Wealth vs. happiness: True cost of change in Qatar up for debate

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Mike L / Flickr

Updated at 11:05am with counter-points from a Gulf analyst

Has Qatar’s vast wealth brought Qataris happiness? That’s the question posed by journalist Matthew Teller, in a recent BBC feature that argues the country’s rapid growth has actually left its native residents frustrated, overwhelmed and afraid.

In the article – a transcription of an audio piece for BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent – Teller asks a number of Qataris to share their feelings about their country’s immense growth, and its effect on their lives.

“We have become urban,” Dr. Kaltham Al Ghanim, a sociology professor at Qatar University, told Teller. “Our social and economic life has changed – families have become separated, consumption culture has taken over.”

Meanwhile, a Qatari woman in her 60s tells Teller of the “beautiful simplicity” of her youth, before the country’s oil brought it untold prosperity:

“We were self-resourceful once. It’s painful to lose that family intimacy,” she said.

On Twitter, some expats this morning appeared to agree:

But not everyone found the article to be thought-provoking, or accurate.

In a post on his blog this morning, David Roberts, a lecturer at King’s College London and author of the soon-to-be released book, Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-state, accuses Teller of writing yet another “drive-by Qatar article.”

He writes:

“Indeed, what a nightmare it must be for graduating Qataris to ‘be faced with 20 job offers.’ Really, with this sentence, the article jumps the shark in a naked attempt to magic up controversy where plainly none exists.

As for a sexagenarian Qatari woman complaining that life used to be ‘beautifully simply,’ I don’t know where to start. Suffice to say that I imagine that today’s air-conditioning, education for her children, exponentially wider opportunities for all, trips to London for holidays, and trips to Frankfurt for medical treatment might begin to help her reconcile her awful modern existence.”

Still, Teller points to the country’s high divorce rate, growing obesity epidemic, dissatisfaction with employment opportunities for graduates, the country’s class system, and a loss of key cultural and family values as evidence that many Qataris are not wholly comfortable with the rate of change.

He ends his piece with the thoughts of an American anthropologist currently living in Qatar:

“Have some sympathy for Qataris.  They’ve lost almost everything that matters.”

Do you think change has come at too high a cost in Qatar? Thoughts?

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