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Rolling Out the Red Carpet: Arab Gulf States Embrace Egypt’s Coup

Posted by vmsalama on July 11, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Vocativ

A year ago, as stragglers in the streets of Cairo continued to celebrate Mohamed Morsi’s presidential inauguration, Dubai’s Chief of Police, Dahi Khalfan, lashed out at Egypt’s president and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters, calling them “thugs” who had threatened his life.

“The number of phone threats I have received demonstrates that we are facing a criminal organization,” Khalfan tweeted, claiming in separate posts that he had received as many as 2,000 calls over a 72-hour period. “[Morsi] will come crawling to the Gulf, and we will not receive him on a red carpet.”

Fast forward to the present, and roughly a week after the Egyptian military deposed Morsi in a controversial coup that was precipitated by mass protests, both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have, figuratively at least, rolled out the red carpet for the new Egyptian government. This week, as the military engaged in a bloody face off with thousands of Morsi supporters looking to reinstate the fallen leader, the U.A.E pledged to give $3 billion in grants and loans to the cash-strapped country, while Saudi Arabia committed $2 billion in central bank deposits, $2 billion in energy products, and $1 billion in cash—a significant jump from the $2 billion promised last year when Morsi was elected president.

“The U.A.E. intended to send a…signal that it will not accommodate the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, be it at home or abroad,” said Ayham Kamel, Persian Gulf analyst for the Eurasia Group, a New York-based research and consulting firm.

The reasons go well beyond the alleged threats made to Khalfan. The rocky relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the two Gulf states dates back to the 1950s and 1960s, when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser cracked down on political dissent, forcing a number of Islamists to flee. Many settled in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E., where they found jobs and assimilated, but along the way, imparted their religious ideologies on the surrounding community. (click here to read more)

Female supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi shout slogans as they rally at the Raba El-Adwyia square where they are camping in Cairo

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Al Jazeera, al-Sisi, Arab, Arab League, Bahrain, Constitution, Coptic, corruption, Coup, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Islam, Kuwait, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, North Africa, Oman, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Salafi, Saudi Arabia, State of Emergency, Terrorism, United Arab Emirates, United States, Washington | Leave a Comment »

Middle East Activists Muzzled and Arrested in Arab Gulf States

Posted by vmsalama on April 5, 2013

April 4, 2013

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

By Vivian Salama

Within hours of being handed a two-year jail term for allegedly insulting the ruler of Kuwait, 27-year old Hamed Al Khalidi turned to Twitter– the very apparatus that got him into trouble—with a poem:

“I said: why prison?

I’m not a thief; I’m not a criminal…

neither deliberate nor accidental.

But when I realized my sentence serves my country,

I began to enjoy prison as though it is paradise.”

gulf activismAl Khalidi is part of a growing list of young activists in Kuwait and across the Arab Gulf being targeted for “electronic crimes”—for voicing the very same longing for freedom, justice, and opportunity as those in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where online activism catalyzed mass street protests. Days before Al Khalidi’s sentencing, the Kuwaiti appeals court extended the jail term of another opposition Twitterer, Bader al-Rashidi, from two to five years on charges that he attempted to instigate a coup and insulted the country’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. Kuwait, home to the most dynamic political system in the Gulf, has already sentenced some 10 online activists to various prison terms on charges ranging from insulting members of parliament (or the Emir) to inciting protests.

“The government of Kuwait and other Gulf governments have begun to feel the danger of Twitter that toppled presidents and governments in the Arab countries and it is clear from the way they are abusing many Twitter users with these false charges,” said Mohammed Al Humaidi, a lawyer and director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights. “Most of the Gulf governments don’t have a law specifically linked to electronic crimes, and so this is unconstitutional.” (more…)

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Bloggers, Censorship, corruption, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Journalism, Khalidi, Media, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, Oman, Persian Gulf, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Skype, Social Media, Television, Tunisia, Twitter, United Arab Emirates, Viber, Whatsapp | Leave a Comment »

Saudi Arabia: The Internet’s Enemy Cracks Down on Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber

Posted by vmsalama on March 29, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Mar 29, 2013

The Daily Beast 

Infamous for the severe measures it uses to crack down on alleged security threats, Saudi Arabia is now picking on web-based communication apps, which teens rely on heavily for daily contact. Vivian Salama reports.

