Sunday, April 09, 2006

Snowballs in the Desert

April 9, 2006

Lets agree on a couple of things before you read and I write this blog entry. Dubai is in the Golf States one of the hottest regions in the world, it is nothing but sand which in yesterdays wind was blowing across the road, it is not richly endowed with oil like it’s sister states, the national sport is strapping frightened six year boys sold to them from Pakistan onto camels and racing them and 15% of the worlds building cranes are currently here. The worlds tallest building is being built along with the worlds biggest Shopping Mall.

Looking up the ski slope and watching children throwing snowballs is not what you would expect in the desert. But at the Mall of the Emirates they have a 400-meter long ski slope complete with ski lift. You cannot do anything but stand there and look up at this: inside the shopping centre is a ski slope, you walk in hire everything and go skiing for a couple of hours, but I must add a note here for those of you who ever come to Dubai bring gloves for skiing as they do not have them and according to those who have been to “Ski Dubai” your hands get very cold.

I did not ski as we did not have time and anyway the new Mall of Arabia being built will have a larger and longer ski field.

Dubai was the last stop on this trip with Dennis Ross and Producer Jonathan Wachtel as we wrapped up a one-hour special on “Democracy & Reform” a heavy topic but in its own way fascinating.

We came to film at Al Arabiya & Al Hura, both are TV Networks, both broadcast in Arabic but that is where the similarity ends. Al Arabiya is now the number one 24 hour News Network in the Arab world beating Al Jazeera, It has a refreshing approach and is totally committed to be fair and honest in it’s reporting. Al Hura on the other hand is a branch of the US Government, like the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe, and is not watched or trusted by anyone. I have not ever met one person who has watched it, in fact the only time I have ever seen it was when the Israelis were attacking Jericho Prison the other week and the correspondent from Al Hura was next to us.

People in the West might think of the Arabic News Networks as behind the times with no money. Let me give you a tip here the Newsroom at Al Arabiya is one of the most futuristic and functional in the world. Their correspondents, anchors and producers are multilingual and if anything left wing and liberal in their views.

The key thing I have learnt this week from listening to Dennis Ross and the people we have interviewed is that Democracy does have a good chance in this part of the world. But there are stages to democracy and before you can democratize you must first modernize, democracy must come from the grass roots and make its way from within.
Things like education, press freedom and a legal system must be working before anyone wants democracy. You have to be able to live in safety without the threat of being killed by acts of terror and aggression, before you can think of democracy working.

Iraq is currently in a complete state of civil war, nobody wants to come out and say it in so many words. The Bush Administration is in a complete no win scenario at the moment, the US troops cannot leave Iraq, and if they do Iraq will descend into a bitter and bloody civil war with Shia’s, Sunni’s and Kurds literally tearing themselves apart. The US troops are the only policeman left holding the factions apart. Even Hosni Mubarak the Egyptian President said last night, that America cannot and must not leave.

In the meantime Iraqis themselves cannot agree on anything or even elect their own leaders, the Election last December has still not produced a working Parliament or even a Prime Minister.

The other thing that I have come to figure out this week is that it is in the interest of Arab leaders to keep the Israel/Palestine Conflict and Iraq War going because whilst they have these issues going, they can simply ignore reform and democratic changes in their own countries, claiming these issues are the biggest challenges the Arab World are facing.

Think about it, peace and harmony comes to Israel and Palestine, the war in Iraq ends and Shia’s Sunni’s and Kurd’s elect a new leader who brings wealth and stability to all the people. The press now turns around and says well now those are behind us what are the issues facing the Arabic World – Democracy, Freedom, Equality, so if you were running your own country in the Islamic World would you want peace in Israel, freedom and a homeland for Palestinians, and US troops out of Iraq.

If you are wondering about the number of cranes in Dubai, and how booming an economy they have, 80% of the cranes in the world are in China, 15% are in Dubai the rest of the world, yes the REST OF THE WORLD has the other 5%.

When you can build a ski resort in the desert, you know that your economy is on track, imagine if they had oil as well in Dubai.


21st Century Mom said...

Wow - So many thoughts spring to mind but they all sound so impotent and sophomoric when I try to put them in to words.

Thanks for writing about this - excellent food for thought.

jonathan wachtel said...


Wachtel here. Was enjoyable to read about your impressions about our informative journey. I know that we discussed some of what your wrote about, but it was refreshing to read about the depth to which the experience touched you. We had an extraordinary trip because it was so meaningful. "The Battle for Arab Democracy" that aired on June 3rd rightly leaves us with the impression that it is a tough world we live in. And disparity of perception is perhaps the most dangerous thing we face nowadays.

However, perception was completely unanimous on this: You did terrific filming.