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70% pay rise for Emiratis 23, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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The National reports that public sector Emirati workers will be receiving a 70% pay rise. I only have a few thoughts on this:

  • Do you think that Emiraiti in the ‘ministries’ will work harder for this pay now, or will the legendary* caricature of the four and a half day a week, 2 hour lunch break taking, late starting and early finishing Gulfie carry on as usual?
  • This is the rentier bargain in a nut-shell. ‘Yes, dear citizen, Dubai has huge issues, but don’t worry about it. Here’s some more cash…off you run to the shops now…’
  • There’s only so far that these salaries can rise. Not for a very long time given Abu Dhabi’s oil and gas wealth, but eventually these economies will have to face up to economic realities of ludicrously high wages and equally ludicrously low levels of productivity throughout the state sector. Decisions today are creating the mother of all rods for the backs of their grandchildren’s generation of rulers. It easy to give out cash like this but to take it back?…that’s not going to be pretty.

* The notion of ‘the national’ working in ‘a Ministry’ is a loaded concept in the Gulf. I’ve spoken to countless people about this in industries ranging from education to oil and gas to security to research in Kuwait, the Emirates and Qatar and I have unanimously heard stories of woefully under-productive workers with little to do (if anything at times), little motivation to do anything and no coercive measures to make them do anything. Needless to say, this doesn’t apply to all workers, but arguably the majority. I’ve heard these stories from nationals themselves and from ex-pats.

Technically, I could, of course, have been speaking to people with an agenda to push. However, given the numerous different settings in which I’ve talked to these people I doubt this and overall I do not really think that anyone with any serious experience of the region would argue with this premise. The only argument to have, as far as I see it, is over the question of how bad/prevalent it is. You can draw your own conclusions, but, as far as I see it, it is a chronic problem soundly based in rentier theory, which, as I explain above, poses a real threat to these societies.

Hat tip: UAE Community Blog

Who blinked first? 18, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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With Abu Dhabi agreeing to give Dubai some $10 billion, there are many interesting questions to be asked about the conditions that are now attached and what this means for some Dubai’s autonomy. The best discussion of this is available, of course, on the Suq Al Mal blog.

Dubai: No lessons learned 15, December 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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There’s a peach of a post over at Suq Al Mal discussing an absurdly triumphal editorial in a Dubai newspaper.

One would have thought that recent events would have resulted in a bit of introspection and restrained behavior.  Unless of course one was familiar with the region.
Today’s Khaleej Newspaper (Dubai) has a lead article entitled “We Can Do It”. Here is the first paragraph.
“GLOBAL crisis or not, Dubai has done it again. It has once again shown the world, beyond doubt, its ability and willingness not only to meet its obligations but any challenge to its unrivalled status as the most dynamic global financial and trading hub in the Gulf region.”
I’m not sure precisely what Dubai has done.
As I understand things, the kindly Shaykh up the road has sent around US$10 billion to be used to settle Dubai’s debts.  And Dubai is mailing the check.   How that shows ability is beyond me.  And how living off the kindness of strangers beats back challenges to a postulated “unrivalled status” also escapes me.

Abu Dhabi bails out Dubai…again 25, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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Two Abu Dhabi banks have lent some $5 billion to Dubai which is by all accounts still struggling massively since its credit-crunch collapse. For this ‘investment’ Abu Dhabi have demands both large and small. For example, Abu Dhabi sought and gained a huge stake in Dubai’s flagship airline Emirates and also changed a bill-board in a prominent place in Dubai from a picture of Dubai’s ruler to a pointedly different message proclaiming ‘Long live our Emirates Union’ with a picture of UAE President Shiekh Khalifah bin Zayed Al Nayhan, just to rub it in.

 

Tackiest houses on earth coming soon to Abu Dhabi 31, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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ferrari world

Soon you’ll be able to live in a vastly chintzy, red, carbon-fiber, puerile and gargantuanly expensive teenager’s wet dream of a house in Abu Dhabi if the mooted notion of a Ferrari sponsored or themed housing development goes ahead. Only those with no idea whatsoever of excess or individuality; with no earthly comprehension of the notion of ‘tack’ and those who are so cravenly driven by materialism and a deep, wet and desperate desire to show off their monstrously sized egos and monstrously small-sized comprehension of the world culture, with a petulant and perverse urge to live at 1 Enzo Place need apply.

Israeli flag flies in the Emirates 17, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, The Emirates.
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Even though Israel does not have any formal relations with the UAE, the Israeli flag flew at a recent meeting in Abu Dhabi of the International Renewable Energy Agency. Perhaps the UAE, like Qatar, feel that there is little to be gained from prolongued isolation of Israel and they seek to test the waters with such a minor event.

Dubai paper suspended for 20 days 3, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
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A state controlled Dubai newspaper Al Emirate Al Youm has been ordered to suspend publication for 20 days by an Abu Dhabi court. The paper under the auspices of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed Al Maktoum published a front-page article back in 2006 suggesting that stables owned by the royal family of Abu Dhabi, the Al Nayhan, engaged in horse doping. The court in Abu Dhabi upheld the defamation case put by members of the Al Nayhan family and imposed the harsh punishment which included a 20,000 Dirham ($5400) fine for the editor as well as the suspension of the whole paper for 20 days.

