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Qatar hero

Posted by Charles P. Pierce  December 2, 2010 12:36 PM

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This Blog can say with complete confidence that, as far as your basic repressive, oil-sodden, anti-democratic, hereditary oligarchies go, Qatar  isn't the worst of them. Still, it says something about the corrupt old buffet-grazers at FIFA that this particular flea-bitten gas station was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup over the United States. Some things about international sports governing bodies never change, and the sweet-tooth for authoritarians is always right at the top of the list.

However, This Blog is something of an expert on international sporting events in Qatar. It spent 13 days there in October of 1993, covering the Asian Zone qualifying round for the 1994 World Cup here in the U.S. The participating nations were: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, North Korea and South Korea, which meant that, over the previous half-century, one of the participating countries had invaded, occupied, or bombed at least one of the other participating countries. (Whoa, Nelly! Throw out the record books when these traditional rivals tee it up.) The Saudis and the South Koreans came through to the finals, but only because the Iranians upset the Japanese at the same time that the two Koreas were playing. The North and the South don't agree on much, but one thing they do agree on is that they are not fond of Japan. The North Koreans, I am reliably told, went right in the tank so that their brethren from the South could move on.

This Blog even got interviewed on the Qatari TV network that would become al Jazeera, and it was a good little infidel and said nice things about its hosts, the al-Thani family, the otherwise unemployable little sports-silly clan that's run things there since the country was founded.

Ok, so here's what you need to know. First of all, you can get a drink. Yes, Qatar is a fundamentalist Islamic state, but, let's be real. The primary job of most of the Qatari elite is hiring foreigners to do most of the real work. Now, nobody from Oklahoma is going to move to this place if that means he or she can't get a cold beer for two years. So, some marvelous little loopholes have been carved into the Koran for this purpose. When This Blog was there, as it was checking into its hotel, it was asked if it wanted "a library card." Sure, it said, why not? It was then informed that "the library" was on the second floor. This Blog went upstairs and found a Qatari soldier at a desk, smiling jovially over his automatic weapon. There were also paperback books scattered around on those tin tray-tables we also used to use while watching Major Mudd over dinner. "Welcome to the library," he said. This Blog turned around the corner and walked into a typical Ramada Inn cocktail lounge, a little touch of Bloomington, Indiana right there in the Levant.

While visiting the Library, This Blog talked to several American expatriates and was told of the country's one liquor store -- a windowless warehouse out in the desert that the Americans called "The Little House On The Prairie" -- and informed that each American was issued a specific ration of hootch per month. However, the ration was ludicrously high, so people would check into their company housing and discover an entire Martignetti's left behind there in the basement by their fellow employees who had rotated home. I'm sure things have loosened up even more in the intervening years, since the US has pretty much turned the place into an aircraft carrier.

Don't bother renting a car. Shuttle buses can take you anywhere in the country you are likely to want to go. Don't get stuck in the desert at night. And nobody's kidding about the heat. Everything shuts down from noon until 3 p.m. By the second week, you will be hopelessly nostalgic for anything green and growing. Trust This Blog on that.


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