Wide open space, uneasy riders
The cornfields of Iowa are buried under snow in January. I could almost hear the sound of the ice crunching under the soles of the candidates in search of one last caucus goer in between their shuttle flights to New Hampshire.
I know the beat pretty well having covered presidential campaigns in the past. This election is so unusual since it is, like a Midwestern highway, so wide open. What is happening in Iowa, New Hampshire and the scores of other primaries to follow is far from the desert port city of Jeddah, but it is of keen interest there as well. Like the Iowans being polled on a daily basis, Saudis and others in the Middle East, are seeking change, not at the fringes but at the core.
This was abundantly clear over mezze at one of Jeddah’s favourite Lebanese haunts. I was in the company of four leaders of large trading companies. If you know the Middle East, you know the type. All were between 40 and 50 years old. All are well traveled, especially in the United States and all, after 9/11, sold their properties in that country they were once very fond of. Blame it on visa restrictions, on money transfer hassles and too many questions at passport control.
Ironically, it emerged over lunch; they are all proud owners of a very American icon, a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Each summer as a group and along with their spouses, they take to the road for a two-week journey. But instead of riding down Highway 1 in California, the fabled Route 66 or down the Eastern Seaboard, they are perusing the country lanes of France, the hills of Tuscany and other European bi-ways.
The big macro trends such as the fall in U.S. tourism since 9/11 and the transfer of capital from Wall Street and to London for international initial public offerings are well documented. The micro trends are less documented, such as selling U.S. assets and not sending their children to U.S. universities. Hard investments and soft dialogue through younger generations are long-term assets to build upon.
So while I was expecting to discuss the merits of the colossal Jeddah Economic City, the growth of Saudi Arabia built upon $100 oil and perhaps building a common market in the Gulf, we had a discussion about Iowa, New Hampshire, the candidates, their favourite places in the U.S. and Europe and yes, Harleys.
ABOUT THIS BLOGJohn 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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