Editor’s Note: A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, a three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.
Qatar is expected to welcome a sizable contingent of guests this winter when it becomes the smallest nation ever to host one of the biggest sporting events in the world – the FIFA World Cup.
The Gulf nation predicts that over one million fans will travel to Doha over the duration of the World Cup; that’s around 37% of its population of 2.7 million. The country is only around 4,400 square miles in size, or roughly the size of Jamaica.
Previous tournament hosts have faced several logistical issues in dealing with the large number of traveling fans – ranging from transport to accommodation. The country’s small size may have some advantages, but the challenges are plenty too.
Already, there are reports of rising costs and a lack of suitable accommodation. For example, there are 21 properties available on online travel agency Booking.com for the first three nights of the tournament, with prices starting at $1,000 per night and rising to a whopping $51,000.
This isn’t uncommon though. Reports from 2006 claim hotel prices spiked in Berlin and Frankfurt when Germany hosted the tournament. Prior to organizing the 2010 edition, South Africa was plagued by reports of unfinished training camps, while hotels were accused of hiking prices during the World Cup period.
“Our objective has always been providing fair and reasonable pricing for visiting fans,” a spokesperson for Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SCDL) told CNN. “We work closely with key stakeholders to ensure affordable pricing across all types of accommodation.”
Host nations have often found innovative ways to house fans, and Qatar is no different.
At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, residents living in the iconic favela slums opened their doors to tourists, renting beds, rooms and even entire houses. Some travelers got creative and opted to stay in sex motels usually reserved for Brazilians looking to hook up after a night on the town.
Here’s what Qatar has thought of to house the potentially million-strong football fans:
Two luxury cruise ships will be moored at Doha’s port for the entirety of the World Cup. Between them, they have nine pools, 3,898 cabins, 45 bars and 10 fine dining options. Other facilities include a spa, tennis courts and the world’ largest dry slide at sea.
Worried you’ll need to look your best for a group stage fixture between Japan and Costa Rica? Fear not, you’ll have access to a barber shop and beauty salon.
The ships are a 10-minute shuttle ride to the center of Doha but staying in one of the spacious cabins will not be cheap. They should range from $605 to $2,779 per night – though that’s a snip compared to some of the other options available to ticketholders, considering it includes a buffet breakfast.
Qatar Accommodation Agency, official supplier of lodging for the event, aims to make 100,000-130,000 rooms available on any given night of the 28-day tournament.
There are already listings for ticketholders for one to six-bedroom apartments and villas, with prices for ticketholders ranging from $84 to $875 per night. Most are easily accessible by public transport and the villas are fully equipped with kitchens, washing machines, pools and gyms.
This accommodation, like others provided by the Accommodation Agency, will be rented out on a first-serve basis, via a staggered release in line with FIFA’s ticketing phases or in packages provided by Qatar Airways.
On top of official accommodation, it will provide a booking platform similar to Airbnb for residents to rent out their homes to traveling fans. By applying for a license from Qatar Tourism, residents or owners of buildings can also list their apartments on other portals, such as Airbnb.
Ticketholders can purchase accommodation at so-called fan villages; described as “casual camping and cabin-style accommodations.” At a cost of $207 a night, the small, basic converted portacabins are pricey, and only offer a kettle, fridge, and two bottles of water per day. They are dotted on the outskirts of Doha, the furthest being 25 miles from the airport. There will be a number of food and entertainment options available on site, but details about those have not been made available yet.
The camping option is not yet available on the official accommodation website, but the head of accommodation at the SC, Omar Al-Jaber, has said he plans to pitch 1,000 “Bedouin style” tents in the desert during the tournament. Around 200 of those will be classified as “luxury” and cost an “expensive” fee, providing an “authentic” experience for fans, Al-Jaber told Reuters. They will have air conditioning to protect fans from the cold desert nights and sweltering morning heat.
Accommodation in Qatar is expected to be so limited that the country has opted to house ticketholders in neighboring nations and fly them in and out on short flights every day.
Qatar Airways announced in May that it had partnered with regional carriers to launch 160 extra daily return flights at “competitive prices” that will shuttle fans from Dubai, Jeddah, Kuwait, Muscat and Riyadh. There will be no baggage check-in facilities to speed up the transfers and dedicated transportation services will be made available to get fans from the airport to stadiums.
