jump to navigation

Dubai metro hits 1,000,000 27, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

82241-MetroNew1

Business Intelligence Middle East reports that Dubai’s new metro has passed the magic number of 1,000,000 passengers. Mabrouk, as they say.

Dubai metro’s success 16, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Metro airport

One the first day that the new Dubai metro was open to the public, last Thursday, some 67,000 people had given it a whirl. According to the UAE daily, The National, by Saturday night the total number reached 178,000 despite a few teething issues like delays and huge queues to get into some stations.

Many of the commuters on these trains were attracted by the novelty value of hopping aboard the Gulf’s first metro system. It remains to be seen, however, just how many will eschew their 4x4s and actually commute using the system. I’d tentatively suggest that the metro will become something of an ex-pat only zone with Emiratees unwilling to forgo the door-to-door advantage of their air conditioned cars. Only time…

Dubai metro launch 9, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

dubai metro

The BBC reports that Dubai’s eagerly anticipated metro system will launch on Wednesday. Despite costing twice its initial estimate and coming when Dubai is in the midst of a financial crunch of epic proportions, many hope that the metro will be able to tease Emiratees and Expats out of their cars to relieve some of the congestion on the Emirate’s roads.

Some facts and figures:

– Cost overrun to around $7.6 billion

Total length of planned tracks – 318km

– Groundbreaking was in February 2002

– There will be VIP carriges as well as dedicated women only ones

– Trains planned to arrive every 1.5 minutes at peak times

– Dubai has the highest number of cars / person radio in the world (1:1.84)

(Sources: MEED, Arabian Business,

Dubai paper suspended for 20 days 3, July 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in The Emirates.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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

Dubai police chief: ‘end sponsorship” 25, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain, The Emirates.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Dubai’s Chief of Police has called for the  ‘old’ and ‘outdated’ system of sponsorship that is responsible for the country’s legion of foreign workers to go. The kafala system, as it is known, is widely seen as one of the prime causes of the systematic abuses that are found with migrate workers throughout the Gulf. Under the current system workers are contractually as well as effectively tied to one employer whose job it is to hire workers from abroad, process their paperwork, arrange their accommodation and medical insurance. This has led to wide-spread abuses with employers seeking to cut costs where ever they can often to the detriment of living and pay conditions. Additionally, employers usually and illegally confiscate employees’ passports so can not move on.

The Chief’s comments do not come, however, from a humanitarian stand point. Indeed, he sees the current system as simply being a burden for Emirati employers. No changes are expected it the near future.

Bahrain was the first state that mooted changes to this system a month ago. However, the Bahrain business lobby soon set about reducing any changes to the bare minimum. It remains to be seen what, if any, changes will come out of the other end of this process.

China and the Middle East – made for each other 27, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, China and the ME, Oil, Saudi Arabia, Western-Muslim Relations.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Everyone wants a piece of the Middle East at the moment. Israel, unfortunately, takes this quite literally and seems intent on forever expanding its borders with uncomfortable overtones of lebensraum. American companies have, for the most part, been falling over themselves to find GCC cash to bail themselves out of their various woes. The list of those seeking investment is a veritable who’s-who’s of the American blue chip elite: Citigroup, General Electric, Dow Chemicals, and Merrill Lynch to name a few. The French seem to have placed, in a rather un-Gallic, highly capitalistic way, a price tag on their cultural heritage. For about $1 billion, you can now purchase priceless French art, plucked from the bosom of the most famous museum in the world, the Louvre. Furthermore, the French have also taken the name of their most prestigious university in vain by building ‘the Sorbonne Abu Dhabi’ with infinitely easier entry requirements. However, not only have the French been handsomely rewarded for the loan of their culture, but they now have a military base overlooking the straits of Hormuz, so maybe they knew what they were doing all along. Britain were predictably slow on the uptake and are now desperately searching for Middle Eastern cash to bail out the collapsing Northern Rock bank and moving further east, Dubai holdings have invested heavily in the Indian bank ICICI, as well as taking an estimated billion dollar stake in Sony of Japan.

Among those doing their utmost to make friends and influence states in the region are the Chinese. However, they are doing this in a less brash manner. Indeed, to some degree, they have been doing the opposite way by investing in the Middle East. For example, two Chinese state-owned companies are investing some $4 billion in Saudi aluminium production. This is but one half of an example of reciprocal investment between various Middle Eastern countries and China, and, more to the point, you’re going to be seeing a lot more of it.

China are the most natural trading partner for countries in this region. This may seem like something of a bizarre statement, but it stands up to scrutiny. As any good (or even only mediocre) economics student will tell you, two crucial factors when discussing trade are supply and demand.

