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Fox’s map of the Middle East 30, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Keep looking, keep looking……….there it is. God bless Fox news. Bathos whenever you need it.

middle east wrong map

New NY airport to be in Central Park 29, July 2009

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Manhattan airport

Plans have been released to build a new airport in Central Park in the heart of Manhattan, New York. Whilst such plans will no doubt cause controversy, the website of the architects promises bold designs and an end to mess that is La Guardia, JFK and Newark.

China increases ties with Saudi Arabia 27, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China and the ME, Saudi Arabia, The Gulf.
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A Chinese company has been selected to build 200 new schools in Saudi Arabia that when completed will accommodate 153,000 students.

Relations between China – the world’s second largest oil importer, and Saudi Arabia – the worlds top oil producer, are concentrated mainly on energy cooperation but China hopes to be able to increase bilateral trade from an estimated  $15 billion in 2005 to $20 billion in 2010.

Since 2001 China has signed some 3,000 contracts totaling $2.7 billion with the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which includes Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

In 2004 an agreement on Economic, Trade, Investment, and Technological Cooperation was signed between China and the GCC and negotiations for a China-GCC free trade zone were initiated.

Meanwhile, the Chinese broadcasting company China Central TV on Saturday night launched an Arabic language channel for the Middle East and Africa as part of the government’s plans to improve its relations with the Arab and Muslim World. The channel is China Central’s fourth foreign language channel after English, French and Spanish.
Hat Tip: The Media Line

Qatar Interviews 27, July 2009

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Israel and the Gulf 27, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Gulf.
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I’ve spotted an excellent article at the National in Abu Dhabi on the Gulf’s relations with Israel. It’s well worth a read.

Afghanistan: Lost in Translation 26, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Central Asia.
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The Guardian has an excellent video of the US forces in Afghanistan and their problems with understanding what the local Pashtun are trying to tell them. The clip shows one of their translators wilfully mistranslating what a tribal elder has to say. One can only hope that translators such as these are in the vast minority, however unlikely that may be.

Hat Tip: Media Shack

World Bank report on Kuwait’s schools 23, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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The World Bank has released a report highlighting significant concerns about the state of Kuwait’s education system. It suggests that the time when a diploma/certificate from a Kuwaiti school or college may not be accepted across the world may not be that far away. Find the report on this Kuwait blog.

Friedman’s quote 23, July 2009

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In an otherwise interesting article, Friedman makes a truly absurd statement.

It is worrying because between the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are grinding down our military. I don’t know how these people and their families put up with it. Never have so many asked so much of so few.

This last sentence is, obviously enough, taken from a Winston Churchill speech in 1940 about the Battle of Britain in World War Two. For Friedman to compare these two wars or even just the two battles in question is ridiculous, offensive and wholly wrong. I am sure that this hardly needs to be explained.

“Qatar’s increasing international profile” 20, July 2009

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This article appeared in the Kuwait Times on 17/07/09

Qatar’s increasing international profile

David B Roberts

Qatar’s $10bn bid for a stake in German luxury car manufacturer Porsche is but the latest in a series of high-profile purchases and policies undertaken by the small Gulf state. These range from the acquisition of blue-chip Western companies, multinational mediation, promotion of sporting events to the creation of Al Jazeera.

Firstly, Qatar are spending money to make money. Taking advantage of their cash-rich economy at a time of global downturn means that there are bargains to be had. For sure, Porsche is in a highly competitive industry but it has one of the strongest luxury brands in the business and it already owns around 70% of Volkswagen so, in some ways, Qatar would be getting two icons of European motoring for the price of one.

Yet, Qatar is also attracted to such deals because it further increases their profile on the international map.

Since the mid-1990s, Qatar has engaged in wide-ranging mediation efforts throughout the Middle East and beyond in, for example, Yemen, Western Sahara and Darfur. Additionally, Qatar has been deeply involved in negotiations with Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, and the Lebanese and Palestinian Authorities. Indeed, it received much acclaim for its role in settling the simmering conflict between the Lebanese factions in 2008.

