Qatar National Day
Written by Rachel Morris, Photography by Shahin Olakara
Qatar National Day is regarded as an opportunity for all Qatari citizens, expatriates, and visitors to recognise and celebrate what it means to live in modern-day Qatar.
Qatar’s National Day is an event of grandeur – roaring military flyovers, a colourful parade down the picturesque Corniche, and a slew of events across the country, including camel races, art exhibitions, book launches, and traditional dances.
This national occasion highlights Qatari identity and history, embodies the ideals and visionary aspirations that this country was founded on, and pays homage to the great men and women who contributed to building the nation.
Yet, at its core is an important milestone in the history of the region – it marks the day that Sheikh Jassim succeeded his father Sheikh Mohammed Bin Thani as Ruler of Qatar and took the first steps towards building the nation.While the State of Qatar is relatively young, its land and people go back many centuries. Rock carvings in Al Jassasiya in the north of the country are said to date from 9,000 years ago. And a 5th-century map refers to a place in the Arabian Gulf called ‘Catara’, believed to be Qatar. The inhabitants of the tiny peninsula were known as traders on both sea and land.
For centuries, while there were clusters of communities around the sea, and fishing and pearling trades, Qatar’s windswept dunes were also home to the Bedouin. But it was the wars against the Ottomans that saw the country come of age, led by Sheikh Jassim, perhaps Qatar’s first diplomat and legendary leader of the Qatari tribes.
In 1871, his father, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Thani, made a request to the Ottomans at Al-Hasa for protection against any external attack. In 1876, he handed over administrative responsibility to his son Sheikh Jassim Bin Mohammed Al Thani. The latter took full responsibility for Qatar, and he was given the Ottoman title of Qaim-Maqam (Deputy Governor) of Qatar in 1876.
Sheikh Jassim adamantly opposed Ottoman attempts to increase their already solid influence in Qatar through appointing administrative personnel at Zubarah (in what is now Doha), Al Wakrah (to the south), and Al Khor (to the north), thereby establishing a customs office and reinforcing the Ottoman garrison. As a result, a military confrontation ensued, and a crucial battle broke out with Qataris led by Sheikh Jassim. He and his troops, composed of Qatari tribes, fought bravely, inflicted defeat on the Ottoman troops, and achieved victory.
Although the Ottomans maintained a presence in the country for some years (they finally withdrew in 1915), Jassim’s victory in battle over the Ottomans appears to have marked the real ascendancy of the Al Thani tribe and the origins of Qatar as a state. This Ottoman defeat was a landmark in the modern history of Qatar because of the courage with which Sheikh Jassim and his people faced up to the Ottomans despite the latter empire’s military superiority.
December 18, 1878 is considered the turning point in the history of modern Qatar. It’s the date when Sheikh Jassim started his ambitious quest toward securing both powers’ recognition of his country’s independence.
There is much to celebrate at this year’s Qatar National Day. Under the wise leadership of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Qatar has blossomed into a country with a vision for its future, and a solid reputation as a modern and vibrant state.
In 2011 Qatar became the world’s largest exporter of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). The country, sparked by the success of its winning bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, has also put Qatar forward to host the 2020 Olympics, and this month will also see Doha as the venue for the Arab Games.
And, with echoes of Sheikh Jassim and his diplomatic aspirations to unify the tribes of Qatar, the country has also played a significant role on the world’s political stage.
All of these achievements will be celebrated in 2011.
Come Sunday December 18, there will be only one place to experience the excitement, ceremony, and sheer joy of Qatar National Day: the 7km-long Doha Corniche.
The National Anthem signals the start of events, including the National Day Parade. After a recitation from the Holy Qur’an, the Parade commences, led by a group of Qatari children wearing national costume, accompanied by horsemen and camel riders in traditional dress, followed by Infantry Forces, Police, the Internal Security Force, and Emiri Guards. A breathtaking air show by the Qatar Emiri Air Force brings Qatar’s National Day Parade to a spectacular finish.
The Parade is presided over by His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Emir of Qatar, and His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Heir Apparent, as well as a host of dignitaries, visitors, and crowds of onlookers.
The evening will see activities on the Doha Corniche conclude with a fireworks and light display.
Other locations hosting events include Katara Cultural Village and Darb Al Saai, near Sports Roundabout in Al Sadd. Here visitors can immerse themselves in Bedouin culture, with camel races and other activities.
Qatar National Day has evolved be yond the commemoration of history to a celebration of a country with an ambitious vision and stunning future.
REFLECTIONS ON ISLAMIC ART
It has been said that Qatar is the bridge between East and West – a modern and vibrant country with a rich cultural history. The symbol of this is Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art.
To highlight Qatar’s contribution towards preserving the region’s rich Islamic heritage, 27 leading writers and thinkers were invited by the Museum of Islamic Art to visit its iconic gallery, select an object – a buckle, an astrolabe, a book, a leaf – and write a response to their chosen piece. From acclaimed mathematician Marcus du Sautoy’s reflections on symmetry to pre-eminent historian Eric Hobsbawm’s essay on a Mughal portrait, each contributor offers a unique and profound insight into Islam’s rich cultural heritage.
Reflections on Islamic Art is produced by Bloomsbury Publishing Qatar Foundation and the Museum of Islamic Art, the volume is edited by Booker Prize shortlisted Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif.
Each Qatar National Day, throngs of young people gather on the Corniche to celebrate pride in their country, and also to display their cars.
According to recent statistics, Qatar has around 378 cars per 100 people. This is a country that loves its cars – and the bigger, the better.
For weeks beforehand, young men spend hundreds of hours, and thousands of riyals, decorating their precious autos with logos, decals, photos, flags, and other patriotic symbols. The temporary decorations are removed after the events.
On the day itself, the Corniche and other main roads come alive with the sounds of revving engines, horns, and music. And there are awards and prizes for the best decorated cars.