Photo by HASSAN AMMARSkype, Whatsapp and Viber are subject to a ban in Saudi Arabia, as it demands the rights to monitor all communications via these web-based communications apps.

Despite a medley of applications now available to help Internet users avert such a ban, the kingdom declared that it would block the services within its borders unless the operators grant the government surveillance rights. The companies have until Saturday—the start of the Saudi workweek— to respond to Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), local news reports said.

While Saudi Arabia is infamous for taking authoritarian measures to crack down on perceived security threats, it has increasingly shifted its attention toward the telecommunications sector in recent months. The CITC announced in September that all pre-paid SIM card users must enter a personal identification number when recharging their accounts and the number must match the one registered with their mobile operator when the SIM is purchased. The country’s second-largest telecom company, known as Mobily, was temporarily banned from selling its pay-as-you-go SIM cards after it failed to comply with the new regulations.

“A proposal for a ban would be driven by political and security concerns as opposed to economic concerns,” said Aiyah Saihati, a Saudi businesswoman and writer. “The Saudi government is refraining from taking an extremely authoritarian style dealing with its critical youth population. Saudi may try, without censorship, to find ways to monitor communications.”

As revolution gripped much of the Arab world in 2011, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, spearheaded a counterrevolution—working to appease its critics with monetary and political concessions, while suppressing protests via brutal crackdowns. Reporters Without Borders lists Saudi Arabia as an “Enemy of the Internet,” saying last year that “its rigid opposition to the simmering unrest on the Web caused it to tighten its Internet stranglehold even more to stifle all political and social protests.” (click here to read more…)

 

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Blackberry, Bloggers, Business, Censorship, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Google, Human Rights, Internet, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Journalism, Kuwait, Libya, Media, Middle East, Oman, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Sexuality, Shi'ite, Skype, Social Media, Television, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Viber, Whatsapp, Women, YouTube | Leave a Comment »

Arab-Americans Set to Play Key Role in US Election

Posted by vmsalama on November 4, 2012

By Vivian Salama

Al-Monitor (click here for original link)

Arab-Americans are poised to play a critical role in the US presidential election.   Numbering about 4 million, they’re heavily concentrated in several battleground states — including Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — where every vote will count in a race that many consider too close to call.

A mid-September survey of 400 voters conducted by the Arab American Institute revealed that President Barack Obama leads Republican candidate Mitt Romney among Arab-Americans, 52% to 28%, with 16 percent of Arab Americans still undecided. This compares to the 67% to 28% lead Obama held over John McCain among Arab Americans in 2008, signaling a potential loss of some 100,000 voters for Obama, according to AAI.

A substantial drop in Arab-American support for Obama, relative to 2008, accompanied by the large number of undecided voters, especially in key swing states, could be a signal to the present and future candidates.

The Arab-American political community had its challenges following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Patriot Act, arrests, detentions and deportations targeted members of the community. A New York Police Department surveillance program and opposition to building mosques and Islamic community centers, like the Park51 center near Ground Zero, preoccupied the community’s political leaders. Instead of campaigning for broader national and international issues, Arab-Americans found themselves fighting as much, or more than ever, for their civil liberties. (more…)

 

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Christian, Culture, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Lobby, Media, Middle East, New York, NYPD, Palestinians, Politics, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Social Media, Sudan, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Bahrain: So far, yet so near

Posted by vmsalama on March 10, 2012

Here in NYC my eyes are on Bahrain this week as it commemorates one year since deadly protests rocked the tiny Gulf Kingdom, sparking a controversial decision by Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council troops to roll on in and save the day. Hundreds of doctors/medics/nurses were arrested that day and given harsh sentences by Bahraini courts for treating political dissidents, the courts ruling that it made them accomplices. Reuters reported today that the Bahraini courts are now looking to drop some of those sentences. All the while, streets are still patrolled by security forces, especially in the predominantly Shia villages, and many Sunnis across the country display photographs of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in offices, on their desks and at their homes, revering him as a hero for his decision to save them from Shia protesters, who Bahrain’s government claim are supported by Iran. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet so all eyes in Washington are eagerly hoping for a solution — preferably one that does not involve them. The US provides million in weapons and training to the Saudi Arabian government each year.

