Standing up for the Gulf, without bashing America

10 March 2006

t is unusual to praise President Bush and sympathise with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But that happened last month as DP World's takeover of Britain's P&O came under political fire from Washington. Bush rightly declared that Dubai is no threat to American national security and the deal should pass. And Rice, who met GCC foreign ministers in Abu Dhabi on 23 February to drum up support for US Middle East policy, could not have arrived in the UAE at a worse time. No country in the region has done more than the UAE to co-operate with Washington. Objective observers agree the attacks are unfair and ignorant. 'The security argument is bogus and, I would add, borderline racist,' New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about the affair. US policy critic Patrick Seale went further: 'Like the rise of China and India, the UAE is beginning to signal that the West's pre-eminence in each and every field may not last for ever,' he wrote.

More US-bashing is tempting but wrong. Rising Gulf affluence means growing Gulf influence. MEED forecasts that the GCC will generate at least $500,000 million in balance of payments surpluses in the next five years. Some will go into global capital and property markets. The DP World affair is an early warning of what can go wrong.

Gulf states need a proactive policy that anticipates criticisms, some of which will be justified. In the early days of the DP World row, the absence of rebuttals from credible people in Dubai and the UAE was a lost opportunity. It allowed critics such as Israel fanatic Frank Gaffney to poison minds without contradiction. This does not require official spokespeople. A list of thinkers and business people willing to speak out should have been available. A write-in from Americans to Senator Hillary Clinton and other US politicians is late, but not too late.

Most Americans have now heard about Dubai and the UAE. This can be turned to good advantage with a campaign in the US to explain why DP World's critics are wrong. This is a good time to hold a Dubai-US summit, preferably in New York, to show American business the emerging opportunities.Open up Australia!

Emirates operates 42 non-stop flights a week to four Australian cities: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. No other airline flies non-stop to Australia from Dubai. Demand is so great that Emirates will start four more weekly flights to Perth in March and a double-daily service to the Western Australian city from September. Emirates' aspirations go much further. The airline applied last year for 42 more weekly flights to Australia, one of the biggest initiatives on a long-distance route in aviation history. This represents a challenge to Australia's closed-door aviation policy, which was flayed in February when Canberra blocked Singapore Airlines' application to fly from Australia to the US. Australians need more choice on popular routes like those to the Gulf. Every day this is prevented means lost Australian income and jobs. Aussies don't require protecting any more than they need 12 players on the pitch to beat England in the Ashes cricket series starting this December.

Good news from EgyptThe MEED Natural Gas conference in Cairo was told hopes are high of massive new gas finds. If they happen, new energy and petrochemical projects will be sanctioned. Developing gas is the best news for Egypt's economy since oil was discovered. In 2005, the country's first three liquefied natural gas (LNG) trains came on stream with combined capacity of 12 million tonnes a year. Eight big petrochemical plants are planned.

Macroeconomic indicators are better than ever. Growth is high, inflation moderate and there are surpluses in the domestic and external accounts. The cabinet is competent and there is political calm, if not content. Gas could be the catalyst turning Egypt's news from good to great.

France versus BritainMEED hears there is everything to play fo

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