Such actions are important in two particular ways. First, they act as advertising for Qatar as a whole, increasing its exposure throughout the region. The more interaction that Qatar can foster between its officials and officials of other states, according to theories of commerce, the better the chances of future interaction, be this in terms of investment, tendering contracts or seeking other services. Secondly, it is beneficial for Qatar if it can present itself as a state which consistently seeks to promote and find peace. Not only may such a state appeal more to, say, an investment banker considering moving to the Middle East, but it may well aid Qatar’s security, for it is surely more difficult to attack a state that is primarily known for fostering peace.

In terms of investments, Qatar’s $60bn sovereign wealth fund has bought stakes in Barclays Bank, Credit Suisse, the London Stock Exchange as well as high-end property developments in London such as the $970 million Chelsea Barracks and buying 80% of what will be London’s tallest and newest skyscraper, the $3.2bn Shard of Glass. Such dealings diversify Qatar’s vulnerabilities in international gas markets, its main source of international currency, and can act as shrewd investments. Also, by seeking to invest in some of the bluest of blue-chip businesses, Qatar is seeking to promote its name as a highly professional business partner capable of dealing at the top table of international finance.

It is, however, in sporting events and the world of media that Qatar’s name is being publicized the most. The 2006 Asian Games was the first big sporting event held in Qatar. Today, Doha hosts various top level tennis, golf and motor-racing events, will host the 2011 Indoor Olympics and has made bids to host the 2016 Olympics and the 2022 Football World Cup. Such events increase Qatar’s international profile and, along with, for example, Qatar Airways, spread Qatar’s brand further afield.

The creation of Al Jazeera in the early 1990s is, in many ways, representative of Qatar as a whole. The first goal of any TV station is to increase people’s awareness of it and to build up a following. This is essentially what Qatar as a country is trying to do. Al Jazeera was also groundbreaking in Middle Eastern media. Its progressive platform, where people would debate previously unheard of topics on TV, became something of a sensation. So too is Qatar erring on the side of progression and modernization. Women have the vote and can stand for office, levels of education are high at unfettered Western institutions, there have been mixed attempts to establish free media watchdogs and Qatar has sought – again with mixed results – to unilaterally reinstate contacts with Israel, much to the anger of its regional neighbors.

Indeed, Qatar’s Israel policy and particularly Al Jazeera’s critical stance towards other Arab countries has fermented countless international issues for Qatar. Formal complaints have been lodged on numerous occasions and Ambassadors have been withdrawn by virtually all Arab countries at what they see as Al Jazeera’s harsh coverage of all issues except domestic Qatari ones. Yet, whilst Qatar has sought to mend broken fences in recent years, it is not primarily aiming at promoting itself towards Arab countries.

It must not be forgotten that Qatar is a small country with a tiny indigenous population sandwiched between vastly larger and more powerful historical enemies. Therefore, it encouraged the US military to base itself in Doha to act as a tacit deterrent. However, in Qatar’s not so distant past, various allies – superpowers at the time – came and went, leaving Qatar scrambling for a new alliance. Qatar, therefore, through its modernization and its relatively free media, is angling itself Westward as a hedge against future concerns. Furthermore, by selling large amounts of Liquefied Natural Gas to the UK and to Spain, not to mention Japan, South Korea and India, it is further increasing its powerful allies further afield.

Furthermore, in the ever more competitive and globalised world every country is searching for foreign investment and skilled professionals. Indeed, Dubai, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi are in just such a battle. Therefore, whatever Qatar can do to increase its chances at getting that extra dollar or extra engineer, it must. Be this by making itself attractive to a would-be employer by promoting contacts or having a moderate, modernizing outlook, or by making itself attractive for would-be investors by proving its business-savvy credentials.

Crucially, Qatar, like every country, is seeking to secure itself from any threats. Whether these threats stem from real security-related issues or from economic worries, Qatar is seeking to answer these concerns by – at the most basic level – seeking to make friends and influence them.

Differing modes of development: Kuwait, Qatar & UAE 17, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Qatar, The Gulf.
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This article appeared in the Kuwait Times on 22nd July.