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Bahrain, Iran, Islam, Kuwait, Middle East, military, Negotiation, Oman, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite, United States | Leave a Comment »

The U.A.E.: 40 and Fabulous?

Posted by vmsalama on December 2, 2011

Abu Dhabi at 40 //Photo by my homegirl Tala Al Ramahi (@journalist_tala)

Abu Dhabi at 40 //Photo by Tala Al Ramahi (@journalist_tala)

 As some of you may know I just moved back to New York last week after living in the Middle East for much of the last 10 years, most recently in the United Arab Emirates, which is today celebrating its 40th anniversary. There is no doubt that the UAE has accomplished pretty spectacular things in 40 years, fueled greatly by the abundant oil wealth of Abu Dhabi, which holds more than 90 percent of the crude in the country, and about 7 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, according to BP data.

Burj Dubai // Photo by Vivian Salama

Burj Khalifa // Photo by Vivian Salama

The country is home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, one of the world’s biggest malls, the world’s largest dancing fountains (I must confess, the fountain is rather amazing), the only manmade island visible from space and one of two gold vending machines in the world!

Dubai dancing fountain // Photo by Vivian Salama

Dubai dancing fountain // Photo by Vivian Salama

It is, undeniably, a remarkable accomplishment given that just 40 years ago the emirates, prior to unification and the discovery of oil, earned much of their income from pearl diving and exporting dates.

The pride of its citizens is something to be admired, and for weeks (even before I departed for the US), skycrapers were covered from top to bottom in lights of white, green, red and black, the colors of the UAE flag. Emiratis, the citizens of the UAE, wore scarves and jewelry with the colors of the flag, and cars were covered, literally, in photos of leaders past and present.

But a challenging road lies ahead for the UAE, particularly after this year’s events in the Middle East, where longtime dictators were forced out by popular uprisings. There is one clear advantage the UAE has over countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen: it’s citizens are not poor. There are parts of the country that are in great need for updated infrastructure – roads, power lines, etc – but citizens are, at worst, comfortable thanks to lifetime handouts by the government. (Click here for my story Abu Dhabi’s Spending on Soccer and Skyscrapers Masks Slower Times at Home)

But citizens of the UAE are hungry for one thing: opportunities. Currently, foreigners make up about 85 percent of the country’s population – the majority hailing from countries on the Indian subcontinent. British/Western European, Canadian, Australian and South African expats hold many of the high paying white-collar positions, in SOME cases because they are better trained to do so, leaving few high profile jobs for the locals.

Emiratization, a policy now enforced by the government in many workplaces, seeks to boost Emirati employment whether by providing training and education for Emiratis, or setting quotas in certain sectors for Emirati employment. Ultimately the government is trying to prevent their own talented citizens from being lured to the West. But many critics believe that the UAE cannot afford to lose its foreign workers as they may have been the driving force for the country’s speedy success in the first place. In the meantime there is growing resentment among foreigners who, despite making up the majority of the population,  have few rights. There is no legal protection on property rights, and police, in practice, do not need a reason to stop, question or even detain people.

Another challenge is maintaining the “vision” set by the country’s founders some 40 years ago. Seldom was there a day in the UAE that I did not hear someone refer to the “vision.” Abu Dhabi and Dubai have set urban planning roadmaps for diversifying their economies away from oil and expanding certain sectors (services, real estate, alternative energy, etc). However, the global economic crisis dealt a massive blow to the once seemingly invincible UAE and its seemingly invincible real estate market. Slowly we’ve seen the country scale back, but its officials still maintain that the overall “vision” is intact and on track. We shall see.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

Finally, a problem facing many of the Gulf sheikhdoms: succession. The country’s founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan has been dead for 7 years now but his legacy undeniably lives on. The question is whether his sons, the current President Sheikh Khalifa and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed, can continue the vision he laid out for the country 40 years ago. Many experts I’ve spoken with believe that the vision of the two brothers has grown less cohesive, and the two have developed mini “kingdoms” – investing money in projects that are too different, both from each other and from that envisioned by their father.

