Tags: dubai | middle east | turmoil

With Turmoil in Mideast, Dubai Focuses on Business

With Turmoil in Mideast, Dubai Focuses on Business

By Tuesday, 14 January 2020 10:04 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The United States’ targeted strike on top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani prompted Tehran to warn it would enact “crushing revenge.”

Indeed, retaliation did follow — with Iran firing more than a dozen missiles toward air bases housing U.S. and coalition troops. That same day, a Ukrainian passenger plane crashed shortly after take-off in Iran — killing all 176 people on board. Although the country firmly denied having any involvement in the tragedy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard later admitted it “unintentionally” downed the jet with a short-range missile.

The hostilities between the U.S. and Iran are the latest in a long list of headaches for the Middle East. Syria’s bloody and complicated civil war has been running for almost nine years, sectarianism continues to blight Iraq, and Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said — the longest-serving ruler in the Arab World — died aged 79, sparking fears of instability and jeopardizing Oman’s position as a trusted arbiter in the region.

But despite the chaos and confusion, the stalemates and the struggles, there remains a bright spot in the Middle East: Dubai.

Resilient and stable

Dubai has undergone a rapid expansion in recent decades, embracing an openness toward foreign talent and investment that few international cities have been able to match. Forward-thinking policies, a laser-like focus on infrastructure and its enviable location have paid dividends. Dubai International Airport is one of the world’s busiest — and Emirates, the national carrier in the United Arab Emirates, has enjoyed constant growth in passenger numbers as the city-state attracts tourists and business travelers alike.

Economically speaking, Dubai has gone to great lengths to make itself attractive to expats — doing away with income tax and championing an “open for business” mentality. Sweeping reforms mean that foreign entrepreneurs no longer need a local partner to set up a company in certain sectors, removing investment hurdles and enhancing cost-effectiveness among start-ups. Part of this push to draw in new talent has also seen Dubai’s government unveil “golden cards” which provide 10-year, rolling visas — providing thousands with the certainty they need to make long-term commitments. All these measures have helped the city-state eliminate its reliance on oil revenues, cultivating an economy with a diverse range of industries. This is a milestone few of Dubai’s Middle Eastern neighbors have been able to match, and as the world turns away from fossil fuels and oil prices dwindle, it could be argued that the area is a global leader in futureproofing.

An endorsement of Dubai’s business environment can also be seen through its latest score in the Global Financial Centers Index, which ranks international hubs based on five areas including infrastructure and business environment. The city-state ranked modestly at 25th when the index launched in 2007, but has risen steadily to 8th as of September 2018 — the highest ranking across the Middle East and Africa.

According to official figures, Dubai’s popularity has also been matched in terms of tourism. From January to November, the area welcomed 15 million international guests — an increase of 700,000 compared with the same period in 2018. India, Saudi Arabia, the U.K., Oman and China were the biggest source markets. Tourism has been seen as a silver bullet for reversing a forecast slowdown in economic growth, and although the sector has had its fair share of turbulence, a report from the Oxford Business Group suggests “there is large potential for future growth” — spurred by how Dubai will host a 173-day World Expo from October 2020.

The challenges

Despite the upbeat forecasts, the worsening rhetoric following the death of Soleimani could have an impact on Dubai’s image as a bucket list destination for tourists and businesspeople. Reports in the British media, and briefly in The New York Times, suggested that Iran was prepared to attack the city — and some articles even claimed Westerners were being urged to leave Dubai urgently.

The alarmist headlines have been met with bemusement and dismay across U.A.E. media outlets and the Dubai government. Although countries such as the U.K. have urged its citizens to remain vigilant, there is no advice warning against travel to Dubai — simply a recommendation to “remain vigilant” because there is a risk of terrorism. Similar language has also been used in Britain’s travel advisories for Spain and France, two of the most popular destinations for holidaymakers.

Dubai’s media office was quick to respond — likely fearful that the reports could trigger cancelations and dampen future bookings. On Twitter, it said “rumors being circulated regarding security threats are fake and haven’t been issued from any official source in the Iranian government” — adding that, as one of the world’s most-visited destinations, “it continues to provide a secure environment for residents and guests from every corner of the globe.”

Indeed, the U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council says there is a “minimal risk” from crime in the U.A.E. — advising its citizens that normal precautions should be taken during visits. This is coupled by figures from the United Nations, which show that homicide rates in Dubai are substantially below the global average.

A strong position?

Although the regional threats are worrying, Dubai seems to be continuing with ambitious plans to develop its economy and welcome global visitors with gusto. A futuristic “Hyperloop” paving the way for high-speed travel between cities in the U.A.E. is being developed, with executives racing to launch the first commercial line on the planet. Elsewhere, the city-state is aggressively pushing ahead with the goal of becoming a fully fledged “smart city” by 2021 — boosting happiness and delivering “a more seamless, safe, efficient and personalized experience for all residents and visitors.”

Throughout recent decades, Dubai seems to have weathered the political, economic and security ramifications of turmoil in the Middle East. There’s little doubt that the city will want this theme to continue as the new decade begins.

Raphael Badani is a geopolitical risk consultant and interactive simulation designer in the private sector.

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The United States’ targeted strike on top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani prompted Tehran to warn it would enact “crushing revenge.”
dubai, middle east, turmoil
Tuesday, 14 January 2020 10:04 AM
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