The IMF lowered its forecast for UAE growth to 3.3%; projections had reached 12.7% last year. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, delivered 12,606 words of responses online to questions from the press, conveying an optimistic forecast for Dubai and an explicit message of Dubai’s integration with the other emirates:
“I cannot predict that the global economic recovery will proceed without potential hurdles, [but] what I can say is that the worst is already behind us.”
“Rest assured that between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, there is no buying and selling. Everything in Dubai belongs to Abu Dhabi and Dubai and the rest of the UAE, and all that is in Abu Dhabi belongs to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the rest of the UAE.”
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, toured development projects in Dubai: “Sheikh Mohammed’s vision is part and parcel of the Government comprehensive strategy.” Questions submitted from the public for Sheikh Mohammed’s next online response revealed the public’s main concern: the high cost of living, followed by the economic crisis.
Titled “Good News Please,” US-based Human Rights Watch’s latest review of the UAE judged the nation’s new media law improved but still restrictive. Bahrain’s information minister called for a national law on press freedoms and for the closing of hotel bars. Bahrain’s king pardoned 178 prisoners to defuse sectarian tensions. A Thai political leader said he would ask Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai not to welcome former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra; in the same week Mr. Thaksin announced a plan for a telecommunications company in the emirate.
The Philippine’s president estimated more than 220,000 jobs are identified for Filipinos in the Gulf: “The economy has been particularly difficult in Dubai, but we thank the government and employers [that Filipino] workers are still the most sought-after in the world.” A UN official described a “small revolution,” as more UAE firms evaluate the living conditions of laborers. UAE contractor Arabtec opened its labor camps for journalistic inspections, and the National Geographic Channel announced a special on Dubai’s mega-structures. Founder of Finsbury, Dubai’s new PR office: “It’s going to be a long process and we may find ourselves taking two steps forward and then another back.”
Bahrain’s real estate market declined almost 75% in 2008’s final quarter. Qatar declared all 191 major construction projects on track, with civil projects totaling $82.5 billion. After public rows with homebuyers, Abu Dhabi-based developer Hydra promised to reduce required payments on properties not yet delivered and to “double” customer service. Abu Dhabi’s justice department promulgated an imminent contracts and construction court. Dubai rents for apartments and villas dropped 23% and 34% respectively in 2009’s first quarter. Limitless will deliver 600 units and 90,000 square meters of commercial space this year in Downtown Jebel Ali, one of Dubai’s largest development sites that remains otherwise undeveloped. The Middle East Council of Shopping Centres applauded Nakheel’s delay of its $3 billion mall expansion plans, as the region’s oversupply of mall space is set to peak this year. Dubai’s metro builders completed the 12.6km tunnel.
The UAE’s steel consumption was expected to drop 40% this year. Despite the construction slowdown, Dubai’s waste management has experienced only a negligible drop in construction debris. Dubai’s minimum August temperatures increased 3.4 degrees in twenty years, likely caused by development’s “urban heat island” effect. Two Qatari developers announced the region’s first performance-based sustainability rating program, developed in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania.
Dubai-based Jumeirah Properties justified its hotel strategy plan for Saudi Arabia: “The Saudi market is one of the less hit by the crisis because of the financing model and Sharia-compliant way of doing [business].” Saudi Arabia’s social affairs ministry released data that revealed 22% of the population lives below the poverty line. Meccah’s governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal launched the nation’s industrial development campaign. Saudi Arabia set up an $800 million agricultural investment company to achieve food security.
Iran became the world’s largest wheat importer, relying on US wheat for the first time in 26 years. Iran’s president assured continued regulation of the housing market: particularly, each newlywed couple should have “an appropriate and decent house.” The UN reported that birth control is the reason for Iran’s experiencing one of the world’s greatest fertility decreases since 1990. Iranian policy has targeted Iranian expats, who number three to five million and represent roughly $1.3 trillion in capital, to play a greater role in their home economy.
For the first time, annual visits to the UAE’s heritage sites surpassed a million last year. Iran and Portugal agreed to restore Portuguese castles and forts along Iran’s coast. Promoters of Hilla, Iraq, offered tourists Saddam Hussein’s palace bedroom for $220 per night.
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