The government is so private in nature (painfully so) that it’s always hard to know exactly what is going on behind the scenes. But given Dubai’s economic disaster and, more recently, Abu Dhabi’s problems, it raises a lot of questions as to who is calling the shots. The country enjoys making a splash, and it’s served them well, but if it genuinely wants to keep out of the spotlight during tougher times, it may want to adopt a more humbled approach over the next 40 years. (ie, no more $20 million hotel debut parties, ok?)

Dubai Atlantis Hotel Opening Show - December 2008

Dubai Atlantis Hotel Opening Show - December 2008

Good luck UAE. I am excited and eager to see what you have up your sleeve for the next 40 years!!

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Aldar, Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Libya, Media, Middle East, Mubarak, Politics, Recession, Succession, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen | 1 Comment »

Abu Dhabi’s Economic Ambitions Held Back by Dubai-Style Real Estate Slump

Posted by vmsalama on November 3, 2011

By Vivian Salama 

Nov 3, 2011

Bloomberg/Business Week

Abu Dhabi, the emirate that bailed out Dubai in 2009, set out to avoid the pitfalls suffered by its Persian Gulf neighbor with a decades-long plan to replace oil revenue with industry and tourism as drivers of growth.

Now those plans need to be scaled back as companies behind some of the sheikhdom’s biggest developments cut jobs and postpone projects, said Ghassan Chehayeb, associate director of research at Dubai-based Exotix Ltd. Delays include beach-front apartments, the first office building that makes more energy than it uses and branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums.

Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum

“Abu Dhabi has to face the economic realities,” Chehayeb said. The emirate’s plan “was a little too ambitious and they’re realizing now that many of those projects might not make as much economic sense as they initially thought.”

Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates capital and the holder of 7 percent of the world’s oil reserves, plans to invest $500 billion in industry, tourism and culture to increase non-oil revenue to 64 percent of the economy from 41 percent from 2005 to 2007. In Dubai, debt-fueled property speculation drove up prices and spurred development until the global credit crunch in 2008 caused the market to crash.

The Abu Dhabi government hasn’t announced any changes to the development blueprint, called Vision 2030, since it was first published in 2008. The emirate’s Urban Planning Council wouldn’t say whether the plan is on track when contacted by Bloomberg.  (Click here to read more…)

RELATED STORIES I WROTE:

Abu Dhabi Delays Louvre, Guggenheim, Zayed Plan Citing ‘Magnitude of Work’

U.A.E. Forecasts 400 Million-Dirham Budget Deficit in 2012

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Economy, Real Estate | Leave a Comment »

Abu Dhabi’s Spending on Soccer and Skyscrapers Masks Slower Times at Home

Posted by vmsalama on September 11, 2011

By Vivian Salama - Sep 21, 2011

Bloomberg — Ramy Kaddourah got the keys to his apartment in Abu Dhabi’s Raha Beach development two years late as the boom in the United Arab Emirates capital started to wane.

“Everyone got really excited about the plans to build up Abu Dhabi, then out of nowhere everything came to a stop,” said Kaddourah, 31, who runs a local private hospital and invests in property to rent. “If this can happen here, I don’t want to imagine what’s happening in the rest of the world.”

Abu Dhabi internationally is the oil-rich emirate spending billions of petrodollars on English soccer team Manchester City, the iconic Chrysler Building in New York and London’s Gatwick Airport. Yet that image is masking pressure at home as the government supports its six neighboring emirates while financing a $500 billion development plan.

