracies such as five secular courts (criminal, civil, labor, appeal and religious), a human rights committee, trade, education, environmental and commerce departments just to name a few (Al-Khatib & Al-Abdulla, 2001).
Qatar has been a leader in the Middle East peace process and has set a positive example for accepting and welcoming foreigners despite numerous historical battles over territory and religion with many neighboring countries. Qatar has opened embassies in neighboring countries and Western countries and has even built a bridge to the island of Bahrain (Qatar, 2010). The country has made many strides toward a positive political system but foreigners looking to open businesses in the nation do report some difficulty in certain areas that have not yet been completely defined.
When Middle Eastern countries are depicted in movies, the buildings and cars are often elaborate and ritzy. Qatar is no different as it is one of the richest nations in the gulf due to the vast reserves of oil and natural gas, even though the country only produces a fraction of total Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) output. Oil has been produced for export since 1949 (Qatar produced 800,000 barrels per day in 2005) and contributed to modernization and build-up of schools, hospitals, roads, and government utility facilities during the oil boom of the 1970’s. During the 1980’s there were declining oil prices and this led to some of the previous infrastructure projects being left unfinished due to lack of government funds and investments. Luckily the oil prices have since recovered and remain a steady flow of income for the government (Qatar, 2010).
Qatar’s economy also depends on export of liquid natural gas as the country has the third largest reserve in the world. Demand for natural gas is high because of lack of reserves and as a result the Sheikdom and many other countries have invested in Qatar’s natural gas industry. The government has also established joint ownership with private owners in other small and medium scale industries as well as a Qatari stock exchange to encourage foreign investments. The plan has apparently worked as more and more business investor’s flock to Qatar to take advantage of new opportunities after the recent investments by the Emir in education and tourism projects. The future is bright for the country with recent GDP growth of 11 percent and over $60 million invested in new projects (Qatar, 2010). Today, oil and natural gas income account for 60 percent of GDP and 80 percent of exports. Based on the amount of product reserves, Qatar has a very good balance of trade. Cement, fertilizer and other petroleum products are also manufactured here and herding accounts for most of the agricultural profession (Funk & Wagnalls, 2002).
Qatar uses the riyal (pronounced “ree-al”) for currency and according to the XE.com currency conversion website; one U.S. dollar is worth 3.64 Qatari riyals. In 2006 there were revenues of $21 billion and $17 billion in expenditures. In addition to ongoing infrastructure projects, there is also free healthcare and education. Media such as books, radio and television is somewhat controlled by the Sheikdom but the news network Al-Jazeera, frequently cited for its free speech and uncensored content, gives a voice to many in the Middle East who may not otherwise be able to speak out publicly; including terrorists. Telephones, cell phones and internet are commonly used and available in the area (Funk & Wagnalls, 2002).
According to the 2004 census, the population of Qatar was 774,029 with foreign nationals accounting for 80 percent of the population. The estimated population in 2008 was 958,000 with an estimated 75 percent or more being non-nationals. Many foreigners are migrant laborers from neighboring Arab states. The largest urban areas are the cities of Doha and Rayyan. While the official language is Arabic, English is commonly used in business and government practices (Funk & Wagnalls, 2002). Children generally attend school from ages six to sixteen and the literacy rate is 89 percent (U.S. Department of State, 2010).
The population is mostly made of men (70 percent) because many migrant workers who come from nearby countries are young and single or do not make enough money to move their families to Qatar. Foreign employers also prefer to hire single men so that they are not responsible for their families as well as the employee. Men outnumber women in the workforce nearly three to one and although younger women are often more educated than their male counterparts, cultural norms in the region keep women from additional employment and educational opportunities (Berrebi, Martorell, & Tanner, 2009).
Lifestyles and the Labor Market
The government, law and lifestyle in Qatar are based on the Islamic religion of Sunni Muslim natives, even though they make up a lessor part of the mostly Arab population. Women have more freedom in the workplace and government than in other Gulf nations but most still wear the traditional veils over their faces in public, have arranged marriages and listen to male family member’s guidance and commands (Qatar, 2010).
Qatar’s wealth is shared with citizens and residents through government subsidy of many living expenses such as taxes, water, electricity, and other services (Berrebi, Martorell, & Tanner, 2009). Education and higher education is also made available at little or no cost to Qataris and foreigners. Survey results show men having more education than women, but more women reaching higher education levels annually. Unemployment is also higher for women than men, perhaps as a result of women not wanting to participate in the labor force. Unfortunately, in 2001 the unemployment rate for first time job seekers was about 12 percent. This is due to long waiting periods for government jobs and a lack of education and training for Qatari’s to obtain jobs in the public market. The Monarchy tends to favor Qatari citizens over foreigners and is looking to improve the overall education system so that citizens can compete with the demanding industrial work in the region (Berrebi, Martorell, & Tanner, 2009). One example of this favoritism is business ownership; in order for a foreigner to open a business in Qatar, a Qatari citizen must own at least 51 percent of the new business, an attempt to ensure Qatari participation in all business interests.
