Introduction to Chapter
Al Manakh 2: Gulf Continued
by Todd Reisz
The first Al Manakh speculated that the ‘Gulf is not just reconfiguring itself; it is reconfiguring the world’. Large development companies, originally set up to realize their home city expansions, needed new terrain that offered profitable growth for when their home markets reached saturation. A map indicated the direction in which the Gulf ‘master developers’ were heading. Their models, ambitions and perspectives on urban life would be scattered along a belt of shores in Africa and Asia. Back in 2007 there were heaps of examples to show how the Gulf’s logistics and city-building techniques were going to be exported to other places in the world. Emaar, Qatari Diar, Limitless and Sama Dubai were becoming international brand names. Developers seemed to have the political alignments necessary to plant their successes in other parts of the world that either had troubles entering global markets (Tunisia, Sudan, Pakistan) or were global players who could use some Dubai brandishing (Egypt, India, Turkey). At the same time that Qatar was pushing peace in Sudan, Qatari Diar was pursuing a resort on the Blue Nile. The tide seemed one not to be stopped, until the global crisis. Some have moved ahead bullishly -Emaar in Egypt and Syria, for instance. At other locations, there is a felt absence. People in Kochin, India are convinced that Dubai Smart City, the city’s hope for developing its own knowledge economy, isn’t coming. Its politicians explain the situation to local papers: ‘They don’t have money’.
Export can also refer to other products. The cities of the Gulf convey strong images to the imaginations of people from around the globe. The Gulf is still seen as a place of opportunity - chances of financial gain laced with stories of terrific risk. With the help of Gulf investments, the Cairo film industry has been able to deliver the Gulf Dream to replace the American Dream of the last century. Cairo and Kerala serve here as case studies of places in the world where ‘Gulfanization’ is an everyday term. The stories from each of these places accentuate economic, social, religious and cultural ties that expose the Gulf’s variated influences in countries whose people depend on Gulf salaries.
Qatar is developing another kind of exportable image. Through a geopolitical maneuvering that takes advantage of local strengths and diplomatic impasses elsewhere, Doha has been able to elbow its way into the prestigious position as a global peacemaker. Its pursuit of a global center of understanding seeps into Qatar’s cultural program as well - not just marketing a regional cultural attraction but investing in a global center for understanding Arab and Islamic cultures.
To maintain its existence, the Gulf is needing to import natural resources it doesn’t have. Saudi Arabia’s decision to forgo domestic wheat production - to be followed by other agricultural products - portends the region’s next foray into geopolitics, namely the global land grab - the purchasing of agricultural lands where rain is abundant but monetary wealth is not. It’s a Gulf import, but it extends the Gulf’s problem onto other places. International watchdogs have been alerted and are pointing to the deleterious effects on the poorer countries, but the Gulf is building symbiotic relationships that will be difficult to discourage: land sales in exchange for development of ports and cities.
The Gulf’s financial global position might not be commensurate with its media image, but M&A data do not reflect the financial relationship set up at the micro-scale that has spread the Gulf’s influence through South Asia and beyond. Hundred-dollar transfers delivered to countries like India, Pakistan, the Philippines happen with enough frequency to move national leaders to ensure that the payments do not cease.
Gulf remittances represent another example of export: the export of crisis. News stories about Dubai’s troubles immediately raised concerns about its construction workers and other unskilled workers. But an increase in remittance transfers was actually recorded. This rise was mostly due to the weakening rupee, a circumstance that Indians in the Gulf wisely took advantage of, but the inability to find crisis in these numbers presented the difficulty in measuring the Gulf’s global links.
That difficulty continues, whether considering the Gulf’s financial, cultural or social impacts. There are enough hints, however, to warn of underestimating Gulf export. Despite the crisis, the Gulf still matters; it probably matters even more than we once thought.
[Some of the topics covered in Export Gulf: Gulf Houses in Kerala, food security farms in Africa, Boulevards of Dreams in Egypt, an island in Beirut, the new Silk Road, and Qatar's global resonance.]