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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Petrol prices in Qatar will fall by 5 dirhams from next month, the Ministry of Energy and Industry (MEI) has announced today.

That means starting Aug. 1, the costs of Premium (91 octane) and Super (95 octane) fuel will each drop to their lowest levels since January this year.

Premium petrol will cost QR1.50/liter while Super will be QR1.60/liter. The cost of diesel will remain unchanged from July’s prices, at QR1.50 a liter, the MEI said.

MEI

August 2017 fuel prices

While marginal, next month’s price drop comes despite the ongoing blockade of Qatar by neighboring Gulf states and Egypt, who have sought to isolate the country and impose economic sanctions.

However, last week, the head of Qatar Petroleum said the actions had actually strengthened the nation, not hurt it.

At the time, QP CEO Saad Sherida Al Kaabi even thanked the quartet for the blockade.

Fuel fluctuations

The price of Premium grade petrol had risen for five straight months before holding steady at QR1.60 since March. It finally fell 5 dirhams in July.

Aparajita Mukherjee / Doha News

University Petrol Station

Meanwhile, the cost of Super gasoline hit a high of QR1.70 a liter in March. It remained this way for three months before dropping 5 dirhams in June.

And Diesel reached its highest price so far in April and May when it cost QR1.60/liter, until its price fell in June.

Qatar’s fuel prices were fixed by the government until May last year, when officials announced they would fluctuate based on global market conditions.

This was to “raise the efficiency of energy use in the country and raise consumers’ awareness,” the MEI said at the time.

Since then, the cost of Premium fuel has increased by almost 30 percent, Super by 23 percent and diesel by 7 percent.

Thoughts?

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

As the dispute between Qatar and its neighbors plays out in headlines across the region, the importance of free and fair media has been talked about a lot.

For Qatar to truly claim the moral ground in this regard, it should repeal its cybercrime law and unblock Doha News, among other things, argues Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. 

Here’s the full text of his speech, which he delivered at this week’s Freedom of Expression conference in Qatar.

Political freedom and especially free expression are at the heart of the current Gulf crisis. That is why so many human rights and journalistic freedom organizations have rallied to Qatar’s defense.

But that also highlights the importance of Qatar maintaining the moral high ground by using this crisis as an opportunity to reform itself.

We are all aware of the terrorism allegations that are said to be the foremost concern.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

I can’t speak to the claims of secret financing. But I am aware that long-term, open Saudi financing of Wahhabi and Salafist preachers and schools has promoted an extreme form of Islam that lies behind many terrorist groups today.

And while we tend to limit the terrorist label to non-governmental groups, the Saudi-led coalition has been causing a humanitarian disaster in Yemen.

Indiscriminate bombing has repeatedly killed many civilians.

An embargo has led to widespread malnutrition and even starvation. A weakened population now faces the world’s largest cholera outbreak, surpassing Haiti’s by a wide margin.

Al Jazeera a ‘dictator’s nightmare’

We’re here to discuss free expression and broader political freedoms. It’s telling that the leading demands against Qatar by its neighbors seem to involve these rights.

Most obvious was the demand to close or control Al Jazeera. In a region known for stultifying official media, AJ was a breath of fresh air.

It wasn’t always perfect. Certain issues, particularly in the Gulf, including Qatar, were taboo.

QNA

Father Emir speaks at 20th anniversary celebrations for Al Jazeera in November.

And in giving a forum to neglected voices, it sometimes crossed the line from featuring legitimate dissenters to giving a podium to those who advocated violence.

But AJ was a key forum for those who wanted to challenge the autocratic rule that remains the norm in the Middle East and North Africa.

It reached its heyday during the Tahrir Square revolution in Egypt. It gave people throughout the region a means to be heard when challenging autocratic, unresponsive, often corrupt rulers.

It was, and continues to be, a dictator’s nightmare.

Muslim brotherhood boogeyman

The second key demand was that Qatar stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood means different things in its different manifestations. Some involve violent attacks on civilians and intolerance of dissent—such as Hamas in Gaza.

European External Action Service

Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood party.

But the essence of what the Gulf monarchs found dangerous about the Muslim Brotherhood is that it represents a vision of Islamic governance based on the ballot box rather than hereditary (or, in the case of Egypt, military) rule.

Like Al Jazeera, the Muslim Brotherhood saw a role for the general public in political discourse and governance. That is a scary proposition for the Gulf royal families and Egypt’s military rulers.

It is noteworthy that Qatar was willing to support the Muslim Brotherhood since this country is no more a democracy than the other Gulf monarchies.

I hope that signals an opening.

WAM

Flags of the boycotting nations (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt).

But for those other monarchies, the Muslim Brotherhood was anathema.