The labor force statistics are a result of the lack of skills of Qatari’s to work in the private sector and have led to a very segregated work force between citizens and foreigners in business. 70 percent of foreigners work in the private sector which accounts for 80 percent of Qatar’s total workforce. Foreign women work mostly in the household sector because they have come to the nation to be servants. Qatari women generally do not work in the household sector at all; instead 85 percent of them work in the public sector, over half as educators. Only four percent of Qataris work in the private sector, the rest entirely employed by the government. Many Qatari men are more educated than their non-Qatari migrant counter parts but stay out of the private sector because of the incentive to gain shared wealth from the government petroleum and natural gas industries. Sadly as a result of this incentive, Qatar’s private sector is run almost entirely by foreigners (Berrebi, Martorell, & Tanner, 2009).
For a Qatari business owner there are positive and negative elements to hiring foreigners. Some feel that foreigners will not share or respect the land, society and cultural practices, and the pride of the nation. Others feel that the benefits of cheap labor from unskilled workers, the need for household servant work, benefits from highly skilled foreigners and the overall contribution to Qatar’s competiveness and economic growth is worth the risk. At the end of the day, the government does realize that it is necessary for more Qataris to take part in the private sector in order for Qatar to maintain its identity and culture and compete with global industrialization (Berrebi, Martorell, & Tanner, 2009). As a result of this realization, the Monarchy has created “Qatarization”, a set of laws in the public sector to ensure that a certain percentage of new hires in specified industries are Qatari citizens. This “Qatarization” has made little impact thus far because of the preference of Qataris to work for the government but hopes are that better future educational programs will improve the situation (Berrebi, Martorell, & Tanner, 2009).
Culture, Traditions and Expectations
A visitor to Qatar can expect a wave of different cultures and nationalities. In a paper written by Sharon Nagy about social diversity in Qatar she describes this experience:
“A visitor to Qatar’s capital, Doha, is likely to be assisted at the airport by a Nepalese luggage handler, driven to their hotel by a Yemeni taxi driver, greeted by an Indian front-desk clerk and checked inot a room prepared by a Sri Lankan housekeeper. An outing to the malls puts one in contact with Filipina and Ethiopian retail clerks. While on a trip to the market, most purchases are made from Iranian or Indian merchants. Even business meetings are likely to be attended by a mixture of Qatari, Lebanese, Egyptian or European collegues. A range of clothing styles is seen in Doha’s public spaces – from saris and salwar khameez to business suits and blue jeans. Businesses, services, and administrative procedures are designed to accommodate and serve the various nationalities. While the fast-food restaurants at major intersections appeal to the range of nationalities, many other restaurants cater to the palates of south Asian, Filipino, Egyptian, or African residents. The supermarket shelves are stocked to satisfy the range of tastes, everything from torillas and poppadoms to vegemite and peanut butter. Schools, too, have been established for the children of foreign residents teaching the curriculum of the home country (Nagy, 2006).”
Despite all of the diverse nationalities present in Qatar, there are less poor in the area than in other Middle Eastern states. Most of the foreigners present in Qatar came there first for work or for investment, not because of colonization from a European power. You will still find areas that cater to certain nationalities but the crime levels are low and acceptance of foreigners to these areas is high. “An Indian barber – for example, would not refuse an Arab or European customer (Nagy, 2006).”
The most important and most formalized form of social differentiation in Qatar is nationality; specifically, whether one is a Qatari citizen or not. It is a big deal to be a Qatari and if, for example, you were born and raised in Qatar but your parents are of a different nationality, you may have trouble being recognized as a “true Qatari”. Even though some foreigners have lived in Qatar for more than 10 years or for the greater part of their lives, there is no formal procedure for naturalization and therefore these foreigners remain visitors to the area. These “visitors” are mostly controlled by their employers who act as their Qatari sponsors and “in many cases hold the employee’s passport and provide housing, clothing, meals, and sometimes even their free-time (Nagy, 2006).” The power to distribute political and economic resources as well as to control a foreign employee’s legal, economic and social status is held by the Qatari sponsors in most cases and therefore the Sunni Muslim traditions are held up in business practices despite foreign presence in the region. (Nagy, 2006)
Nationality is also linked to occupation and financial status in Qatar. For example, it is common to describe someone as the ‘French doctor’, ‘Indian Engineer’ or ‘Filipina Nurse’ and this has contributed to discrimination in hiring practices because recruitment for specific jobs is done through the home country (Nagy, 2006). Salaries are commonly set to be a bit higher than what is received in the home country during recruitment so with incentives such as employer provided housing and significant tax savings the move is worthwhile to many. Salaries do differ by nationality because they are based on salaries in the home country, therefore a medical professional from the Philippines may make more than one from Indonesia. The justification for the difference in economic status is that these workers are still better off than they would have been in their home country (Nagy, 2006). U.S. businesses in Qatar also follow these recruiting practices.
