Qatar Airways buys $1.7bn stake in BA owner IAG: Who are the Qataris?

A closer look at some of Qatar's customs and work practices

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The Independent Online

Today it was announced that Qatar Airways has bought a 9.99 per cent stake worth $1.7 billion (£1.15 billion) in British Airways' owner International Airlines Group (IAG).

This means Qatar's national airline is now the biggest shareholder in the European company. However, non-EU shareholders are prevented from owning a majority stake in EU airlines.

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker said today that "IAG represents an excellent opportunity to further develop our Westwards strategy".

And the news comes after it was also announced this week that Canary Wharf is to be bought by Qatar for £2.6 billion. Canary Wharf's majority owner Songbird Estates gave in to a bid from the Qatar Investment Authority, headed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohamed bin Saud al-Thani, and Canadian developer Brookfield.

But just who are the Qataris?

Rules and customs

Qatar is considered one of the Gulf countries. It is a Muslim nation and follows Sharia law, which means the following things are prohibited:

Alcohol – while not illegal, its sale and consumption is heavily controlled and it is an offence to drink alcohol or to be drunk in a public place. However, it is available in licenced restaurants and hotels and non-Muslim expats can obtain a licence allowing them to purchase alcohol.

Homosexual behaviour is also illegal in Qatar.

The official language is Arabic, although English is widely used.

Men wear traditional dress – the long white garment known as the thawb or thobe. They also wear a loose headdress, called a ghutra, in white or red and white cloth, which is held on with a black rope known as the agal. Women wear the abaya, a long black robe that covers the whole body except the face, hands and feet. Expats and visitors no not have to adhere to the dress code but are expected to dress modestly. However, things are more relaxed in hotels and private clubs.

In Arab culture it is deemed offensive to show the soles of your shoes. This is because shoes are considered dirty – both because they are on the ground and worn on the lowest part of the body. People take off their shoes when entering mosques and other buildings. It is also considered rude to cross your leg over your knee.



When Muslims greet each other they say: “Assalamu alaikum" ("May peace be upon you"). The correct response is: "Wa alaikum assalam" ("And upon you be peace").

As was highlighted when Michelle Obama visited Saudi Arabia this week, Islamic law generally forbids men from touching women they are not related to. However, the First Lady shook hands with King Salman bin Abdulaziz, showing that this rule is not always adhered to.

IAG has three female non-executive directors, Baroness Denise Kingsmill, Dame Marjorie Scardino and Maria Fernanda Mejia. Instead of shaking hands with the male Qataris they do business with, these three women may instead place their right hand over their heart and bow their heads in introduction.

Men may also greet each other with a hand on the chest. However, males in the Gulf region often rub their noses together upon meeting, which is a custom denoting respect, or simply shake hands.


The working week lasts from Sunday to Thursday. The pace of work is more relaxed in Qatar, where family is very important. Government ministries and banks work shorter hours and many businesses work two shifts and are closed between 1pm and 4pm.

It is deemed inappropriate to discuss women and you should not ask about the health of someone's wife or daughter.