Indeed, beyond pressuring Qatar to stop supporting Al Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudi, Emirati, Bahraini and Egyptian governments have rounded up their own Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

Bahrain and UAE have even threatened to punish anyone “expressing sympathy” for Qatar.

What Qatar should do

So at its heart, the current tensions between Qatar and its neighbors is about free expression and political freedom.

Yet I would be remiss, speaking here in Qatar, if I left the impression that Qatar were beyond reproach with respect to free expression.

In 2014, Qatar adopted a cybercrime decree, which criminalizes the spreading of “false news” on the internet and provides for a maximum of three years in prison for anyone who posts online content that “violates social values or principles” or “insults or slanders others”—very broad and vague standards.

magicatwork/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In 2016, Qatar authorities used that law to detain a journalist from the country’s only independent news website, Doha News, after he wrote an article naming a man convicted of a serious criminal offense.

In November last year, Qatari authorities ordered internet service providers to block the Doha News site, which has been running since 2011, making it inaccessible to internet users in Qatar.

Needless to say, these are not the acts of a government that should be trying to maintain the moral higher ground in a dispute about free expression.

Doha News

DN

Qatar should repeal the provisions of the 2014 Cybercrime Law that limit free expression. And unblock the Doha News website.

Turkey’s media crackdown

There are things that Qatar could do to uphold freedom of expression in its foreign relations as well.

This week, the Qatari Emir will meet with Turkey’s President Erdogan. I realize Turkey is a close ally, but it is also in the midst of one of the world’s most severe crackdowns on journalists.

Popicinio/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The same principles the uphold the freedom of Al Jazeera to speak the truth, even when inconvenient, should apply to Turkish journalists as well. I hope the Emir will remind President Erdogan of those principles.

There are also important things that Qatar could do to ease the burden of the dispute with its neighbors on the AJ journalists who are here as well as other long-term residents.

Human Rights Watch released a report last week on the plight of families who are facing separation because they are of different nationalities.

Qatari women’s rights

The problem is compounded because Qatar, like its neighbors, allows nationality to be passed only by men, not women, in violation of article 9 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to which Qatar is a state party.

If a Qatari woman is married to a non-Qatari, her children have no citizenship rights in this country, leaving them vulnerable to pressure from Qatar’s Gulf neighbors.

Igor Alexandrov/Wikicommons

Photo for illustrative purposes only

Those neighbors have already ordered their nationals to leave Qatar, which could include children of Qatari women married to a man from one of those states, even though they have spent their entire lives living in Qatar.

Now would be a good time for Qatar to end gender discrimination in the right to confer nationality to one’s children.

Al Jazeera ‘refugees’

Here I want to make special mention of the plight of Al Jazeera workers.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 Al Jazeera employees, including seven Egyptians, six Saudis, and one Bahraini who said that they cannot renew their passports and thus are worried about losing their Qatari residency permits.

Many of the Egyptian employees moved to Qatar after authorities in Egypt threatened, intimidated, beat, or arrested them.

Ministry of Interior/Facebook

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

One journalist said he applied to renew his Egyptian passport in January 2017, but that Egyptian embassy officials told him in April that they would not renew it. His passport will expire in August.

These AJ employees are classic refugees who need protection.

Qatar’s constitution bans the “extradition of political refugees” and specifies that the granting of asylum shall be regulated by law.

Asylum laws

But Qatar has never promulgated a law on asylum or signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, despite having ratified the Arab Charter on Human Rights which requires Qatar to respect the right of everyone to seek asylum.

Nor does the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have an office in Qatar where it could review refugee claims.

And Qatar has no other procedures in place that would allow those who fear persecution in their home countries to seek protection in Qatar or challenge their deportation.

Qatar could become a leader in the Gulf, and reaffirm its commitment to protect people like the Al Jazeera employees, by ratifying the Refugee Convention and Protocol, establishing refugee and asylum laws consistent with those standards, and inviting UNHCR to open an office here.

Josh Hughes/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

So to conclude, there are important things that Qatar can do to maintain the moral high ground from which it has so greatly benefited in its dispute with its neighbors.

As the old adage goes, every crisis is also an opportunity.

Yes, Qatar today faces a crisis, but it is also an opportunity to become a regional leader on human rights.

I hope Qatar will seize that opportunity. Thoughts?

Ren Wlasiuk

Turtles at Fuwairat Beach

The popular northern beach of Fuwairit will reopen to the public next week, officials have announced.

The Tuesday, Aug. 1 opening comes following a successful turtle nesting season, in which some 3,000 endangered Hawksbill turtles were released into the sea.

Each year, the beach is closed for four months starting in April to protect the turtle nesting grounds on the coastline.

Ren Wlasiuk

Turtles at Fuwairat Beach

This helps curb practices that prevent turtles from nesting or burying their eggs, the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME) has previously said.

