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Sat 21 Feb 2009 04:00 AM

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Qatar linked to past with eye on future

Qatar has always been somewhat of an anomaly, politically and economically, says Rob Wagner.

Qatar has always been somewhat of an anomaly, politically and economically, among the GCC countries, marching to the beat of a different drummer.

We are now in an uncertain economic climate that only promises, shall we say optimistically, to get more interesting in the months to come. The UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and even the mighty Saudi Arabia are scaling back and hunkering down for the long haul.

But in the midst of all the boardroom shuffling, rejigged timelines and promises to remain "committed" to projects and what-not there is Qatar moving along at a steady clip without so much as working up a sweat.

Qatar at the moment is the only GCC country that is maintaining a strong economic performance, as assistant editor Jamie Stewart reports this week's issue of Construction Week. It helps that it sits on a hefty chunk of the world's natural gas fields and that it manages a strong and consistent fiscal policy.

Yes, there are the inevitable delays in getting projects off the ground and completed. The W Hotel has suffered numerous delays since 2007. Yet all the major developers and contractors say that not a single project has been suspended.

This rather modest success story is due in part to the conservative nature of Qatar in terms of growth and building. Qatar does not promise the sky and the moon to developers and wants to ensure the scale of projects are proportionate to the environment.

Doha also has quickly gained a reputation as a cultural and political centre in the GCC. Qatar authorities insist that building be kept at a moderate but steady pace and that architecture include a healthy mix of modern and traditional Arabic features.

Couple this with the fact that Doha is a magnet for neighbouring Middle East countries to settle squabbles or long-simmering disputes. Doha is merging as a global city that offers a venue to forge solutions to worldwide crises and Qatar leaders are determined that Doha lives up to the role.

What makes the Qatar story so dramatic is that it is a country of less than 1.5 million people, just a tiny fraction of the world's population, yet it has a sound banking system and a commitment at economic diversification long before it became fashionable with other Middle East countries.

Not a bad success story for a country in which its chief contribution to the region not so long ago was pearl diving. To its credit it maintains those strong bonds to the past while it forges ahead with an eye on the future.

Rob Wagner is the editor of Construction Week.

RELATED LINK: Electric Qatar

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