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News 40

A new golden age rises under the desert sun

Qatar's Education City has the look of a technology super-state in the making, but can it deliver on its promise, asks Anjana Ahuja.

With temperatures that reach 50C (122F) in the summer and the constant, abrasive swirl of sand grains in the air, Qatar feels like little more than a desert. But the mirages are different here. Instead of shimmering pools of water that vanish on closer inspection, huge structures rise from the bone-dry landscape. Some are squat and boxy; others curve elegantly into the sky. The skyline is dotted with skeletons of others yet to be finished.

Education City, on the outskirts of the capital, Doha, is at an embryonic stage. But it represents Qatar's grand attempt to turn itself from fossil-fuel nation into scientific superpower. Famous universities such as Carnegie Mellon and University College London have opened satellite campuses amid the fake grass. Shell, Total and GE have set up research centres. Virgin Health Bank has opened an umbilical-cord blood bank. There is a technology park for start-ups seeking escapees from Silicon Valley.

The Qatar Foundation, the non-profit organisation set up by one of the ruling emir's three wives, hopes that it will become an intellectual jewel in the Gulf and in the wider world.

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