Manama: Khalid limped his way to the park bench where he wanted to sit down. He was exhausted after walking under the sun along the Doha Corniche lapped by the limpid waters of the Gulf.
He had decided not to go home straight after the Friday prayers and opted for a walk along the Gulf towards the Sheraton Park where he would sit for a while before taking a taxi home.
He was still under the shock of the Monday blaze at the Villaggio Mall, located in the Aspire Zone, in the West end of Doha and in which 13 children and six adults lost their lives and wanted some “serene” time to appreciate the situation.
Qatar is not used to tragedies and he prayed that it never will. But he thought the dramatic developments deserved meaningful pauses to find out, reflect, understand, appreciate and act.
A daunting, but necessary task, for the sake of the local and international communities in Qatar and for the sake of the nation, he thought.
He appreciated the terrible feelings, the anger and the frustrations. But he also wanted to ponder on the immediate consequences on the society.
“I was overwhelmed when I saw how Qataris reacted so compassionately,” he said. “The people’s spontaneous reaction was really wonderful and proved the significance of coming together in times of need. The personal condolences offered by the crown prince also proved that Qatar the state also cared and felt for its residents regardless of their nationality or religion,” the journalist said.
He also reflected on what it meant for people used to the Villaggio to be without the iconic mall.
“This is the first weekend in six years that people in Qatar do not throng the Villaggio Mall on Thursday evening,” he said. “It was their place of choice where they could meet up, go to the cinemas, encourage their children to use the amusement facilities. It was one of the best and most care-free areas in the country,” he said.
On Wednesday and Thursday, several netizens posted questions and observations on the best places to spend the first weekend after the Villaggio was ruled out.
Doha News said that “Monday’s deadly fire does not appear to have put a damper on Qatar residents’ favourite summer past time” and that “a lot of foot traffic was directed to Doha’s other malls, especially Landmark and City Centre.”
Local daily The Peninsula reported that “the 14-screen multiplex at the City Centre Doha witnessed a rush of movie fans to watch blockbuster movies such as MIB 3 and The Avengers.”
Mall managers have reported that an increasing number of people were asking about the location of the fire exits, the media said.
However, for many people the feeling of loss and frustration still lingered. Four days after the tragedy, they are waiting for answers amid promises that they would be provided this week.
“I heard about the tragedy when I was in the US on an assignment,” Khalid said. “My spontaneous reaction was to pray for the souls of the victims and for their families. My subsequent prayers were that the investigation would be thorough and would highlight failures, shortcomings and issues without compromise or bias. Qatar is under the world’s vigilant eyes and we are aware that there are some people who are always slow to appreciate our achievements and quick to criticise us,” he said.
Khalid said that some forces used the terrible tragedy to allege that the blaze was a result of bombs hurled at Israelis in the mall while others claimed there were feuds between families in Qatar that turned violent.
“The allegations are totally ridiculous and stupid and the people know that. There are so many who are envious of the progress made here and even jealous and they just want to spoil the serenity enjoyed by both Qataris and expatriates who have opted to stay here,” he said. “There are also those keen on sensations and who take stories out of their contexts or emphasise only the bit they want. These people would use any element, twist it and publish it as the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I find capitalising on tragedies and on the death of children and others grossly disgusting.”
But while Khalid was contemplating the developments in the country as the tragedy unfolded, bloggers active with Doha News and ILoveQatar sites on Thursday evening moved one step higher and met to see how they could best serve the community with prompt and accurate information.
According to Doha News, a diverse crowd of some 100 people gathered for the meeting to both mourn the 19 people killed in the Villaggio fire and ask difficult questions about whether the tragedy could have been prevented.
“It was a system error,” one Qatari member of the audience said, pointing out, among other things, the failings of the sprinkler system, the fire alarm, the emergency response.
Who exactly is at fault remains a question that audience members could not answer, only expressing the hope that the investigation will hold the appropriate people accountable, the report said.
Other topics of concern raised included the safety of workers on construction sites, the Qatari/expat divide and the lack of an English-language local news TV station.
“We may not be Qatari, but this is our home too,” one expat told the audience. “The relationship between nationals and the majority foreign population is a mutually beneficial arrangement. This means that expatriates are equally responsible for bringing change to safety standards in the country,” the expat said, quoted by the news site.