In a year that saw uprisings in almost a dozen Arab countries, citizens in the U.A.E. will head to the polls for only the second time in the country’s 40-year history on Sept. 24 to choose members of a council that will advise the sheikhs in control. In the background are deteriorating infrastructure and rising unemployment in the northern emirates and an end to the breakneck investment in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“We’re starting to see chinks in the armor,” Christopher Davidson, author of “Power and Politics in the Persian Gulf Monarchies.” “The bottom line is they can’t keep distributing the wealth to an ever-growing, ever-developing population.” (click here to read more…)

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Aldar, Arab, Arab Spring, Economy, Elections, Iran, Middle East, Politics, Real Estate, Recession, Saudi Arabia, Succession, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »

Gulf Rulers Welcoming Arab Democracy Anywhere But Home May Store Up Unrest

Posted by vmsalama on April 14, 2011

By Alaa Shahine and Vivian Salama

Bloomberg (click here to view original)

Persian Gulf rulers say they understand that this year’s wave of pro-democracy uprisings has changed the Middle East. So far, they haven’t allowed it to change their own countries.

(l to r) Bin Ali, Saleh, Qaddafi, Mubarak

None of the region’s monarchies has taken steps to broaden political participation that match the spending pledges they have offered since the start of the unrest that toppled Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali andEgypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Instead, the rhetoric about a new era in the Arab world, and the cash handouts for homes and social security, have been accompanied by police repression.Protests have already reached Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia this year. The reluctance of the Gulf Arab leaders, who control about two-fifths of the world’s oil, to loosen their grip on power may leave more of them vulnerable to the wave of unrest that has already pushed crude prices up more than 20 percent.“What we have learned from the uprisings in general, and from Tunisia and Egypt in particular, is that it’s really a matter of when,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, in a telephone interview. “Autocracies don’t last forever.”Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah told Arab counterparts in Cairo last month that regional leaders need “new thinking” to deal with the “Arab renaissance.” In Abu Dhabi, then-GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al-Attiyah said that “political participation has become a key demand for development.”

‘Hydrocarbon Dictatorships’

Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, said in February that change was coming to the region and that Europe shouldn’t support “hydrocarbon dictatorships” in return for economic benefits, according to Al Sharq newspaper. He didn’t say which countries fall into that category.Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the other three Gulf Cooperation Council members are listed as authoritarian regimes in the 2010 Democracy Index of the Economist Intelligence Unit.The region’s leaders must convert ideas about change into concrete steps that will “improve the relationship between the state and the people,” said Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. “We have to change words into actions, actions that are arduous,” he said in a lecture in Abu Dhabi March 21.Some countries have begun to act. Sultan Qaboos of Oman agreed last month to boost the powers of the nation’s consultative council; the United Arab Emirates announced Sept. 24 elections to the Federal National Council, an advisory body; Saudi Arabia said it will hold municipal elections in September, while backtracking from earlier signals that women would be allowed to vote.

Saudi ‘Counter-Revolution’

Those measures, though, don’t involve real transfers of power, Hamid said. Repression has been a more typical response, with Saudi Arabia as “the leader of the Arab counter- revolution,” he said. “They are fighting change tooth and nail.”Saudi Arabia’s Information Ministry declined to comment and no one was available to comment at the Saudi Foreign Ministry or the U.A.E.’s federal government or Federal National Council, in response to repeated phone calls over two days.The prospect of unrest spreading to the world’s biggest oil exporter drove the benchmark Saudi stock index into a 13-day losing streak through March 5, the longest since 1996. Crude for May delivery rose above $112 a barrel last week, the highest since September 2008.

‘Not Very Worried’

The political upheaval in the Middle East has left markets “pricing in an element of uncertainty,” said Arthur Hanna, an industry managing director at Accenture Plc.Saudi oil wealth will help it escape the wave of unrest even though unemployment is high and civil rights limited, said Kai Stukenbrock of Standard & Poor’s. “We are not very worried about that scenario,” Stukenbrock, S&P’s director of sovereign ratings for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said March 7.Simon Henry, chief financial officer at Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), also backed the kingdom to navigate through the political tensions. “It has the resources, it has the established capability to handle some of the unrest it may face,” Henry said on March 8.One risk to Saudi stability is the succession to King Abdullah, who turns 87 this year, Henry said. Crown Prince Sultan is also in his 80s. Next in line is Prince Nayef, the septuagenarian interior minister who filled central Riyadh with police to block a planned demonstration March 11, after rallies by Shiite Muslims in the oil-producing eastern provinces.

