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Qatar bans lone males from entering public areas: encouragement of speed dating or exclusion of migrant workers?

May 25, 2016

(Photo:Flickr.com/Larry Johnson)

Louis Vuitton, Zara, McDonald's and IMAX. Luxuries made for non-singles only. 

How do you cope with being dumped(newly single, relational-challenged, involuntary sexual inactivity, however you'd like to label it buddy)? Some might retreat to the comforts of the couch with one hand on the remote, the other on a pint of their favorite sugary vice. Others may take a more active approach by taking a round about town, trying their chances at finding new love and letting bygones be bygones. Well, my heart goes out to anyone in Qatar who may at the moment be experiencing a dirty break-up. You're now LEGALLY banned from entering any malls, parks and other such entertainment complexes BECAUSE you're now single. Sorry about that, but at least you have Netflix and take-out PF Chang's yes? Still no alcohol though, don't push it. 

 

According to Reuters, Nami Hader, a 30 year-old gardener from Nepal, approached a park in the bustling city of Al Khor, Qatar, to enjoy its newly renovated boating lake, mini-golf course and impressive lawns. His hopes for a scenic day were stopped however by a security guard that told him that "no bachelors" were allowed on park-grounds because they were off-limits to men unaccompanied by women or children, I.e."regular families." The "bachelor-ban", which sounds awfully like a far-fetched Japanese comic-book of a dystopian government trying to repopulate a dwindling man-kind by forcing all citizens into breeding-tanks, is in actuality a quite common, though rarely enforced practice in the conservative Muslim Gulf.

 

 

By design, this ban bars lone men from entering malls and parks on certain days of the week and from living in certain residential areas so that families and especially Muslim-women who live in "crowded and male-dominated cities" are given the space to enjoy public facilities. As much as you may feel your feminism gauge elevating to the level of very angry and very public Twitter outburst with all friends tagged, you must keep in mind that for the conservative practitioners of Islam in certain near-theocratic middle-eastern states, these laws were designed under the intention to protect customs while simultaneously giving marginalized women a chance to breath.

 

 

 

 

First and foremost I'd like to point out that religion and customs are not the issue here. Middle-Eastern administrators are entitled to enforce whatever they want in protection of their local customs and beliefs. The issue however is that "bachelor bans" serve a much more societal and demographic agenda. There has been an alarming increase of such "bachelor bans" in Qatar, with businesses and municipalities beginning to strictly enforce a "no-lone man"(God-forbid it be a lone-woman! GASP) policy in many of its public spaces as a measure of segregating its vast South Asian migrant workforce from its permanent residents.

 

The small but oil-rich(the best kind of rich!) Arab nation has relied heavily on its foreign workforce, mostly young men who migrated alone as temporary residents, to fuel its $200-billion construction projects that are geared towards the 2022 Doha World Cup. In a nation with a population of 2.6million, of which 75% are male and only 200,000 to 250,000 being actual Qatari-Arab citizens, such bans that cut young men off from the rest of society are being criticized by labor unions as a concerted socio-political effort to exploit migrant workers and force them into squalid conditions.

 

There has been increased voices of concern on the part of conservative Qatari policy makers and advocates of the "bachelor-bans", specifically regarding the demographic anomaly of being outnumbered in their own soil. Rasheed Al Fadeh, a Qatari journalist, wrote on an Arab-daily that workers overrunning neighborhoods were "damaging Qatar's social fabric" as though "we are accustomed to being generous toward outsiders [...] the purity of our lives, sleep and rest is disturbed." Nasser al-Mohannadi, a member of Qatar's Centrally Municipal Council, is petitioning the government to strictly enforce the family-only policy to all malls across the nation across an increased number of days throughout the week. Mohannadi added that "going shopping without being stared at, enjoying a park not crowded with men who may look at women and not respect traditions, Qatari families have the right to do these simple things." 

 

Though valuing traditions and customs is an admirable cause, the assumption that non-observers are threatening the sanctity of these customs has been historically proven to be dangerous. Qatari administrators have recently stepped up segregation policies within their local parameters; maps that highlight where in Doha that migrant workers are not allowed to be housed were plastered on billboards all across the capital. These workers are banned from participating in parades and national day celebrations and are designated into poor housing camps that are located in deserts that lie outside the borders of ultra-modern cities. As such, migrant workers often travel to air-conditioned shopping centers on weekends to transfer money to their families and enjoy a brief moment of relaxation amidst yet another hectic week. Unfortunately, most of the enacted no-bachelors days occur on Fridays and Saturdays.

 

A government official told Reuters that relations between locals and expatriates were "harmonious" and "deeply respectful" and that segregation was not a governmental policy. The official continued that "there is an old graveyard area near Grand Hamad Street which could be developed and set aside for low-income workers for their weekend gatherings." No, we don't have segregation! To prove it, we'll build a mall segregated just for them! Here's to hoping that you never have to stay single during visits to Gem of the Gulf. If not, it might be easier to simply accept that being single means you don't CHOOSE to stay home. You HAVE to. 

 

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