In terms of supply, the Middle East has oil and money. According to the US Energy Information Administration, as of 1st January last year, the Middle East as a whole had 739 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, more than the rest of the world combined which amounts to 578 billion proven barrels. As for money, thanks to the bumper oil prices of recent years, the region is awash with cash. In total, Morgan Stanley estimate that in 2007 alone, Persian Gulf countries invested around $75 billion overseas. This, therefore, excludes the $500 billion that is being investing domestically in creating new super-cities, trying to look ahead to the paradigm changing day when oil runs out. The crucial point here is that this inflated oil price appears to be with us for the medium term, and, therefore, so do these record profits for Middle Eastern government and thus their ability to generously invest abroad.

As for demand, the same economics student would no doubt tell you that demand is infinite. This is meant in a theoretical way, but when discussing China, the theory becomes a lot more practical. China has a population of 1.3 billion people. By the year 2050, however, the UN population division estimates that (depending on which report you read) the population will rise to between 1.5 – 2 billion people. So not only do these people need their energy needs taken care of, but thanks to China’s phenomenal growth, many people have ever growing energy needs. With greater affluence comes greater demand for bigger and better houses and apartments and, of course, bigger and better cars, to name but two energy consuming factors. In 2007 alone, the Chinese car market grew 20% and overtook Japan as the world’s second largest automobile market, and with tens of millions of people waiting to dump their bicycles, this market is only going to grow faster in the coming years. The staggering conclusion of these factors is that, according to Commentary magazine, China’s demand for imported oil will grow by 960% over the next two decades.

Issues of demand and supply, therefore, are clearly suitably poised for a long and prosperous relationship. Yet there are many more factors to consider. After all, the rest of the world demands oil and will continue to do so for a long time yet. So what makes China so special?

For one thing, China do not have any historical or colonial baggage in the region. This could be construed as a good or a bad thing. For example, France’s long standing relationships with the Emirates clearly made it possible for Abu Dhabi to cede some land for a French military base, and America’s long history in Saudi Arabia made it possible for similar arrangements there in the past. I would suggest that the latter example is more instructive, especially considering the eventual outcome of the US bases in the land of the two holy places. China, however, has a clean slate; indeed, it was as late as 1990 when they officially recognised all GCC countries. There are no old policies to appease, apologise for or defend.

Another aspect that appeals to many governments worldwide is that China are very good partners to have in terms of demands exogenous to the deal itself: there aren’t any. For example, China will never lecture, pressure, castigate or otherwise try to impose their ideals on another state. This is a fundamental pillar of Chinese policy: the absolute and utter respect of sovereignty from criticism or interference. Thus, if a state is not appreciative of America’s lectures regarding full democracy or the rule of law (especially regarding the egregious hypocrisy of Guantanamo Bay) then they will certainly know that they would receive no such criticism from China.

Along the same lines, China make it easier for Middle Eastern companies to invest there. Whilst, as it was shown above, many countries have invested heavily in the West, there is still an element of quasi-racism. This was clearly shown in the Dubai Ports World controversy, where a furore erupted when it was revealed that a Middle Eastern company would be involved with security arrangements at American ports. This would, according to some woefully misguided segments of the American media, lead to security concerns. It is difficult to imagine such security concerns from the Chinese.

Lastly, with significant anti-Americanism in the Middle East, and significant anti-Arab sentiment in America and the West generally, China could offer themselves as a neutral alternative to the Middle East-American/Western axis. It is no great secret that parts of the Middle East have security concerns, which are answered in one way or another by the West generally or America specifically. For example, answered in terms of arms sales ($20 billion only last week) as well as physical protection, as in the Gulf War. However, it must not be forgotten that China has been supplying various countries in the region for a long time now. More to the point, China are more willing to sell certain weapons that the West are – generally – not willing to, such as ballistic missiles and related technology, which were sold to both sides during the Iran-Iraq war, to take but one example. Furthermore, with the amount of industrial espionage that Beijing currently engages in, certain aspects of their armaments technology may not be that far behind the US itself.

However, there are a few caveats. Firstly, America is currently the only power capable of offering a meaningful security blanket, such as the one that freed Kuwait and protected Saudi Arabia. Theoretically, were the Chinese to sell an Atomic bomb ‘off the shelf’ to Saudi, that might negate that particular US role, but such a reckless policy is highly unlikely for the cautious and long-term thinking Chinese. Secondly, the prevalence of American goods, ideas, motifs, restaurants, books, films, TV channels, and music throughout the Middle East, compared to the utter lack of Chinese equivalents, shows that America, or at least, its manifestations are not going anywhere. It does not seem at all likely that McDonald’s will turn into Jowza (dumpling) restaurants any time soon. American culture, therefore, may well be here for the next 100 years, even if the manifestations of American power and trade are not.