Once little more than a minuscule pearl fishing village, Doha, Qatar's capital and largest city, has emerged to become one of the pearls of the Middle East. It is one of the most rapidly-developing cities on the Persian Gulf, akin to the development seen in nearby Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and is aiming to become a centre of international trade and travel.
For most of its history Doha was a poor fishing village dependent on pearl diving, and was regarded as a sleepy backwater until the early 1990s. Following the accession of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani as Emir in 1995, however, Qatar quickly began to modernize, and Doha is now taking huge strides to catch up with other nearby Gulf cities, especially in preparation for its hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The city is very much a work-in-progress, with a rapidly growing skyline and new buildings sprouting up almost like mushrooms.
For most visitors, Doha is synonymous with Qatar, as the vast majority of the country's population resides in the capital city. Doha has an astonishingly diverse population – just 13% of residents are native Qataris. Although Arabic is Qatar's official language, English is by default the lingua franca, as the majority of the city's expats do not speak Arabic, including most shopkeepers and service providers, and most Qataris speak English to communicate with the numerous migrant workers who work for them. Doha is also now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, as workers continue to pour in to help build the developing economy.
Doha is fairly liberal by the standards of the Islamic world, though less so than most Western countries. Alcohol is legal for non-Muslims, and non-Muslim women are not required to wear the hijab, though dressing in very skimpy outfits is still illegal. That said, Qatar is an absolute monarchy, so criticising the Emir is a crime. Homosexuality is also a crime that carries the death penalty (though not actively enforced), so gay visitors should be as discreet as possible.