Oil and gas have made Qatar the richest country in the world – rich enough to be ready, apparently, to spend $200bn (£120bn) on stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. But has virtually limitless wealth brought the country happiness?
It’s still cool enough to sit outside in Qatar’s capital, Doha. In another few weeks it will be too hot and most people – those who don’t have to work outside – will be retreating indoors to the comfort of air-conditioning.
For now, though, families relax in the afternoon sun on the waterfront promenade, the Corniche. The view has changed beyond recognition in the last few years. Glass and steel towers rise like an artificial forest from what was once a shoreline of flat sand.
“We have become urban,” says Dr Kaltham Al Ghanim, a sociology professor at Qatar University. “Our social and economic life has changed – families have become separated, consumption culture has taken over.”
Qatar’s government puts a positive spin on the pace of change.
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Richest countries (GDP per capita)
Source: CIA World Factbook
From desperate poverty less than a century ago, this, after all, has become the richest nation in the world, with an average per-capita income topping $100,000 (£60,000).
What’s less well understood is the impact of such rapid change on Qatari society itself.
You can feel the pressure in Doha. The city is a building site, with whole districts either under construction or being demolished for redevelopment. Constantly snarled traffic adds hours to the working week, fuelling stress and impatience.