Bahrain Crackdown

Saudi rulers offered asylum to Ben Ali, backed Mubarak before his ouster, and sent troops to Bahrain to support a crackdown by Sunni royals that has left more than 20 protesters dead, mostly from the country’s Shiite majority.The violence in Bahrain showed unrest can be expensive even when it doesn’t lead to regime change. It pushed borrowing costs more than 150 basis points higher and Bahrain’s credit rating at Standard & Poor’s three steps lower, and dented efforts to compete with Dubai as the region’s business hub.Qatar and the U.A.E. both sent troops to Bahrain to help the government quell protests. InLibya, they are on the opposition’s side, backing a U.S.-led military campaign to help the rebels fighting Muammar Qaddafi. Qatar will “look at” the possibility of providing defense equipment to the insurgents, Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasim Al-Thani said yesterday.

‘Digging In Heels’

Dubai police on April 8 arrested Ahmed Mansour, a human rights campaigner, promptingHuman Rights Watch to criticize the U.A.E. for “digging in its heels” against democratic reforms. Two more activists, including an economics professor at the Abu Dhabi branch of France’s Sorbonne university, were arrested in the next two days. In Oman, two people have been killed as police broke up protest rallies.Saudi Arabia has also led the spending spree. King Abdullah ordered $128 billion of measures, including $90 billion on house-building and home loans, that will help the economy grow 6.6 percent this year, Standard Chartered Plc estimates.“The enormity of the stimulus package will help the region overall,” as it’s too much for the Saudi economy to absorb alone, and reduce the risk of civil unrest, Said Hirsh at London-based Capital Economics said in a March 21 report.GCC spending is another reason to expect high oil prices, according to John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Bank Saudi Fransi. Saudi Arabia needs a price of at least $80 per barrel, higher than previous breakeven figures, to finance its budget, he calculated.

‘Money Lying Around’

The GCC has promised $10 billion apiece to Bahrain and Oman to help assuage protesters. The U.A.E. allocated $1.6 billion for water and infrastructure projects in northern emirates that lag behind Dubai and Abu Dhabi.Spending conceived as a way of avoiding political change may end up fuelling popular demands, said Christopher Davidson, author of “Power and Politics in the Persian Gulf Monarchies.”

“You have the people in Saudi Arabia, for example, now asking: ‘If all that money was lying around all this time, why wasn’t it used on us earlier?’,” Davidson said. “These rulers are just reacting to the events around them, and their citizens know it.”

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Labor, Lebanon, Libya, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Oil, Palestinians, Politics, Qaddafi, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite, State of Emergency, Syria, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Abu Dhabi Bankrolls U.S. Students as NYU Joins Sorbonne in “Uber-Swanky” Gulf

Posted by vmsalama on September 15, 2010

By Vivian Salama

Click here for original story.

Sept. 15 (Bloomberg) — When U.S. teenager Anthony Spalvieri-Kruse was considering which college to attend, he got an offer he couldn’t refuse from 7,200 miles away in Abu Dhabi.

“I’m receiving a full ride to attend, including flights and an allowance of $2,000 a year,” said Spalvieri-Kruse, now ensconced in what he calls “uber-swanky” accommodation in the United Arab Emirates. “It was pretty incredible considering that I was looking at $30,000 a year from other places.”

The 18-year-old from Kalamazoo, Michigan, is among the first students at New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus, which began classes this week. The college is being bankrolled by the emirate as it tries to underpin a $500 billion development plan by more than doubling investment in education this year.

NYU follows Paris’s Sorbonne University, which started offering courses in Abu Dhabi in 2006. Mubadala Development Co., an investment arm of the emirate, agreed last year to build a 93,000 square-meter campus for the French institution.

Of the 162 branch campuses in the world today, half are located in the Persian Gulf, with 25 percent in the U.A.E. alone, according to the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, a London-based information service. Branch campuses differ from overseas programs offered by U.S. universities in that they usually function independently from the main school and have academic and administrative support on site.