It will also be possible to drive from cities like Riyadh, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, all of which are under seven hours away.
Russia’s stock exchange plans to start trade in UAE dirham, Indian rupee
The Moscow Exchange is working on a plan to launch trading in the UAE dirham and Indian rupee but there are certain “obstacles” on the part of the Indian central bank, an exchange official said on Thursday, according to Reuters. Daniil Korablev, head of sales to non-credit organizations, said on social media the launch may not happen this year.
- Background: Hit by Western sanctions over Ukraine, Russia is actively shifting its trade out of dollars and euros and into the currencies of what it regards as “friendly” countries.
- Why it matters: The UAE and India haven’t joined their Western allies in sanctioning Russia for its war in Ukraine. Many Russians have moved to the UAE since Western sanctions hampered business activity in their country. The UAE in February abstained from the United Nations resolution condemning Russia for the war and has, along with Saudi Arabia, rebuffed calls by the United States for more oil production to tame inflation.
NATO allies condemn cyberattack blamed on Iran
NATO allies on Thursday condemned a recent cyberattack against Albania that the governments in Washington and Tirana have blamed on Iran, Reuters reported.
- Background: Albania cut diplomatic relations with Iran on Wednesday, when Prime Minister Edi Rama accused the Islamic Republic of committing the July attack and gave its diplomats 24 hours to close the embassy and leave the country. In a rare video address, Rama said the cyberattack had “threatened to paralyze public services, erase digital systems and hack into state records, steal government intranet electronic communication and stir chaos and insecurity in the country.”
- Why it matters: Relations between Iran and Albania have been tense since 2014, when Albania accepted some 3,000 members of the exiled opposition group Mujahideen-e-Khalq – who have settled in a camp near Durres, the country’s main port. Washington, Albania’s closest ally, also blamed Iran and promised to “take further action to hold Iran accountable for actions that threaten the security of a US ally.”
US targets firms over Iranian drone production, shipment to Russia
The US on Thursday imposed sanctions on an Iranian company it accused of coordinating military flights to transport Iranian drones to Russia, as well as three companies it said were involved in the production of Iranian drones, Reuters reported.
- Background: The US accuses Iran of supplying drones to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine, which Tehran has denied. On Thursday, under secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, Brian Nelson, said in a statement: “The United States is committed to strictly enforcing our sanctions against both Russia and Iran and holding accountable Iran and those supporting Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”
- Why it matters: Thursday’s sanctions come as indirect talks between Iran and the US have made only stuttering progress towards reviving a 2015 deal that put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from some sanctions.
Middle Eastern traffickers have found innovative ways to smuggle the region’s favorite drug, captagon. But a recent attempt in Syria is one for the books.
Following a tip-off, Syrian authorities confiscated 24 kilograms of captagon that were crushed down to a paste and made into hummus bowls using an adhesive.
The trafficker was arrested, and an investigation is underway to identify others involved in the operation, according to a statement from Syria’s Ministry of Interior on Monday.
The ministry didn’t say if the traffickers were taking the drugs into or out of the country.
Experts say much of the captagon consumed in the Middle East comes from Syria, where it is produced on an industrial level in factories. Saudi Arabia is said to be its biggest regional market. The drug was also used by ISIS fighters for its effects in battles.
This month, 47 million amphetamine pills hidden in a flour shipment were seized by Saudi authorities at a warehouse after arriving through the dry port of the capital Riyadh, the Saudi Ministry of Interior said. It was the biggest drug haul in Saudi history.
By Mohammed Abdelbary
Forty-three years ago, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II made her first state visit to the Gulf Arab states, arriving on the royal yacht Britannia and meeting with regional leaders for the first time since Britain’s final withdrawal from the Persian Gulf in 1971.
She met the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, in February 1979, seven years after the nation was united as a federal country. Her visit was part of a royal tour to six countries that began in Kuwait and included Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.
At the time, the six states accounted for more than 5% of British export trade, reported the New York Times in 1979, noting that it was more than Australia, New Zealand and Canada combined.
Following Queen Elizabeth’s death on Thursday at the age of 96, several Arab leaders announced their condolences. UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed tweeted that “Her Majesty was a close friend of the UAE and a beloved & respected leader whose long reign was characterised by dignity, compassion & a tireless commitment to serving her country.”
The leaders of Qatar, Oman, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan also sent their condolences.
By Nadeen Ebrahim