EXPLANATION: Laws and customs in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup

Over a million sports fans will head to Qatar in November and December for the World Cup, a spectacle that usually turns the host countries into a non-stop party. But this year it can be different.

The tiny, conservative Muslim nation may show little tolerance for the alcohol-fueled hooliganism that has unfolded at past tournaments.

Qatar has tried to present itself as welcoming to foreigners, but traditional Muslim values ​​remain strong in the hereditary-ruled emirate. Qatar’s judicial system, based on an interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, has drawn Western criticism for its tendency to favor prosecutors and the police.

The autocratic country says it will ease up for the unprecedented influx of tourists. But fans attending the World Cup should be aware of Qatar’s laws and cultural customs, including policies on alcohol, drugs, sexuality and dress code.

Here’s a look at some of them:

ALCOHOL

Alcohol is only served in licensed hotel restaurants and bars in Qatar. It is illegal to consume it elsewhere. However, non-Muslim residents of Doha who hold an alcohol license are allowed to drink at home. At the World Cup, fans can buy Budweiser beer within stadium grounds – but not at concession stands in the hall – before and after matches. Fans can also have an evening drink at a designated “fan zone” in downtown Doha. In general, public drunkenness in Qatar is punishable by heavy fines and imprisonment. But the head of Qatar’s security operations said police will turn a blind eye to most crimes during the tournament but may make arrests if someone gets into a drunken brawl or damages public property. The legal drinking age is 21, and bouncers in bars often require photo ID or passport upon entry.

DRUGS

Qatar is one of the most restrictive nations in the world when it comes to drugs, banning cannabis and even over-the-counter drugs like narcotics, tranquilizers and amphetamines. Selling, trafficking and possession of illegal drugs can result in severe penalties, including lengthy prison terms followed by deportation and large fines. Drug smuggling can be followed by the death penalty. World Cup fans should be aware of these laws as they arrive at Hamad International Airport, where authorities are using new security technology to scan bags and passengers and arrest those found to be carrying the smallest amount of drugs.

SEXUALITY

Qatar considers the cohabitation of unmarried women and men a crime and punishes extramarital sex with so-called indecency laws. However, authorities say unmarried couples can easily share hotel rooms during the World Cup. Public displays of affection on the street are “frowned upon,” according to the government’s tourism website. Holding hands won’t get you jailed, but visitors should avoid showing intimacy in public. Qatari law provides for a prison sentence of one to three years for adults convicted of consensual gay or lesbian sex. Crossdressing is also criminalized. World Cup organizers have told The Associated Press that anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, can come “without fear of any repercussions”. But an official warned rainbow flags could be confiscated to protect fans from being attacked for promoting gay rights in a region where discrimination is rife.

DRESS CODE

The Qatar government’s tourism website urges men and women to “show respect for local culture by avoiding displaying overly revealing clothing in public”. It asks visitors to cover their shoulders and knees. People in shorts and sleeveless tops may be turned away from government buildings and shopping malls. Women who attend mosques in the city are given shawls to cover their heads. The situation is different in hotels, where bikinis are common at hotel pools.

CAUSE INJURY

Showing the middle finger or swearing, especially when dealing with the police or other authorities, can lead to arrest. Most criminal cases in Qatar that trap unwary foreigners involve such crimes. Many Qatari women and men do not shake hands with the opposite sex; wait for a hand to be offered. Filming and photographing people without their consent, as well as photographing sensitive military or religious sites, can result in criminal prosecution. It’s also important to exercise caution when discussing religion and politics with local people. Insulting the royal family can land you in jail. Few Qataris will welcome criticism of their system of government from a tourist. Spreading fake news and harming the country’s interests is a serious and vaguely defined crime, so it’s best to stay away from social media commentary on Qatar.

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