At a time when thorny questions arise about Qatar and its reception of the World Cut, Khalifa Al Haroon offers a smile, a sigh and a shrug as he seeks to explain his mysteries.
Known to his growing number of followers as Mr Q, the 38-year-old has become a social media hit by partially lifting the lid on the small but mega-wealthy Gulf state which describes itself as an Islamic country” conservative”.
The first World Cup in an Arab country highlighted Qatar’s treatment of foreign workers, women’s rights and even the use of air conditioning in stadiums.
Haroon’s cheerful #QTip videos cover everything from saying “Hello” in Arabic to the right way for men to wear the flowing ghutra headdress. There is also an edition on labor rights.
With less than 60 days to go until the tournament begins on November 20, he now has over 100,000 followers on Instagram and over 115,000 on Youtube. And the numbers keep growing.
Qatar has dozens of online influencers on topics ranging from “modest” but expensive fashion to the latest imported sports car in what is now one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
Haroon has carved out a niche by revealing Qatar’s unknowns to its growing expat community – and now to the hordes of football fans expected for the World Cup.
Haroon – who was born to a Qatari father and a British mother and spent 16 years in Bahrain – said he first came face to face with global stereotypes about Qatar and the Middle East as he he was studying for a law degree in Britain.
He had wanted to become an actor, but instead launched his social media presence in 2008 with a blog.
“I was in the perfect position because I was a Qatari who never lived properly in Qatar,” he said.
“Trust Your Own Eyes”
“Essentially, I was like a foreigner in my own country and so I had the same questions as foreigners, and so that made it easier for me to start gathering information.”
Haroon said there had to be a distinction between “negative news” and misinformation about his country.
“As far as fake news, obviously I think everyone understands that it’s not true and so the only thing I can do is show people videos and photos and show them what we really are because you can trust your own eyes.”
Some people, he said, told him they decided to move to Qatar after watching his videos.
Haroon, who is now a consultant to the Qatar Football Association and an esports entrepreneur, said he was excited about the World Cup “because now people can come here and experience it for themselves and make their own judgment instead of just believing what is written”.
His main gripe is how foreigners see something negative about Qatar and then believe that all Qataris “accept it or we’re all okay with it”.
Many fans from the 31 foreign countries who will be playing in Qatar, however, have expressed concerns about the welcome that awaits them. Can they drink? And what will happen to same-sex couples in a country where homosexuality is illegal?
The government has insisted the normally restricted beer will be available and everyone is welcome. Haroon wants foreigners to experience “real Qatari hospitality”, with its food and coffee culture.
“Of course there will be certain social norms,” Haroon said. “What we are asking is just to respect the country. And of course the country will certainly respect everyone who comes.”
“Some people can make mistakes because they don’t know the rules and that’s okay,” he added.
“The thing is, our culture is about intention, our religion is about intention, so as long as you have good intentions and want to do the right thing, you have nothing to worry about.”