Qatar celebrates its National Day on Friday amid coronavirus-related restrictions and a continuing diplomatic spat with neighbouring countries that seems to be easing.
The December 18 holiday marks the unification of Qatar in 1878 under the leadership of the country’s founder, Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, and since 2007 has been celebrated annually.
“We praise you, the Lord of the Throne, We accept your judgment in all actions,” is this year’s National Day slogan, which is usually a quote from a poem by the Gulf state’s founder.
Various events usually take place in different cities and towns across Qatar, namely Doha, Al Wakra and Al Shamal. But this year, because of the pandemic, celebrations have been scaled down to three main events – the annual Doha Corniche national parade, a ceremonial air show by Qatar’s air force and nighttime fireworks.
Only those who have received invitations will be allowed as spectators this year as part of measures taken to combat the spread of COVID-19.
A total of 2,569 seats are available for the invitees, most of whom are family members of healthcare workers, local media said, while others will be able to watch the festivities live on television.
So far, Qatar has reported more than 141,000 coronavirus infections and at least 240 deaths.
Those attending the events will undergo a body temperature check and must wear a face mask at all times while adhering to social distancing measures. They will remain in their seats until the ceremony comes to an end, and unlike previous years, will be strictly forbidden from chanting or singing.
A football match between two of Qatar’s football clubs is scheduled to take place on Friday evening, marking the start of the biggest football cup competition in the country.
Meanwhile, shopping malls across the country will provide entertainment and educational activities to families and children of all ages.
“I congratulate the people of Qatar on the occasion of National Day, which comes in a year with challenges, but was a witness to a journey filled with contributions and accomplishments … that made Qatar an oasis of stability, development and prosperity,” Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said on Twitter.
Sheikh Tamim is expected to attend the annual parade, along with a number of high-ranking officials from government bodies and foreign mission representatives.
It is the third year Qatar celebrates its National Day amid a blockade that has been imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt.
In June 2017, the quartet cut diplomatic ties with Doha and imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the Gulf state, accusing it of “supporting terrorism” and having ties with Iran that were deemed too close.
Qatar has repeatedly denied the accusations, saying the embargo undermines its sovereignty.