In the past, turtles have been scared off by loud noises, harsh lights, and people touching the eggs. They’ve also fallen into fishing nets.

Campaign to close beach all year

During the 2017 season, some 52 new nests were counted, the MME said.

Despite the success, some environmentalists in Qatar have been lobbying for Fuwairit beach to be closed all year long.

Fatimah Ashraf Khan/Flickr

Fuwairat Beach

The move would help protect the nesting turtles and their environment, they previously said.

Hawksbill turtles are very particular about where they lay their eggs, often heading to the exact same spot that they were born, or have previously nested.

This process can be disrupted by litter, ruts in the sand from driving and campfires that leave behind debris.

Thoughts?

QSF Summer Entertainment City

Dunking Devils team

From watching some basketball acrobatics to sampling a variety of homegrown dates to checking out the new public beach at Wakrah Souq, there’s lots to do around town in the coming days.

Here are our picks:

Slam dunk fun

This weekend, the theme for the Qatar Summer Festival is basketball.

To mark the occasion, the Slovenia-based acrobatic slam-dunking team Dunking Devils will perform for the crowd.

QSF Summer Entertainment City

Dunking Devils team

They will take to the court at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center on Friday and Saturday at 6pm, 7:15pm and 8:30pm. Entry is free, once a QR15 ticket to the venue has been purchased.

There will also be “Slam Dunk” and “Free Throw” competitions taking place this weekend at the DECC in Dafna/West Bay.

The Slam Dunk competition takes place on July 27 and 28. Each participant has three chances to make it through the rounds, with prizes of up to QR2,000 on offer.

Pre-registration is required (here) by today and it costs QR85 to take part, plus the festival’s QR15 entry fee.

There is also a Free Throw competition on July 29 from 2pm until 11pm at the DECC.

There are two categories: youths (12-16 years) and adults (16+ years), with prizes including up to QR3,000 in cash and free passes to the Aqua Park.

Entry costs QR40/30 (including entry to the festival) and participants should register in advance here.

It’s a date

The annual date festival returns to Souq Waqif on Thursday, July 27. It will will feature tasty wares from 57 Qatari farms this year, nearly three times the number that participated last year.

Reem Saad / Doha News

Date Festival 2016 at Souq Waqif

The popular 10-day long event, organized by the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME/Baladiya), features many varieties of the locally-grown sweet treat.

These include Khalas, Khanizi, Shishi and Barhi, which will be available to buy at “competitive prices,” the MME said.

Keen gardeners will also be able to buy date palm seeds. Entry is free. The (air-conditioned) tent is open from 4pm to 10pm at the souq daily.

Music nights

For a relaxing night out, The Club at St. Regis has a new band called The Garage, which will perform a mix of funk, pop, blues and jazz every Wednesday to Saturday night.

St Regis Hotel Doha

The Club at St Regis

The Club opens from 6pm, with 50 percent discounts on some food and drink before the live acts start at 9pm until late.

For more information, see here.

Al Wakrah Souq beach

The beach at Al Wakrah Souq is now open to the public, allowing residents another affordable option to cool down this summer.

Swimsuits should be worn at the facility, which is free and open to all on a trial basis. Local “norms and traditions of society” should be observed, authorities said when announcing its launch last week.

Stewart Lacey/Flickr

Souq Wakrah beachfront

The market, which is behind the Al Wakrah petrol station next to the port, stretches some 3km along the town’s coast. The beach is next to the Corniche, which is a popular spot for strolling.

National Museum tours

Residents now have the chance to get a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the under-construction National Museum of Qatar, starting this week.

Qatar Museums is hosting 50 tours of the Jean Nouvel-designed building to those registered with a Culture Pass, before its interior fit-out gets underway. The museum is expected to open in December 2018.

Qatar Museums

National Museum of Qatar

The hour-long tours will be held Sundays to Wednesdays at 3pm and 4pm, and Saturdays at 10am, 11am, 3pm and 4pm.

Culture Pass members can book a tour online here. You can register for a the pass here.

Folk art workshops

In the latest in a series of workshops, freelance surface designer Amber Rauf will host a morning on European folk art and painting using gouache.

Amber Rauf

Art workshops

The workshop will be on July 28, from 9am until 1pm including breakfast at the Hilton Doubletree hotel in Salata.

All materials and tools will be provided and participants can take home their work. Each class costs QR300 and pre-registration is required (numbers are limited). Email [email protected] to book.

Bonus:

  • Doha Festival City seaside and pirate-themed children’s events continue until July 29. Figure your way out of a maze, then take part in a nerf gun battle, or let them try their hand at pirate bowling. The events are being held at the Center Court and Steps node, daily from 3pm to 9pm. It is free and open to all.

What are your plans for the weekend? Thoughts?