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Photo for illustrative purposes only

Earlier this year, Filipina journalist Ana P. Santos visited Qatar to report on how laws that criminalize sexual activity affect the country’s workforce. Here, she examines how expat men are using dating apps to approach women for casual sex, and the price many women pay for accepting their advances.

It was a hot Friday evening in Doha when I downloaded the MeetMe app and created a profile.

One of the men I had interviewed in a labor camp told me that this is where “his colleagues” met women.

On MeetMe, I pretended to be a 26-year-old Filipina who had just moved to Doha and was looking to make new friends.

Immediately, messages from men living in the city flooded my feed. Some were perfunctory greetings with a smiley emoji, but others were more direct.

A lot more direct.

Paying for sex

Instead of asking how I was doing, I was asked, “How much?”

I attempted to “flirt” with one man who was aggressive and persistent.

I coyly asked him what kind of women he liked, did he do this often, and did he always pay. I threw in a line about how I wanted to be the only one.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

He said I was asking too many questions. “I only want sex. Not asking 4 marriage,” he replied.

Others were more subtle with their overtures, with one inviting me to join him for “dinner and music in his accommodation.”

His invitation came with a promise. For the pleasure of my company, he would “gift” me QR2,000 since it would be my first time visiting him.

‘Zina’ laws

It had been a while since I had been on a dating app, but I was taken aback by the blatant offers of money for sex.

Unmarried sex may be a crime in Qatar, but that certainly does not stop people from finding it, having it and paying for it, if needed.

Ana P. Santos

Screenshot from conversation on MeetMe

Prostitution is illegal in Qatar and punishable through jail time.

The country also has “zina” laws – the Arabic term for laws that criminalize sex outside of marriage – punish pregnancy out of wedlock, unmarried sex and adultery with imprisonment of up to one year.

However, it has become difficult to monitor how often people in Qatar are tried under these laws because media reporting on the subject has dwindled.

This does not surprise one lawyer in Doha who I spoke to on condition of anonymity.

The lawyer said that he had noticed deliberate efforts within the court system not to call attention to Qatar’s human rights violations – including so-called “love cases” – since being awarded hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup.

In his experience, the courts want to sentence zina offenders and deport them as quickly as possible.

“Qatar does not want to be seen as the country that sends pregnant women to jail,” he told me.

Poor and vulnerable

But the truth is that Qatar does send pregnant women to jail.

Specifically, low-skilled migrant women.

Though they certainly don’t have the monopoly on unmarried sex, they are pretty much the only ones being jailed for it in Qatar because they are easiest to catch.

Many of these women are the target of the men using MeetMe and similar apps.

Often, they are both lonely and make a very low income. This is a dangerous combination when zina laws are applied.

Frank de Kleine/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

These women are often persuaded to get a “boyfriend” to help supplement their salaries and provide comfort and friendship.

But if they discover they are pregnant as a result, these woman are often trapped.

While the more wealthy women can afford a trip abroad for an abortion, those on lower incomes cannot, and they can pay a heavy personal price.

Jail visits

In May, I visited two jails, one women’s shelter and one deportation center in Qatar.

Almost all of the women I spoke to who were jailed or being deported for “love cases” were low-skilled migrant women.

This includes Wazilfa, who I first met in Capital Security in Najma. She came out carrying her baby in her arms, wrapped in a blanket and the folds of her sari.

Megan Sparks/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

She eyed us with suspicion, but as soon as my translator explained that we were looking for pregnant women in jail who needed some kind of assistance, her story came tumbling out in a rush of broken Arabic.

Wazilfa, a divorced mother, had met a Bangladeshi man online and he became her boyfriend. They carried on a relationship for almost one year.

Many steamy Friday afternoons ensued, and she got pregnant.

“He told me he loved me,” she said. But he disappeared when she told him she was pregnant.

When Wazilfa began to show, her employer turned her over to the authorities.

She held up a hand and told us to wait while she found a piece of paper and a pen.

When she came back, she held up the paper to the glass wall the separated us. It had a phone number scribbled on it.

“Please call him. Tell him that I will marry him. Just please get me and my baby out of jail,” she begged.

There were many other women like Wazilfa.

Marriage the only way out

Jo, for example, had been dressed in an abaya and taken out of jail for a wedding ceremony that involved nothing more than signing papers.

She did not even speak or look at the man who was the father of her child.

“The trip to the Egyptian Embassy was longer than the wedding ceremony,” she said.

The father had denied paternity, but he could not deny the results of a court-mandated DNA test.

Jo had agreed to marry him to get out of jail.

Then there was Ann, who gave birth in the bathroom of her employer’s home. And a woman who asked to be called V, who was turned in by hospital staff for allegedly trying to have an abortion.

Most men avoid detention

There was a common thread among these women.

They were all domestic workers, they all met their boyfriends online and all of the men had abandoned them once they were told they were going to be fathers.

These men usually avoid detention.

Serendipity Diamonds / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only

Jo is unsure, but she thinks her husband was able to avoid jail by marrying her. She no longer speaks to him.

Ann’s boyfriend, meanwhile, had apparently given her a fake name. With the help of her sponsor, she was able to avoid jail. The police traced his real identity through his phone number.

He was in jail for a few days and avoided longer detention time when he married her.

Birth control options

While it seems that sex is easy enough to find in Doha, birth control and other interventions are not, if you are a female domestic worker.

Birth control pills are obtainable over the counter at pharmacies in Qatar,  but these are both relatively expensive and hard to hide from a sponsor.

Pixabay

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Domestic workers would also need permission from their employer to go shopping in a mall alone to buy them – which not all are granted.

Additionally, many of the women I spoke to generally knew little about contraception.

Those who did know about contraceptive pills, for example, did not know where to get them from or which ones to ask for.

Condoms, meanwhile, are bought easily from local stores, but women were iffy about using them and were also worried about these being found by their employers.

As a labor rights advocate I spoke to wryly said, “I’d be amused to find even the most liberal of madames not alarmed by the sight of condoms in her nanny’s drawer.”

Illegal abortions

Because prevention is difficult, many women must instead focus on trying to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

Abortions are illegal in Qatar, but this doesn’t stop people from seeking them out.

On my behalf, my interpreter asked her obstetrician where she would direct a woman who had encountered “a delicate situation” like this.

“Lebanon, for a short ‘holiday,’ ” replied her doctor.

This option is however out of reach for most domestic workers for reasons of cost, and also because they would need to obtain an exit permit from their sponsor.

Ana P. Santos

A Whatsapp chat between Ana and a provider of “abortion pills” to Qatar residents

However, pills that induce medical abortion are sold online specifically to residents of the Gulf.

For $240 paid through Western Union, companies promise to deliver the pills directly to you. The seller promises to walk you through the procedure.

However, that’s more than half the average monthly salary of a domestic worker. Additionally, there is no medical guarantee that the pills are safe to use.

‘Invisible women’

It’s clear that low-paid domestic workers are the real victims of zina laws.

However, calls for their repeal have always been ignored by the Qatari government.

That’s not entirely surprising considering that until recently, domestic workers were not even protected in the Labor Law.

Mopaw Foundation/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

They are, in many ways, invisible.

Sadly, their invisibility seems to be ingrained in the women themselves, too.

Many seemed resigned to their fate. The idea of questioning the injustice of the zina law and demanding better treatment for themselves seemed like an alien concept.

I asked Ann, the woman who gave birth in her employer’s bathroom, whether she wished something could change about the Qatari system.

I posed the same question to Jo, the woman who wore black for a wedding that took a few minutes and a few signatures.

She said she planned to take her baby back to the Philippines and then hoped to leave and work somewhere in the Gulf.

I prodded a little bit more and asked, “But what about changing this law that makes it a crime to be pregnant and not married?”

Jo didn’t answer.

And Ann simply shrugged her shoulders. “What can we do? That’s just the way things are.”

Reporting for this story was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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In a rebuke to the countries boycotting Qatar, the US has suspended military exercises with its Gulf allies.

According to the Associated Press, US Central Command said the aim is to show that the military wants its allies in the region to work together.

“We are opting out of some military exercises out of respect for the concept of inclusiveness and shared regional interests,” the newswire cited Col. John Thomas, a Centcom spokesman, as saying.

Qatar is home to the largest US air base in the Middle East. President Donald Trump initially supported the blockade against Qatar in June.

But US officials are now working to end the months-long dispute.

Will it work?

GCC nations have not commented on the decision.

But analysts said it could be perceived as a “slap in the face” to the boycotting nations, which include Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.

The Qatar Insider

For illustrative purposes only.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at King’s College in London for defense studies and a former adviser to Qatar’s military said:

“Joint military exercises are essential for the Gulf militaries to build capability.

All Gulf states want to appeal to the U.S. as viable partners in achieving joint strategic interests, so this announcement is really a slap in the face,” he said.

Another analyst told the AP that the US appears to be running out of patience because the dispute is distracting from its war on terrorism.

One theory is that the Pentagon could step up pressure for reconciliation by freezing weapon sales to Gulf nations, as an American lawmaker suggested months ago.

Thoughts?