Tracking Trajectories: Differences in development, FDI in the Gulf’

It is curious how Kuwait and, for example, the Emirates, stemming from the same kinds of religious, cultural, linguistic, geographical, social and political backgrounds, have gone about development in such contrasting ways. From Dubai’s glitz and glamour, or – depending on one’s view point – crass and vulgar modernization, to Kuwait’s slow and steady approach, each country has come up with a remarkably different idea of the best way to proceed.

The briefest of glances at Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) statistics highlight these divergences. When, in 2007, Kuwait was receiving $123 million of FDI, Qatar was getting $1.1 billion and the United Arab Emirates were getting over $13 billion, more than one hundred times more than Kuwait.

The explanation for this is not immediately apparent. Both the UAE and Kuwait are oil-rich countries with around 7% and 8% of the world’s proven oil resources, respectively. Qatar too was a relatively rich country, with one of the world’s highest Gross Domestic Product per capita for some time now.

For sure, Kuwait was far more developed than Doha, Abu Dhabi or Dubai until very recently. These cities would have needed far more money to be spent on things that Kuwait City already had such as ample hospitals, schools, a road infrastructure and a large international airport. However, Saddam’s brutal 1990 invasion, laying waste to swathes of Kuwait, meant that Kuwait City was, it could be suggested, in need of as much reconstruction as Doha and Dubai was construction. Yet, historical FDI statistics clearly show that this is just not what happened with Kuwait averaging just $58 million of FDI from 1990-2000. Instead, Kuwait relied overwhelmingly – if not almost entirely – on their own resources to rebuild their country.

Even admitting that Kuwait was a richer country and had more funds itself to invest, lessening or even negating its need to seek international FDI, this is not enough to explain the profound lack of FDI that Kuwait receives. There must be, aside from Kuwait’s cash-rich balance, other reasons as to why their FDI is so abysmally low.

A brief look at a few more statistics may enlighten the situation. Transparency International, the world-renowned Berlin-based anti-corruption civil society organization, measures the ‘corruption perceptions’ of doing business in a country, where the least corrupt country, Denmark, is No.1. In their 2008 survey the UAE is ranked 35th, Qatar 28th and Kuwait a lowly 65th, surrounded by Cuba and El Salvador.

A different survey, conducted by commercial company ‘Doing Business’ under the auspices of the US based World Bank Group, ranked countries according to the ease of doing business.  Overall, in their 2009 rankings, Qatar comes 37th, the UAE 46th and Kuwait 52nd bordered by Namibia and Colombia. This particular survey works by rating a country according to a series of factors such as, for example, how easy it is to set up a business, how obtainable credit is and how easy it is to register property.

By far Kuwait’s lowest score in the factors that make up their final placing – coming 134th alongside Malawi and Cambodia – is in the ‘ease to set up a business’ category. Such a finding is wholly corroborated by anecdotal evidence, highlighting the bureaucratic hurdles that foreign companies are forced to deal with when seeking to setup in Kuwait.

It seems, therefore, that Kuwait’s institutions not only do not encourage FDI but in fact make it as complex and difficult as possible. Such a system cannot have come about by accident. Moreover, Kuwait, whilst not necessarily consciously raising barriers to foreign companies, nevertheless refuses to lower them. In short, Kuwait just does not want foreign capital and the foreign influence that goes with it.

This is, of course, in total contrast to the UAE and Qatar. Their strategies of development are based on extensive contact and interaction with the rest of the world. By inviting prestigious Universities to the UAE and Qatar, encouraging the recruitment of Western media outlets to base themselves in Dubai Media City, advertising themselves heavily as a tourism hotspot, hosting large sporting events and countless other projects, the Emirates’ and Qatar’s outlook is totally and irreversibly outward.

When Dubai was at the height of its pomp in the early 2000s, some in Kuwait clamored for the modernity or glamour that they saw further down the Gulf. Now that the Dubai bubble has firmly burst and their economic model has come under serious scrutiny and even criticism, many in Kuwait will now be thankful somewhat for their country’s steadier approach. Yet there is surely a common ground between Kuwait’s insular approach and Dubai’s dependence on ever increasing amounts of foreign capital that can simply not be realized.