‘Urgent’ Investment

The need for investment in higher education “is absolutely urgent,” said Rafic Makki, executive director at the Office of Planning and Strategic Affairs and Higher Education at the Abu Dhabi Education Council. “We are definitely on the right track, but we are nowhere near where we need to be.”

While Dubai, located an hour and a half across the desert, built skyscrapers and glitzy malls to turn itself into a hub for tourism and finance, Abu Dhabi is trying to become a cultural center with branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums and visits from the New York Philharmonic.

Abu Dhabi has the means to do it. The emirate, which spent $20 billion bailing out Dubai’s excesses, holds about 7 percent of the world’s oil supply. Under its 22-year economic development plan, the Abu Dhabi government estimates that non- oil industries will contribute half of total gross domestic product by 2015 versus about 40 percent today.

“From a fundamental development point of view the first and most important goal should be human capital development,” said Giyas Gokkent, chief economist at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. “It takes a long time to establish a good university. You need experienced professors, libraries, campuses.”

Closing Shop

Some U.S. universities have been and gone in the U.A.E. Washington-based George Mason University shut its doors last year in Ras al Khaimah, one of the northern emirates, citing the global economic crisis. Michigan State University closed its Dubai campus in July, six months after the bailout by Abu Dhabi.

One of the challenges is convincing students to make Abu Dhabi or Dubai their college town instead of Boston, New York or Chicago. In the 2008-2009 academic year, U.A.E. enrolment in U.S. universities jumped 24 percent from the previous year as student visas increased to pre-September 2001 levels, according the New York-based Institute of International Education.

The Abu Dhabi government plans to spend more than 1.3 billion dirhams ($350 million) on education this year, compared with 655 million dirhams in 2009 and more than six times the expenditure in 2008, according to statistics included in a preliminary government-guaranteed bond prospectus in July.

Research Spending

As much as $1 billion in academic research investments is needed per year through 2018 for Abu Dhabi to compete globally with some of the top universities in the world, Makki said.

Other colleges represented in Abu Dhabi include New York Institute of Technology, which offers a degree program, and U.A.E. University. Australia’s University of Wollongong and Canada’s University of Waterloo offer programs in Dubai.

Similar efforts have been made in Qatar, where Georgetown University and Texas A&M are among a half dozen American schools now operating in Doha’s academic hub, a 2,500-acre campus known as Education City. Like NYU, these campuses receive their funding from a government-run foundation.  (Click here to read my story on Qatar’s Education City)

The NYU campus, situated in a temporary facility near Abu Dhabi’s waterfront, will relocate to Saadiyat Island, a manmade plot by the emirate’s Tourism Development & Investment Co., known as TDIC. It’s scheduled for completion in 2013.

‘Strategic Investment’

Along with paying all costs associated with the university, Abu Dhabi will reimburse NYU for the expense of replacing the faculty staff relocating to the Middle East. Abu Dhabi has also made a $50 million gift to NYU, John Sexton, the university’s president, said in an interview earlier this year.

Of the 150 students in the first intake, about a third are American citizens and about 8 percent from the U.A.E. The rest hail from countries including China, Hungary and Russia.

Bringing NYU to Abu Dhabi “is a strategic investment just like everything else we are doing here,” Mubarak Hamad Al Muhairi, managing director of TDIC, said in an interview.

Hasnain Zaidi, 23, an Abu Dhabi native who graduated from Duke University in 2008 and now works as a consultant in the U.S., said partnerships with more universities may also convince many of the Gulf’s foreign college-bound students to stay.

“Public service, athletics, social life, personal development — none of those things was readily available at any of the options in the U.A.E.,” he said. “That’s slowly getting better, but still not completely fixed.”

Spalvieri-Kruse plans to major in mathematics and relishes the idea of classes with no more than 20 students, he said.

“Abu Dhabi doesn’t even fall in the realm of college environments most American kids consider,” he said by e-mail. “Actually seeing the town for myself totally changed things. My visit gave me the impression that everyone involved was highly invested in the success of the incoming class.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Vivian Salama in Abu Dhabi at vsalama@bloomberg.net

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Education, Middle East, New York, New York Philharmonic, Politics, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, United States | 4 Comments »

 
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