Posts   |   Great piece by Zocalo’s Andres Martinez on the UAE

December 1, 2015
Great piece by Zocalo’s Andres Martinez on the UAE

This is a must-read piece by my friend Andres Martinez, asking all the right questions about the UAE after his first visit last month. Andres joined a group of us from Johns Hopkins SAIS on a UAE study tour in late October. The piece was published in Zocalo Public Square – a must-visit site launched by my former New America Foundation colleague and all-around brilliant thinker Gregory Rodriguez.

A sampling from the piece:

The Hong Kong of India. The Singapore of the Middle East. The Miami of Africa. No wait, make that the Hong Kong of Iran. Or is it the Vegas of this part of the world?

For a first-timer, a week in the United Arab Emirates—essentially a twin-headed city-state of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, though there are five other emirates—is a dizzying experience as you struggle to wrap your mind around the multiple vital roles this small country on the Arabian peninsula plays as a regional, and increasingly global, hub.

“As a small country, we must be many things to many people,” says Mishaal Al Gergawi, the managing director of the Delma Institute, a think tank based in Dubai.

To visit the UAE is humbling on a number of fronts. The combination of outsized ambition and seemingly unlimited resources for cutting-edge infrastructure is awe-inspiring. At a more basic level, the UAE eviscerated my stereotypes of profligate “resource-cursed” petro states in that part of the world. This is a country that is clearly planning for the future.


And always glad to be thanked (or blamed) for dreaming up new analogies to describe this hyper-speed evolving entity/country/idea known as the UAE.

More from Andres’ piece below:

“The UAE, particularly Dubai,” Afshin Molavi tells me on the trip, “has emerged as the single most important hub of the New Silk Road linking Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. This is the connector for people, goods, and services across a broad swath of the globe accounting for nearly two-thirds of humanity from Bombay to Beijing, Johannesburg to Jeddah.”

I can thank (or blame) Afshin, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies who has long studied the region, for my dazed confusion while in the UAE. He’s the one who kept volleying Singapore/Hong Kong/Miami analogies my way during the week-long SAIS-sponsored trip I took, along with a dozen or so other academics and Washington policy analysts looking at the economic role of the UAE and UAE-U.S. ties.

And then, Andres poses the key question:

….this is a bit depressing because, as with Hong Kong and Singapore, it’s happening in a small technocrat-controlled environment, an offshore haven to a larger region, unburdened by the heft of a large nation’s sticky politics. The UAE is succeeding because large countries like India, Egypt, and Iran failed to become that missing node in the global supply chain between East Asia and London. Think about it. Air India, as a matter of geography, had every opportunity to play the global role that Emirates is now playing. And why didn’t Mumbai become the financial hub that Dubai has become? Or why didn’t Egypt, with the Suez Canal, become the logistical crossroads between Asia and Europe?

And so the UAE leaves you with this slightly unnerving question: Is this place destined to remain a remarkable safe haven removed from the madness and dysfunction that surrounds it, or it is it a replicable model, a blueprint for the Arab world’s future?


Ok, enough excerpts. Don’t take my word for it. Read the piece yourself here

Is the United Arab Emirates the Future of the Arab World?

And spend some time hanging out at Zocalo Public Square