Syrena logo TRAVEL to GULF EMIRATES in the 1970s
Part 2 - Kuwait, Qatar
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Kuwait old and new     Kuwait in the 1970s was the most advanced of the Persian Gulf Emirates. Oil had been discovered here already in the 1930s and was being exploited already before World war II. Consequently the small country was rich and by 1970 the basic infrastructure was modern and modern facilities such as hotels and a modern airport were in place. However construction of new chemical industries and expansion of the city into the surrounding desert was continuing. The familiar, onion shaped, water towers that were to become a symbol of Kuwait, like the Eifel Tower of Paris, were not yet constructed.
I stayed at the Sheraton Hotel which had a good restaurant, a nice swimming pool, and was conveniently located close to the main shopping area. When I first came there in 1973 it was still possible to sit in the bar and have a drink. But in later years the Shariah laws became more strictly enforced and alcoholic beverages were no longer available in the hotel, even for westerners.

The laws of the Emirate provided an income from the oil revenues for all native-born citizens. It became quite common to see a new Mercedes, or even a Rolls Royce, parked next to a tent in the desert with camels and goats grazing right next to it. All large companies were required to have a local as nominal CEO, but all the work was done by foreigners. Most of the professionals, such as engineers were Europeans, Egyptians or Lebanese. The middle levels of management, particularly in the government, were filled predominantly by Palestinians. Most of the lowest echelons of workers were Pakistanis, Indians, Indonesians. No foreigner had any right to permanent residency or hope of obtaining citizenship. This way the Emir maintained total control of his small butimmensely rich principality.


    Qatar is a peninsula in the Persian Gulf (called the Arabian Gulf by Arabs). Originally inhabited by poor nomadic shepherds and pearl fishermen, it did not become an independent emirate until 1971. It suddenly became rich by the discovery of oil and gas deposits in the 1980s, currently it has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world. The present Emir provides the most open political system of any Arab country - the media are subjected to virtually no control. However there are no political parties.

Doha is the capital. In the 1980s the new wealth was used to transform the small sleepy town into a city of wide tree lined streets with buildings of striking architecture.

This was the only Arab state in which I was invited to private homes, to enjoy dinners sitting on the carpet around a plastic cloth on which dishes of steaming rice, chicken and vegetables were arranged. My hosts and the other Arab guests ate with their bare right hand. They offered me a plate with a knife and fork, realizing that I might be uncomfortable eating with one hand. Naturally no women were to be seen and all the servants were also male.
Doha football I was also invited to attend a football (soccer) match in which the Qatar team played against the Kuwait team in the first round of the World Cup playoffs. As the strict Wahabi version of Islam practised in this part of the world forbids even men to appear in public with exposed arms and legs, the players on both teams were Pakistanis!
However falconry is a sport that is a favorite of the local sheikhs. One day I flew on a local airline from Kuwait to Dubai sitting next to an Arab carrying his favorite falcon on his gloved wrist. The bird was on its best behavior.

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