Service-related businesses in Qatar must now employ at least one Arabic-speaking staff member to assist customers, the government has said.
Arabic should also be the primary language for any establishment that provides a customer service, such as hotels, malls, clothing stores and help lines, among others.
Businesses will have until March 2017 to comply with the new regulations.
After that, inspectors will conduct spot-checks and could take legal action against those not following the rules, it said.
‘Lack of transparency’ for customers
According to the circular, the requirements are only for businesses that sell items or provide a customer service.
That includes electronics and toy shops, car dealerships and service centers and beauty salons, the MEC said in a statement.
The rule has been introduced because of what the ministry described as a “growing incidence in the use of foreign languages” by businesses. This has led to a “lack of transparency” and information for some customers.
While the official language of Qatar is Arabic, nearly 90 percent of the country is comprised of expats. And many of those employed in the service sector are not Arabic speakers.
Arabic language signs
According to the new rules, shops must ensure their product information signs and labels are in Arabic.
Receipts and warranties must also be primarily in the language, although these details can also be given in other languages where possible.
This enforces a previous rule introduced in 2012 that required all shops to issue receipts in Arabic.
Additionally, instructions and warnings should be predominantly in Arabic and shops must have Arabic-speaking sales staff who can fully explain how a product works.
Meanwhile, all shops, service centers, call centers and other facilities that provide information to the public must employ at least one Arabic speaker.
This includes hotel receptions, shopping mall customer information desks, car service centers and travel and tourism agencies.
Customer help lines and call centers are also required to have Arabic speakers to manage complaints and queries, the ministry directive states.
While many larger businesses already have Arabic-speaking staff and customer information, many smaller shops often employ English-speakers.
The Ministry states that a wider use of the language would ensure Arabic speaking customers have at least same access to product and service information and support, in line with the country’s Consumer Protection Law (No. 8 of 2008).
Article 7 of this legislation states that all items for sale must “clearly indicate on the packaging or container the type, nature, ingredients and other information relating to the commodity… where the use of the commodity involves a certain risk, the consumer shall be clearly warned against such risk.”
Meanwhile, Article 11 of the law requires that the service being provided or the features, price and details of any goods being sold must be detailed in a “clear manner.”
While food items sold in Qatar include ingredients and warning messages in Arabic, other customer notices are often printed in English.
Preserving local language
The MEC’s directive is the latest move introduced in Qatar in recent years to promote the use of the Arabic language more widely.
Earlier this year, Qatar’s former first lady Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, spoke publicly about how she felt that the country’s younger generation was losing its use of classical Arabic.
The Qatar Foundation chairperson equated this to the erosion of cultural identity for many children in the country.
To counter that, there has been a wider push to incorporate Arabic in daily life.
For example, in February this year, the state Cabinet approved a draft law requiring all ministries, official organizations and public schools and universities to use Arabic in all its communications.
At the time, QNA reported that ministries, official institutions, municipalities and government-run schools would have to use Arabic for contracts, transactions, correspondence, labels, programs, publications, advertisements and “all that comes out of their systems.”
And years ago in 2012, Qatar University was instructed by the then-Supreme Education Council to make Arabic the primary language of instruction for all its arts and humanities subjects taught at undergraduate level.
QU had previously taught these subjects in English.
In the same year, the then-Emir ratified a decree stating that advertising billboards should be primarily in Arabic, although foreign languages can be included as supplementary text.