30 March 2016

This is the Future

This is the future. The future we read about and saw in movies when we were younger. It may be a little different, but this is definitely it, and it becomes more apparent as we go along.

The other day I drove past 7 kids on those "hoverboards", just cruising down the side of the street. My car told me which roads to avoid because an accident had just happened right there and then by crunching up tons of data from hundreds of cars that had slowed down on a specific street. I walked past a coffee shop with a guy sitting outside with a VR headset on his head talking to someone I couldn't see while staring into the distance. All one needs to do is take a look at the skyline of a new city like Dubai or Shanghai and flashback to Blade Runner.

We may have gotten a few things off in the movies of the 80's and 90's, but make no mistake, the future we foresaw is now and we are living it, and things are moving faster than ever. It's an interesting time.

23 January 2015

Who is King Salman?

The King is Dead. Long live the King!

Or so the saying goes. King Abdullah of Saudi passed away in the early hours of the morning, and was immediately succeeded by his brother, Salman Bin Abdulaziz.

What this means for a region in the middle of uncertainty is not immediately clear. The threat of ISIS throbs against the Saudi borders, while the low price of oil has promised a shock to the country's economy for the coming period. Add to that regional tensions following the "Arab Spring", as well as Saudi's own internal tensions, and you've got a ticking time bomb.

Let's take a look at the new monarch, King Salman, and who he is:

- Born in 1935
- Governor of the Riyadh Province from 1963-2011
- Saudi Minister of Defence since 2011
- Appointed as Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister in 2012

Headed the Al-Saud Family Council, and is considered to have a conciliatory and diplomatic nature, being actively involved in mediating many internal family disputes.

Strong advocate for philanthropy in poor Muslim countries such as Somalia, Bangladesh, Sudan, Bosnia, and Afghanistan.

He is regarded as intelligent and hard-working, honest and law-abiding (his governance of the Riyadh Province was reportedly corruption-free).

Very involved in media, with his family owning Asharq Al-Awsat and Al Eqtisadiah newspapers, as well as a percentage of the Saudi Research & Marketing Group (which publishes Arab News and others), as well as having connections to liberal e-newspaper Elaph and strong alliances with many journalists and TV-News directors in the region.

In terms of views on reform, King Salman had previously said that reforms, for social reasons and not religious reasons, cannot be imposed by the Saudi Government as there will be negative reactions, and the pace and extent of reforms depends on social and cultural factors.

He is considered to take more of a diplomatic approach to opposition figures as compared to other Saudi royals, but is not necessarily a political reformer. He is also considered to be, as King Abdullah before him, more focused on economic improvement of the country rather than political change.

With all that being said, how the new King handles the country for the next coming years will be a very significant factor in the development of the immediate region, and will have repercussions regionally and globally. Long live the King!

27 November 2013

The World Knows Who We Are

I was probably 11 or 12 years old at the time, comparing what we had in the Gulf to the West. The West had all the cool movies. They had all the cool products. All the cool restaurants. They were the scientists, the nobel prize winners, the countries that hosted the big events, the big money. We could catch a glimpse of their world through a TV screen once in a while when a western show or movie aired, and maybe if we were lucky enough to find one of their magazines in a store, we could flick through and see what they had. It was a bit of a dream world to most of the people living here.

A few years earlier my family had lived in the UK - I would say I primarily grew up in London; arguably the center of the world at the time (either it, or New York). It was a different planet from the Gulf. Everything was available in terms of products, media, events, theme parks, and creations. They were 'developed'. We were still behind. Light years behind.

Back in Bahrain (this was somewhere around the early 1990's), getting your hands on a western toy or comic was quite a feat, and was the sort of achievement you'd take along with you to school to show off to your classmates, much to their ooh's and aah's.

I remember thinking and wondering why the West had so much. Why everything they made was seemingly magical to us, while we didn't even register on their radar ("Where/what is Bahrain" was an almost standard reply when I told people where I was from).  I knew the Gulf had to wake up, and move faster, and achieve something. Just something to catch their attention. I wanted to help this region grow and develop, but what can I do as a 12 year old kid with a head full of dreams?

