If you’re in Doha, it’s pretty hard to miss the fact that Qatar’s National Day (#QND) is fast approaching.
Chairs, lights and sound systems are being set up on the Corniche; advertisements and posters around town proclaim corporations’ support for Qatar and its people, and maroon flags are being hung from offices, residents and construction sites alike.
In fact, QND celebrations have already begun in some parts of Qatar (scroll down for more details).
Since it can be a little hard to filter through all the information and figure out what you need to know, here’s a guide to help you celebrate.
When is QND, and what’s it all about?
Qatar National Day takes place every year on Dec. 18.
It marks the day in 1878 that Sheikh Jassim Bin Mohammad Bin Thani succeeded his father as leader of the tribes of Qatar.
Fighting for independence from the Ottomans, the British and other Arabian Peninsula tribes, Sheikh Jassim is considered the founder of Qatar for unifying oft-divided local tribes under his leadership, and winning autonomy for them.
So is it independence day?
Technically, no – it’s more of a figurative date for the establishment of a Qatari people. Qatar didn’t gain independence from the British Empire until Sept. 3, 1971.
That day was previously celebrated as a national holiday until 2007, when the Emiri Diwan decreed Dec. 18 would be marked annually instead.
What happens on National Day?
Typically, everyone is given the day off as a public holiday and Qatar goes big with a parade of military and other government personnel down the Corniche early in the morning.
This year, the National Parade will run from 8am-10am on Tuesday, Dec. 18.
In addition to a show of armored vehicles and battalions from the Armed Forces, the Emiri Guard, the ISF and the Ministry of Interior, there are also usually some cultural displays.
Overhead, you can expect to see the Air Force performing with colored jet trails, and over the bay, the Coast Guard will put on a show with speed boats and traditional dhows.
Mind you, the Corniche is usually packed for the event, and if you want to get a seat, you’ll have to be there before 7am. No cars will be allowed near the parade grounds, but there will be buses to get people to and from nearby parking lots.
Video of this year’s rehearsals on the Corniche by Gazanfarulla Khan
This year, Corniche visitors are in for a special show of daytime “powder” fireworks being shot off at Palm Tree Island at the top of every hour between 11am and 4pm.
At night, there will be the more traditional Fireworks at 8pm with an accompanying Qatari heritage musical score.
Bear in mind, though, that Doha roads are usually thrown into chaos on National Day with revelers holding up traffic for slow processions and street stunts. Qatari authorities have discouraged such overt shows this year, and security forces will be deployed on the roads to help facilitate the flow of traffic.
However, the Traffic Department has said a parade of private cars will be permitted on the corniche from Ras Abu Abboud flyover to Sheraton Roundabout on National Day starting at 5pm.
There’s also been a rumor that women wouldn’t be allowed at the parade this year. QND organizers and police confirm it isn’t true.
In the run-up to the big day, you can expect various rehearsals to take place along the parade route on the Corniche.
Here’s the Corniche map for National Day events (click through for a larger version):
Will there be a video stream of the events?
Yes. Al Rayyan Channel will be livestreaming the events online and showing them live on TV.
There are also mobile apps available for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows phones that will let you stream the show and view details of the organized activities.
Are there any other activities?
Yes – the Corniche will be packed with activities starting this Saturday, Dec. 15 through 18.
Classic cars have been setup for display along the Corniche, palm trees have been illuminated, and traditional Qatari dhow boats will be on show. A lit-up flag-colored “pearl” has also been setup on Palm Tree Island.
Kids activities have been organized at the Sheraton Park at one end of the Corniche, at the Orry/Balhambar plaza, and elsewhere down the strip from 4pm to 10pm. These include workshops for kite and paper plane making, sand painting, dough play, origami, drawing, coloring and face painting.
There are also food and drink stands (for sale) and information tents setup in various spots on the Corniche.
A little bit away from the Corniche, there will also be a lot of activity at Darb Al Saai.
What’s this Darb Al Saai place?
A whole pavilion has been set up next to Sports Roundabout (opposite the Wyndham Grand Regency Hotel) to mark National Day and show some of Qatar’s past. Numerous activities have already started (as of Dec. 8), and will continue through QND.
The grounds are called Darb Al Saai and include a number of areas to explore:
- Al Izbba: A desert campsite, where men would traditionally look after the camels;
- Al Nasa: A shooting gallery, where professional trainers will teach you about rifle shooting;
- Al Shaqab: A spot for horse shows and riding;
- Al Doha: An exhibition area for various government agencies and state-sponsored institutions;
- Al Maqlat: The dining area / food court;
- Al Maqtar: Tents demonstrating desert activities from Qatar’s nomadic past;
- Al Mshabayh: Qatari Oryx on display;
- Al Hafeez: A classic cars exhibition;
- Housh Al Yahal (Kids Yard): An area for younger kids to play and paint;
- Souq Waqif: A showcase of traditional handicrafts like baskets, dolls and engraving, plus Qatari “food tasting;” and
- Al Beda: An exhibit of traditional marine life, like sailing, pearling, traditional games and coffee.
Here’s a map of the grounds (click through to see it larger):
Will you be participating in National Day events?