Sheikh Joaan

Mutaz Barshim

Silver Olympic medalist Mutaz Barshim has been shortlisted as one of the world’s top male athletes.

The high-jumping hero is among 10 men nominated for the 2017 World Athletes of the Year.

The award is given out annually by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

IAAF

IAAF award nominees

Other people up for the honor include British distance runner Mo Farah and American pole vaulter Sam Kendricks.

Barshim has had a blockbuster winning streak in 2017, clinching a gold medal for Qatar at the World Athletics Championships in August.

According to the IAAF, he has been undefeated in all 11 competitions this year.

And last year, he took home Qatar’s first silver Olympic medal in Rio.

Vote online

Fans can help boost Barshim’s chances of winning by voting online.

This can be done by liking him on Facebook or retweeting this post on Twitter.

The IAAF said public votes will count for 25 percent of the final result, with IAAF officials’ feedback determining the rest of the decision.

Voting closes at 2pm Doha time on Oct. 16. On that day, three male and three female finalists will be declared.

The winners will then be announced live at the IAAF Athletic Awards 2017 on Nov. 24 in Monaco.

Thoughts?

Katara Hospitality

Rendering of new aqua park for Qetaifan Island North

A new luxury resort with a water park and four-star hotel will be built on an island off the coast of Lusail, Katara Hospitality announced this week.

The triangular Qetaifan Island North is expected to attract both tourists and residents.

The first phase of the project – the aqua park and 400-room hotel – should be completed by spring 2022, the state-funded hospitality group said.

Katara Hospitality

Rendering of development on Qetaifa Island North

Renderings of the resort show multiple pools with water slides, all set in landscaped grounds and adjacent to a series of beaches.

Leading off that is a pier extending out to another smaller island, and little trains appear to run the length of the connection.

The project is the first new tourist development to be announced since Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) said last week that it will be ramping up efforts to attract 5.6 million visitors to the country by 2023.

More visitors

The resort will be developed and managed by a new company, Qetaifan Projects, which is a QR11 billion subsidiary of Katara Hospitality.

Meanwhile, project management consultants Atkins will design the masterplan, infrastructure and components of phase one.

QTA/Twitter

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A shopping plaza, park, souq, mixed-use retail complex and staff accommodation are all planned for the second stage of the island’s development.

Katara Hospitality has not yet given an opening date for this phase.

Second island

The development will be one of two adjacent islands off the coast of Lusail city.

Qetaifan Island South is being run by Lusail Real Estate Development Company and will feature luxury villas.

In March 2014, 50 plots were sold to developers, while a year later a further 35 plots villas were snapped up in a public offering.

Lusail Real Estate Development Company

Qetaifan Island bridge

According to Lusail’s website, this island promises “exclusive property” with communal areas, dune-grassed landscaping with boardwalks as well as pools and spas.

Both islands will be connected to the mainland by “iconic” hanging bridges, Katara Hospitality said.

Previous plans have shown a cluster of four islands, however the latest announcement mentions only two.

Lusail ‘extension’

The new island is the latest development for Katara Hospitality. It plans to expand its current portfolio of 42 hotels in a dozen countries, to 60 properties by 2026.

Construction is underway on another key landmark project by Katara Hospitality in the new city – Katara Towers, which are expected to be complete by 2020.

Kling Consult

The Katara Towers at Lusail

When complete, it will house two hotels, luxury apartments, restaurants and entertainment and recreation facilities.

The hotel owner/operator has billed the north island development as a “key element of Lusail City’s expansion.”

Ambitious plans for Lusail include attracting 200,000 people to live there by 2022. However, much of the new city is still under construction.

In addition to hosting Qatar’s centerpiece World Cup stadium, the city will have multiple hotels and upscale shopping malls as well as residential complexes and business towers.

Additionally, a light rail network is being built, which will ultimately have four mainlines covering 33km.

The first line – yellow – is expected to start operating in January 2019, with the rest following by 2020, according to the joint venture QDVC.

Other resorts

This is not the first time developers have proposed plans for new island resorts off Qatar’s coast.

Penny Yi Wang

Oryx Island

In May 2013, Barwa Real Estate announced the $5.5 billion Oryx Island, which would feature a water park, villas with private beaches and five floating hotels, to be used during the 2022 World Cup.

The manmade island would have been built using excavated material from the construction of the Doha Metro, Barwa officials said at the time.

However, just a year later those plans have already been shelved.

Al Bandary Real Estate

Amwaj suites and residences

Meanwhile, in Lusail itself, Bandary Real Estate announced in 2015 it would be building a different water park, called Amwaj (“waves”), which has multiple pools next to two linked residential towers.

Thoughts?