My family travelled considerably after then, back to London, Los Angeles, Paris, and so on. But we were back in Bahrain in 1997, and I was ready to graduate from high school. My original options were somewhere between the UK and the US, but for some reason I ended up going to university in the UAE (long story, ask me later). Dubai was just starting to break out of it's shell at the moment.

My first indication that things were starting to change was around 1999. One of my friends had gone to Australia for a holiday, and when he came back, we discussed the comic book scene there (he was a comic book collector). To my 'shock', he told me comic books were more accessible in Dubai than they were in Australia. But how could that be, I asked myself? Australia was a developed country, wasn't it? They had access to all the media, the products, and so on? But for some reason, we had more access to them in Dubai.

I remember being on an American car forum again around the year 2002, discussing the Skyline GTR (a pretty fast, if a little rare japanese vehicle). Some of the Americans on the forum mentioned hearing about a place called Dubai, being the number one importer (from Japan) and exporter (to the rest of the world) of Skyline GTR's. That was a little shocking; how could these random Americans in the middle of Texas even know about Dubai?

Our region grew and grew from there onwards and these 'moments' became more frequent. I stepped into a taxi in Italy in 2005, and he asked me where I was from; I said Bahrain, knowing very well that he probably would not recognize the country - but he said (in a very stereotypical Italian accent) "Ahhh Bahrain, Formula Uno!" Another was discussing the Abu Dhabi Louvre with some random passer-by in France in 2007. Asking a London travel agent about destinations in 2008, to which she replied, Oman. Talking about the Qatar World Cup in London in 2009. And so on.

And to top it all off, the announcement made just a little over an hour ago, with Dubai winning the right to host the 2020 World Expo. Even before the announcement, I could see tweets and facebook posts from people I know from Lebanon to Los Angeles to Lagos, talking about Dubai. The whole world is looking at us now, the world knows who we are. Although some may see this as the 'importing' of major global events, brands, and trends, what you can see if you look at closer is how we are creating our own as well. The fashion designers, the films, the TV shows. We've built some of the best/biggest airlines in the world, innovative solutions like Masdar and are slowly starting to export what we have to the rest of the world. Who in their right mind would have thought you could walk into the middle of New York and see the Emirates and Al Jazeera logos plastered everywhere, or walk into Harrods in London and grab some Chapati and Karak? And put all that aside for now; people from the West are coming here in hordes trying to get jobs, start businesses, or just explore.

Sure, some Gulf countries were slower to make the transition than others, but the growth is amazing for the region as a whole, and with the right effort we can all benefit from this. We're the cultural and economic heart of the region, and looking further ahead, maybe even the world. We've made it here; the world knows who we are now. And we're about to make waves, lots of them.

18 November 2013

Dubai Air Show, an Awakened Gulf, and Bahrain

I don't regularly blog anymore, and this is going to be a bit of a bittersweet post, but after seeing the amount of power the Gulf has in it's hands after yesterday's Air Show, I figured I have to start screaming somewhere. Might as well be my blog.

Anyhow; yesterday was the first day of the 2013 Dubai Air Show. The behemoth of the airline industry in the GCC is Emirates, which has very casually decided to order $100 billion dollars worth of planes. The notable runners up are Etihad and Qatar Airways, with a combined $50 billion worth of orders.

Now on the surface, and to the uninformed, this seems to be a bunch of rich sheikdoms throwing around their god granted oil money. But look a little deeper; if this was just about money, perhaps Kuwait should be a notable entry, with a higher GDP than either UAE or Qatar. Or, maybe Saudi, with more than double the oil revenue of the next closest competitor. You can't just build a massive airline out of thin air if you had money. Sure, you can start one, but without the right strategies, direction, management and so on, it won't last too long no matter how much money you throw at it.

Back in the 80's, the GCC was made up of a bunch of oil-rich countries with a lot of money and no incentive to use it to build up the country. Emirates Airlines was started by the Dubai ruling family in the mid-80's with an aim to turn Dubai into a regional business hub. With a very focused strategy over the next 20 years, they managed to pave the way for the world to have easy access into the city, and through that (and a very solid growth strategy) expand into a global superstar. As this ridiculous growth caught the eyes of the other sheikdoms around, they wanted in on the global game, and so began the story of the hyper-growth of the GCC.

