Not many Americans know much about Qatar or its capital Doha, but everyone has heard of Dubai. And it's the same basic concept: wealthy oil (and natural gas) state in the Persian Gulf with more money than it knows what to do with, going nuts with construction. Indeed, a 2006 article in the New York Times asked "Is Qatar the Next Dubai?", and so far the answer seems to be yes. (We were very fortunate to have somewhere to stay for free; otherwise this trip would not have been affordable.)
As you may have read in another Times article just yesterday (clearly our visit was so influential that they decided they had to publish right away), Qatar is investing some of its fortune in education. We didn't just pick Qatar at random as our destination; we were there visiting a friend who teaches at one of the American universities with campuses in Education City, an initiative of the Qatar Foundation, headed by the emir's wife Sheikha Mozah. We spent some time at Education City, where students mostly from the region study in English. EAR had the opportunity to speak to several classes there, and you'll hear more about this soon from EAR.
Lonely Planet says that Doha's motto should be "watch this space", and I'm inclined to agree. Many of the buildings we saw were empty space a few years ago, and we saw lots of empty space that is about to turn into buildings any minute. The downtown area, near the corniche, is an entire city coming into existence all at once.
Our visit coincided with the visit of Turkish President Abdullah Gul, so the corniche was decked out with Turkish flags.
Doha is putting in a bid for the 2016 Olympics. (Several people to whom I mentioned this said "Wait, isn't that the Chicago Olympics?". Not yet!) If Doha's bid is successful, this will be the first Olympics in the Middle East.
This follows on Doha's successful hosting of the 2006 Asian Games.
If you go further out from (the future) downtown, things are still at an earlier stage. Watch this space!
The "ceremonial court" at Education City (where graduations and such will be held):
More at Education City: