Marketplace Middle East - Blog
10/17/07
Rapid change, real investments
Dubai, October 17, 2007

Whether inspired by our heart or our brain, people usually remember firsts. This is the case when it comes to my initial visit to Dubai in the summer of 1990. It was the week following Saddam Hussein's march on Kuwait. 45 degrees and counting upwards and we were covering the entire region from a five star hotel.

Dubai was just beginning to open up. The government let a whole group of foreign journalists, like me, report from here on one condition -- that we did not identify where we were reporting from.

"Somewhere in the Gulf" was our on-air sign out and we would go to the satellite feed point every day and night trying to sneak some material past the screeners at the Ministry of Information.

There is a certain irony -- the home to Media City today with a long list of media companies including CNN inside -- was back then learning the ropes of a global media village.

Piqued by the changes, I extended my stay in Dubai and sought out stories for our business audience on protecting shipping lanes for oil traffic and the emergence of the emirate as a trading hub.

I even had a sneak preview at the big port and free trade zone expansion plans at Jebel Ali and looked at a blueprint of what was to come.

As reporters we often draw parallels to make the story relevant to our audience. To me the Hong Kong of the Middle East was apropos. First come trade in hard goods, a port, a free trade zone and later financial services.

And my story premise: would the emerging trade hub of this region be under threat by the instability of Iraq? The answer after two major upheavals in the country is a resounding no. If you speak to leading private equity investors here, they say risk has been factored into the market.

Seventeen years have passed. I see them as dog years, meaning let's multiply by 7, since the pace of change has been so rapid.

Face time with Nasser Al Ansari]] This week's show: real estate]] Cityscape Dubai]]
Like a rock in a pond, the example here is creating ripples in the region: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and neighboring Abu Dhabi are all undergoing phenomenal transformations.

A tour this week through the largest real estate and development event in the world, Cityscape in Dubai, provided a reality check. 70,000 square meters (700,000 square feet) of exhibition space, showing off $1 trillion dollars of investments that are underway or planned for the next decade. (We are talking about major cities being built from scratch.)

In 2002 this show had only 1000 participants; today it has over 40,000. And if you are not a believer in this growth, why has Cityscape added another five emerging market events on the annual calendar including Shanghai? It is part of a seismic economic shift, supported by record energy prices.

When I was a child growing up in California, a memorable children's program came on every afternoon. The character Hobo Kelly would wear great big magic sunglasses and pretend she could see children at a distance watching her on TV. We somehow knew as four or five year olds that was not true, but we wanted to share a vision of what could be.

I use this analogy of Hobo Kelly because it is what we can see from here that makes our world so interesting. From Dubai we see partnerships with North Africa: Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia and going further south into Rwanda, Tanzania and Zanzibar.

It all sounds grand when one puts the numbers into a discussion and looks fantasy-like when touring the giant project displays. But this is no children's program, but the real deal into today's Middle East.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
John Defterios’ blog accompanies the weekly business program, Marketplace Middle East (MME) that is dedicated to the latest financial news from the Middle East. As MME anchor, John Defterios talks to the people in the know, finding out their opinions on the big business moves in the region, he provides his views via this weekly blog. We hope you will join the discussion around the issues raised.
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