Of course, some countries raced ahead while others lagged behind. Money played a contributing factor, but some did better with it than others. Look up now, and you'll see cities that people didn't even realize existed 20 years ago are buzzwords on the tongues of tourists, businessmen, politicians and even average citizens, all the way from Seoul to Sao Paulo.

To top it off, at the Air Show yesterday, Etihad, Qatar Airways and Emirates single handedly gave a life-line to Boeing with it's largest ever combined order of $100 billion. And with that kind of money comes power - Sh Ahmed Al Maktoom (Chairman of Emirates Group) turns around and casually says to the West, you give us the landing rights we're asking for (there have been arguments over landing rights for Emirates etc in the West over the past few years), or we're going to cancel these orders.

In other words, you're playing 'our' game now.

All sweet so far, right? The growth of a region, the increase in both economical and political power, the developments within it, and so on. So where's the bitter part?

I look at our tiny little Bahrain, so motivated and always starting new trends being slowly pushed to the side. In fact, they don't even have a noticeable participation in the Air Show; sure I understand we have our own in January and we're probably saving whatever loose change we have to sign deals there, but either way... We started the whole aviation thing in the region. Gulf Air was formed way before any of these other airline, back in the 1940's. And sure, we grew, and eventually Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Oman all decided to come on board as shareholders.

But I think the turning point was in the 80's - Dubai, back then a little desert village with nothing but huge aspirations, kept requesting more flights through Gulf Air, to which the airline turned around and said, no. Not being one to wait for things to happen, the ruling family of Dubai decided to start their own airline, Emirates, and from then on, it's growth, and with them the growth of Dubai astounded everyone.

To the point where Abu Dhabi and Qatar eventually decided, hey, we should have our own airlines too, and left Gulf Air. That's not necessarily a bad thing for GF - they can grow better with more focus, right? But no, the airline kept tumbling deeper and deeper into losses, corruption and one problem after the other. Oman eventually seceded from the airline, making it a pure Bahraini burden. On a positive note though, I guess we can say the reason Emirates was created, Dubai grew, and following that, the whole GCC ended up growing is because of Bahrain (denying Dubai more flights). Ironically now, Gulf Air's busiest route is to Dubai. Funny how time changes things.

I'm happy for what we've managed to do in the Gulf overall, and how we've managed to literally sit on top of the world through our airlines. But again, looking at Gulf Air's sad decline from being a true Gulf airline to one that is just an after-thought, even in the mind of the average Bahraini traveller, makes me feel a little bitter inside. And this follows through everything else in Bahrain - we start all the trends, we have the first hold on any new idea, but for some reason we fail while everyone around us grows. We're smart, we're motivated, we have so much potential in us, but that's all it remains - just pure potential, with no follow up.

I think it's less of feeling sad and more of feeling let down, or disappointed. We all gave tons and tons to the country, and after all that's happened we see it remain relatively stagnant. Maybe it's just a curse. Or maybe it can be fixed. Or maybe we lost hope. Don't get me wrong; I still love our little island, and that won't ever change, but sadly she just feels like the lazy offspring that ended up not achieving much in life while all it's siblings went on to become CEO's and presidents. 

15 August 2013

Sleep is my Friend

So here's the deal; I haven't really been sleeping right as of late. I think multiple reasons, including the fact that I don't have any specific reason to be up early in the morning, a little bit of stress, a little bit of A.D.D, and a lot of being disorganized have led to a totally erratic sleeping pattern. Some nights I sleep for 6 hours, some nights I sleep for 12. The only common factor is that I usually end up waking up past noon, which again, is not really that much of a problem considering that running your own business doesn't require early mornings.

Mentally, and socially, it starts getting to you. Waking up late is great when you get to do it on a weekend, or even on a longer holiday (school summer holidays, especially), and you get to re-energize your body. Doing it on a much longer timespan, say, for years in a row, has other effects; studies show that you tend to get lazier overall - check. Studies show that stress levels seem to increase for people who sleep late - check. Studies show that you experience more headaches and body aches in general - check. Studies show that... Well, it continues.

