Saturday, March 18, 2006

Dubai Got Soul!

(Pictures by Beirut Notes)
The Dubai Skyline, yoga in a public garden, the morning sun and a very special afternoon nap

Dubai is not the artificial city I knew. It not only lives but it never sleeps.
It is cosmopolitan, multicultural and free.
Relatively to Lebanon, people here are not judged because of their race or religion, they are judged by their success. It is harsh but fair.
There are beggars, bums, congestions, prostitutes, bar brawls, and passports are being given to long term residents, no matter what their religion is.
This reminds me Israeli PM David Ben Gurion who said: "When Israel has prostitutes and thieves we'll be a state just like any other."
Dubai today is a city like any other.

I walked early one morning along the city's busy "khor" or seal canal promenade where small wooden boats come from India and Iran to trade spices, rice, tires, cars, tvs, dvds, and anything that a large enough dhow can carry.

The promenade is full of merchandise and the smell of spice is in the air. Pakistani, Iranian, Indian and African seamen are busy transporting goods from and to their parked dhows. There are no policemen, no customs, there is just a fixed camera monitoring the boats that enter and leave the estuary.

The Lebanese community is prominent and powerful. It is sometimes referred to as “the Lebanese mafia” especially in sectors that we dominate like advertising and higher education. Sometimes, when we outfox them in a business deal, the Brits derogatorily call us “Lebos” as in “Pakis” for Pakistanis.
Indeed there is a healthy business competition between communities, but at the end of the day everyone works with everyone else.

Transparency International declared the UAE the least corrupt Arab country. That is not completely true because even corruption here has been privatized.
Indeed, a portfolio manager in Abu Dhabi told me today that Emaar, one of the largest real estate developers in the world, has manipulated its stock price through its brokerage subsidiary. And Shuaa, a prominent local investment bank, helped it by releasing its stock analysis in coordination with Emaar. This is Wall Street style corruption which if true is criminal but at least it is sophisticated.

Maybe our dear Lebanese leaders should start learning the basics of insider trading and stop "shorting" our lives.

Many Lebanese, including myself, comparing Dubai to Beirut, used to say with pride that "at least Beirut has culture and a soul" but even that is no longer relevant.
If I am wrong and I hope I am, I am sure that our Lebanese Sheikhs of war and their racist and secterian flocks will destroy the little added value that Beirut might still have.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

$260 billion down and I am not stressing

Away from Lebanon, I am actually a very productive person. I do not talk politics, I do not think politics, I work hard, I do not stress until I see a picture of “them” early in the morning or late at night on TV and in local papers laughing, eating, meeting while everyone else in Lebanon is worrying.
Here, in Dubai, it is me that is laughing, eating and meeting, even though financial markets in the Gulf lost more than $260 billion dollars in value since the beginning of the year.
My head is full of projects, I am busy meeting interesting people from all walks of life, nationalities and religions. We all have a common interest: our savings account.

Just yesterday I was talking about biotechnology projects in the region. Not feasible I thought, but Dubai has a way of surprising everyone.
Indeed biotech needs PhDs and great universities and high tech labs and scientists and forward looking entrepreneurs and lots of money.
Dubai has lots of money and the iron will of its ruler, Mohammed Bin Rashed. But that is not enough, say experts in the field.
But they forget that Dubai has become a global metropolis on well invested money and pure will power. The biotech park and the region’s liquidity will attract the best and brightest from the Arab world, the Indian subcontinent, Iran, south-east Asia and even Eastern Europe. Look at what Russian scientists did in Israel.

There are developments in finance, telecommunications, industry and media. Project after project, day after day, Dubai is a city that never sleeps on a business deal.

Although yesterday was “black Tuesday” in Dubai, (the Dubai Financial Market lost more than 10 percent of its value on that day), everyone I met was smiling. The correction was bound to occur after a 200 percent rise over the last year and a half.

In my Lebanon, a bunch of politicians met to solve their ego problems. “They” met and decided to meet again. ”They” met and agreed on a bunch of points that have absolutely no impact on my meagre bank account. “They” met and closed the heart of the city and made the local shopkeepers and restaurant owners poorer.

I’ll exchange our leaders for a good stock market crash like the one in Dubai at any time.
Is there anyone out there that is willing to take them? Maybe for a little biotech experiment…leaders, leaders…Lebanese leaders…take them and we will pay.