In terms of background it is perhaps worth noting that Sheikh Mohammed the ruler of Dubai was investigated by equestrian authorities for horse doping. Although he denied knowledge of this he accepted full responsibility. It could be suggested, therefore, that this article in one of his controlled papers was some kind of attempt to smear the rival rulers of Abu Dhabi with similar accusations. Horse racing along with falconry is an important aspect of the social construction of legitimacy and society in the Emirates. Success in such a regal sport, with all the connotations of power that come with it, are clearly important in the Emirates. In the same way, cheating at this gentleman’s sport could severely tarnish the reputation of those involved.

It is important to be aware of the fierce rivalry between the Al Nayhans and the Al Maktoums and the two cities. Whilst Abu Dhabi with its oil and gas has always had the upper-hand in the relationship, Dubai has often out-shined its neighbour in, for example, construction of the world’s most luxurious and tallest hotel, the tallest building in the world and by underwriting the growth of Emirates as a world-spanning airline. Abu Dhabi, by contrast, whilst being intrinsically far richer and more powerful, has taken a slightly different tack by seeking to become something of a cultural hub to Dubai’s brash luxo-tourism centre. They signed agreements for the first ever Louvre museum and Sorbonne University outside of Paris to be opened, for the construction of a Guggenheim gallery and branches of prestigious institutions such as New York University. This rivalry has been complicated recently by the financial collapse and Dubai’s severe troubles with the failure of its property model. This has increased their reliance on Abu Dhabi. There have been reports suggesting that Abu Dhabi, in return for bailing out Dubai and helping them more generally, wanted the control of Emirates airline, one of Dubai’s flagship projects.

This smear against the rulers of Abu Dhabi is, however, nothing compared to the recently released torture video showing one of the half-brothers of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi torturing an Afghan grain dealer for 40 minutes. This revelation, and the fact that the Emirate authorities knew about this for months but did nothing about it whatsoever, has, alongside migrant worker issues, apparently jeopardised many of their aforementioned flagship projects which were to be built on Saadiyat Island.

Hat tip: UAE Community Blog

Sarkozy’s Islam comments poorly timed 23, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in French IR, Middle East, Qatar.
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French Emperor President Nicholas Sarkozy has controversially stated that the Islamic Burka is not welcome in France:

The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it’s a problem of liberty and women’s dignity. It’s not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can’t accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That’s not our idea of freedom.

Many worry that overt symbols of Islam such as the Burka or girls wearing the Veil in schools (as well as anyone wearing any religious symbolism in schools) threaten France’s secular nature.

These comments come, however, during the visit of the Emir of Qatar, Hamad Al Thani, to France. Qatar is something of a confusing country. Outwardly, they host Al Jazeera, allow alcohol consumption in the state, invite Western Universities to Doha to teach their children, but they are intrinsically a conservative country and follow the strict, much maligned Wahhabi version of Islam, as in Saudi Arabia. Conservative or not, such comments are sure to be provocative in a country where France wants to secure lucrative defense and other types of contracts. Indeed, this visit officially celebrates Qatar Airway’s purchase of Airbus aircraft at a time when the aviation industry isn’t far from on its knees.

One wonders how one the one hand Sarkozy wants to tow this hard-line approach at home, sure to anger many Muslims, but also seek to create ever greater links with countries in the Persian Gulf. These links range from establishing a French military base in Abu Dhabi, to supplying the Emirates with fighter- aircraft as well as ‘selling out’, as some French people see it, and allowing the Sorbonne and the Louvre to go to Abu Dhabi. Indeed, it seems like Sarkozy is seeking to let himself have cake and eat it.

Abu Dhabi paper’s editor quits 8, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, The Emirates.
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The Abu Dhabi daily newspaper, the National, has confirmed that its editor Martin Newland has stepped down and his former deputy Hassan Fattah will take his place. This is undoubtedly a blow for the credibility of the paper. Newland was installed originally with much fanfare in April 2008 and brought with him a number of journalists from the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph. Once he arrived and took up the reins he proceeded to scour much of the Western world for journalists to fill the places to meet the size and circulation requirements.

One of the key sticking points of this venture was always going to be press freedom. Whilst Newland always maintained that he was not there to launch a crusade for media freedom, he nevertheless maintained that he would bring Western standards of journalism to Abu Dhabi. Government press releases, for example, were no longer to be simply copied out as the lead story with little to no context or criticism.

However, these have been exceedingly trying times for Abu Dhabi. The torture issue involving the half brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the mooted introduction of the new Emirati media law giving the authorities power over the hiring and firing of journalists as well as punishing journalists who write ‘disparaging’ comments that may harm the country’s economy, hint that the country is heading down a decidedly authoritarian path. Whether these were the precipitants of Newland’s resignation or not remains, however, to be seen.

t. But it will continue to punish journalists for such infractions as “disparaging” government officials or publishing “misleading” news that “harms the country’s economy.”

France’s military base in UAE 26, May 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Foreign Policies, The Emirates.
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President Sarkozy has finally opened France’s new military base in the UAE. The base, (which I wrote about here and here) which will operate as a training camp as well as an active military base, is expected to give France a further foothold in the lucrative arms-selling business in the region. Indeed, as I wrote at the end of April, the UAE are the third largest importers of arms and munitions in the world today. Additionally, the base will boost France’s prestige as well as prepare the ground for France’s collaboration in the construction of nuclear reactors in the Emirates. America’s support for such a deal appeared to be under threat because of the UAE torture tape (here, here and here) and the vociferous domestic reaction in the States. Nevertheless, it seems highly likely that the Emirates will get their nuclear technology, either through a reluctant but acquiescent America, or through France and their penchant for sanction and embargo breaking.