On a social level, i'm up when everyone else is having their afternoon siesta (a Spanish phrase for an Arab habit), and most active when everyone else goes to sleep. Most of the people who I actively communicate with are Twitter and Facebook friends from the US and Europe, who are up when I am, or the few other night-owls from around here.

Well, it's time to put an end to that, I thought. Not to say that I haven't been been trying for a while; I have. It just hasn't been working. I set alarms for 8:00am  and 9:00am, only to snooze them or even completely slumber through them. I get to bed early, only to lie down, turn and turn, and run through multiple thoughts spanning everything from the intricate details of how the universe was born, to what i'm having for lunch tomorrow. I end up finally sleeping by 6:00am or 7:00am, only to wake up again an hour or two past noon. There have been a couple of occasions where I ended up sleeping late and waking up early, figuring i'd sleep early that night, but nope. I either crashed by mid-afternoon, or ended up staying up late again, only to be caught back in the vicious circle over and over. Again, this has been going on for weeks and weeks, perhaps months and months. Same result.

Finally, yesterday, I figured I had a chance to fix things; again, I had tried sleeping early, and fell into the same routine of random multiple thoughts, rolling in bed, and generally thinking of things I haven't thought of in years. I eventually slept by 6:00am, but was forced to wake up at 8:00 to go do a number of errands (that I would have been in quite a bit of a pickle had I not finished them then).

So there I was, up early, facing the morning sun, driving around with a emotionless stare, finishing random errands till I was done by 4:00pm. I got back home, and was about to crash on the sofa watching a re-run of Romeo + Juliet (An amazing adaptation if you haven't seen it actually, with the whole story set in a modern day Los Angeles, while retaining the original Shakespearean dialogue. But that's a whole other story). A phone call stopped me from falling asleep, and I ended up having to go collect a couple of items from a friend. Finally home by 9:00pm seemed ideal, and I was exhausted. Finally. My perfect level of exhaustion aligned with the perfect sleeping time. I pictured it; if I slept now, I would be up by 6:00am or 7:00am, feeling great from having slept enough, feeling great from waking up early. I would actually be able to walk outside, and go to where the people have breakfast. I would have breakfast in public while other people were having breakfast. I would be an engaged member of society again. Everything seemed so perfect.

I got ready for bed, set my alarms for 7:00am, and closed my eyes. The last glance at the time told me it was 9:30pm, and from there I sank into my pillow...

I remember conjuring up multiple dreams; I don't remember the exact details, but they were many. Some dreams even had me waking up early, excited about how I was going to spend my morning. Remember, this is not just about waking up early. It was about waking up early, and waking up energized. It was about a routine, and returning to an active lifestyle. It was about less stress, less headaches, and being more healthy. It was a new life.

I abruptly woke up in the middle of the night. How long was I out for? An hour? Two hours? I wasn't going to let this ruin my objective. I didn't even bother checking the time or taking a glance at my phone. I shut my eyes and went back into dream land.

The dreams continued. Again, the details are vague, but I had this one recurring dream where I dreamt that I was sleeping, and I kept waking up to check the time, telling myself I needed a few more hours to wake up at 6:00. Other dreams followed, but this theme persisted.

I woke up again. What has it been, another hour or two? Didn't check the time, didn't check my phone, didn't do anything. Eyes shut. Dreamland.

This happened a few times; dreams, followed by me waking up, wondering how many hours I was out for, and going back to sleep. When I woke up for the fifth time, it was still dark outside. I closed my eyes again, but this time I couldn't sleep. My body had seemingly gotten enough rest, and was telling me to get up. My mind started running off into multiple thoughts, including trying to figure out if I was good to wake up or if I should sleep some more. I focused on that. If I had slept an average of one or two hours per session, I thought, with a total of five sessions, then I had probably slept somewhere between 6 and 7 hours. Maybe 8. I originally slept at 9:30. So now it should realistically be somewhere around 4:00 or 5:00am, maybe even 6:00 if i'm lucky. The sun should be coming up any minute now. That's fine, I can deal with that. I can wake up, try to do some early morning exercise, take a nice long shower, and go about my day. Yes. This would be perfect. This is ideal. Finally. Today. The first day of the rest of my life. I grabbed my phone, pressed a button and looked at the time.

It was 12:10am.