In rich Qatar, restaurant lets poor eat for free

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By David Harding, AFP

DOHA, Qatar–In a dusty corner of Qatar’s booming capital, a sign outside a modest restaurant popular with migrant laborers reads: ��If you are hungry and have no money, eat for free!!!�� Sixteen kilometers (10 miles) from the gleaming glass towers of Doha, one of the richest places on the planet, sits the ��Industrial Area�� of small-scale workshops, factories and low-cost accommodation. It is only a 40-minute drive south of the center of the Qatari capital and its luxury shops, upmarket brands and expensive restaurants. But the ��Industrial Area,�� rarely seen by outsiders, is a different Qatar �X one which provides essential labor and materials for the country’s massive and relentless expansion. It is at the margin of Doha life, both geographically and metaphorically, but home to a restaurant called Zaiqa doing something apparently unique for the oil-rich Gulf state. About three weeks ago the Indian brothers who own Zaiqa decided to put up a small makeshift sign offering free food to customers who cannot afford to pay. ��When I saw the board I had tears in my eyes,�� said one of the owners, Shadab Khan, 47, originally from New Delhi, who has lived in Qatar for 13 years. ��Even now when I talk about it, I get a lump in my throat.�� He said the idea came from his younger brother, Nishab. ‘People need free food’

The 16-seater eatery stands on the prosaically named Street 23, sandwiched between another restaurant and a steel workshop.

It is a busy area �X opposite is a mosque and then a road where large trucks hurtle past. Inside, on brightly colored tablecloths, ��authentic Indian cuisine from the heart of Delhi�� is served 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A fish curry costs six Qatari riyals (US$1.65), an egg roast is three riyals and a spinach dish of palak paneer is 10 riyals �X for those who choose to pay. The need for free food in Qatar is particularly acute among laborers and those working in heavy industry. It is estimated that there are anywhere between 700,000 and one million migrant workers in the tiny Gulf kingdom, out of a total population of 2.3 million. Rights groups have criticized companies in Qatar for not paying workers on time or, in some cases, not at all. The Qatari government, under pressure to introduce salary reform in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, vowed earlier this year to force companies to pay wages through direct bank transfers.