Housing is another way in which Qataris distinguish themselves from foreigners. Qatari citizens are given no-interest loans and are able to build any type of elaborate housing they would like for themselves and their families on private land plots. The government also pays for Qatari’s water and electricity usage whereas foreigners must pay full rates. Foreigners and foreign business owners are only allowed to build commercial type properties for themselves and their employees to live in thereby separating housing conditions of citizens and foreigners. Land use policies, higher rental rates, and resistance from citizens also limit foreigners from renting outside of their walled-in rental compounds and living in most Qatari residential communities. An old Qatari proverb states that a neighbor is more important than the house. In interviews with Qatari citizens, many prefer to live in Qatari neighborhoods only where there are no foreigners and, due to their Muslim faith, women can freely move between homes without a male escort. The Muslim faith also does not allow drinking of alcohol and has many other strict practices. Qataris openly complain and stereotype neighbors according to their nationalities such as “uncleanliness of Asians, sexual promiscuity of Filipinas and loud parties of Americans and Europeans (Nagy, 2006).” There are also various religious sects, family backgrounds and cultures within Qatar and specifically Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims from different backgrounds do have prejudice within the Qatari culture. It is important to point out that although there is an apparent distinction between Qatari’s and foreigners, Qataris do not prefer to talk about their religious sects or specific Qatari heritage with foreigners. (Nagy, 2006)
Business laws require Qatari citizens to own 51 percent of a foreign invested business. There are no taxes levied on companies wholly owned by Qatari nationals to include payroll, property, municipal, sales, withholding or value-added taxes. Foreigners can apply for tax exemptions and tax holidays for periods of five to ten years. Imported goods are not taxed if purchased from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries but importing goods that can be made in Qatar can run up to 70 percent in duty rates. Some major national projects and contractors working on them are however granted duty exemptions. Import or sale of pornographic material, alcohol and pork are forbidden by local law and there are no export taxes issued in Qatar (Al-Khatib & Al-Abdulla, 2001).
Labor laws require that employment contracts be written in Arabic first above other languages. A work week in Qatar lasts six days per week and eight hours per day. Overtime is required over eight hours and employees receive two weeks of leave per year. Unions are not permitted (Al-Khatib & Al-Abdulla, 2001).
Important things for foreign employees to know
(2008). CIA – The World Factbook — Qatar. CIA World Fact Book, 1. Retrieved from Military & Government Collection database.
(2002). QATAR. Retrieved from Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia database.
Al-Khatib, F., & Al-Abdulla, S. (2001). The state of Qatar: a financial and legal overview. Middle East Policy, 8(3), 110. Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database.
Berrebi, C., Martorell, F., & Tanner, J. (2009). Qatar’s Labor Markets at a Crucial Crossroad. Middle East Journal, 63(3), 421-442. Retrieved from Historical Abstracts database.
Ford, N. (2007). Qatar: the sky’s the limit. Middle East, (377), 25-28. Retrieved from Military & Government Collection database.
Lay, A. (n.d). Interpretations of Islamic Practices Among Non-Qatari Students Living in The University of Qatar’s Ladies Hostel. Springer Science & Business Media B.V. doi:10.1007/s10624-005-0826-1.
Nagy, S. (2006). Making room for migrants, making sense of difference: Spatial and ideological expressions of social diversity in urban Qatar. Urban Studies (Routledge), 43(1), 119-137. doi:10.1080/00420980500409300.
Qatar. (2010). Political handbook of the world 2010. Washington: CQ Press. Retrieved August 5, 2010, from CQ Press Electronic Library, Political Handbook of the World Online Edition, http://library.cqpress.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/phw/phw2010_Qatar. Document ID: phw2010_Qatar.
U.S. Department of State. (2010). Background Note: Qatar. Retrieved from http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5437.htm
U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Consular Affairs. (2010). Qatar country specific information. Retrieved from http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1003.html