I spent the last few days in two truly amazing countries – Bahrain and Qatar …
The first thing one notices is how nice the people are … the people are incredibly friendly – always wanting to help … and how quickly one’s stereotypes about the region quickly disappear …
Off the coast of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain sits in the Persian Gulf like a large jewel. It is connect to Saudi by a long, 20+ kilometer causeway/bridge. Bahrain has a very diverse economy, extremely educated population, and lots of people eager to work. A country of only 400K Bahrainis and 300K ex-pats, it contains a hodge-podge of diverse cultures which interact with one another on a regular basis. I spent some time at Bahrain University which has 20,000 students and increasing academic standards – especially in computer science.
Flying into Qatar (just a 30 minute plane ride from Bahrain) one sees tremendous building in the capital city of Doha. Also a country of less than 800K (with about 200K Qataris), one finds incredible buildings and highways – all built in the last few years. While there I visited University City – a new project sponsored by the Emir of Qatar to educate the entire gulf region. Here we saw mini-campus run by Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell University, and others springing up. Also – Doha's beaches are gorgeous and the hotels are all brand new and opulent.
I was there in late June – and though the heat was crushing, it was tolerable (though I recommend skipping July and August in the gulf).
Though security is a problem given the proximity of both these countries to Saudi Arabia, I actually felt incredibly safe. Taking precautions is certainly advisable, but I wouldn’t avoid the region (remember – I was there during an extreme rash of kidnappings and killings in Saudi but still felt very safe).
Unfortunately, I missed a chance to go to Dubai as I had a meeting in San Francisco that I could not get out of. But I hear Dubai – though much more over-the-top (like Vegas or Disneyland) – is also a site to see.
I was there for business – but I hope to have an opportunity to go back as a tourist and spend more time talking with the locals. Doha, especially, seems like a wonderful winter get-a-way.