Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2


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On the ground

One day, after yet another beating, Mela ran out onto the streets, and asked — in broken English — how to find the Ethiopian consulate. After walking for two days, she found it, but they told her she had to get her passport back from Madam. She has been in this hostel for six months. She has spoken to her daughter twice.

Shifting Sands: The Middle East in the 21st Century | JIA SIPA

As she says this, I remember a stray sentence I heard back at Double Decker. I asked a British woman called Hermione Frayling what the best thing about Dubai was. They'll do anything! The World is empty. It has been abandoned, its continents unfinished. Through binoculars, I think I can glimpse Britain; this sceptred isle barren in the salt-breeze. Here, off the coast of Dubai, developers have been rebuilding the world. They have constructed artificial islands in the shape of all planet Earth's land masses, and they plan to sell each continent off to be built on.

There were rumours that the Beckhams would bid for Britain. But the people who work at the nearby coast say they haven't seen anybody there for months now. They were building an air-conditioned beach here, with cooling pipes running below the sand, so the super-rich didn't singe their toes on their way from towel to sea.

Shifting sands – engineers change the face of the MENA region

The projects completed just before the global economy crashed look empty and tattered. Sitting on its own fake island — shaped, of course, like a palm tree — it looks like an immense upturned tooth in a faintly decaying mouth. It is pink and turreted — the architecture of the pharaohs, as reimagined by Zsa-Zsa Gabor. Its Grand Lobby is a monumental dome covered in glitterballs, held up by eight monumental concrete palm trees. Standing in the middle, there is a giant shining glass structure that looks like the intestines of every guest who has ever stayed at the Atlantis.

It is unexpectedly raining; water is leaking from the roof, and tiles are falling off. A South African PR girl shows me around its most coveted rooms, explaining that this is "the greatest luxury offered in the world". There are huge water tanks filled with sharks, which poke around mock-abandoned castles and dumped submarines. There are more than 1, rooms here, each with a sea view.

The Neptune suite has three floors, and — I gasp as I see it — it looks out directly on to the vast shark tank. You lie on the bed, and the sharks stare in at you.

Shifting Sands

In Dubai, you can sleep with the fishes, and survive. But even the luxury — reminiscent of a Bond villain's lair — is also being abandoned. I check myself in for a few nights to the classiest hotel in town, the Park Hyatt. It is the fashionistas' favourite hotel, where Elle Macpherson and Tommy Hilfiger stay, a gorgeous, understated palace.

It feels empty. Whenever I eat, I am one of the only people in the restaurant. A staff member tells me in a whisper: "It used to be full here. Now there's hardly anyone. The most famous hotel in Dubai — the proud icon of the city — is the Burj al Arab hotel, sitting on the shore, shaped like a giant glass sailing boat.

In the lobby, I start chatting to a couple from London who work in the City. They have been coming to Dubai for 10 years now, and they say they love it. By the end, they'd built an entire island there. My patience frayed by all this excess, I find myself snapping: doesn't the omnipresent slave class bother you?

I hope they misunderstood me, because the woman replied: "That's what we come for! It's great, you can't do anything for yourself! Dubai is not just a city living beyond its financial means; it is living beyond its ecological means. You stand on a manicured Dubai lawn and watch the sprinklers spray water all around you.

You see tourists flocking to swim with dolphins. You wander into a mountain-sized freezer where they have built a ski slope with real snow. And a voice at the back of your head squeaks: this is the desert. This is the most water-stressed place on the planet. How can this be happening? How is it possible? The very earth is trying to repel Dubai, to dry it up and blow it away. The new Tiger Woods Gold Course needs four million gallons of water to be pumped on to its grounds every day, or it would simply shrivel and disappear on the winds. The city is regularly washed over with dust-storms that fog up the skies and turn the skyline into a blur.

When the dust parts, heat burns through. It cooks anything that is not kept constantly, artificially wet. Dr Mohammed Raouf, the environmental director of the Gulf Research Centre, sounds sombre as he sits in his Dubai office and warns: "This is a desert area, and we are trying to defy its environment. It is very unwise. If you take on the desert, you will lose. Sheikh Maktoum built his showcase city in a place with no useable water. There is no surface water, very little acquifer, and among the lowest rainfall in the world. So Dubai drinks the sea. The Emirates' water is stripped of salt in vast desalination plants around the Gulf — making it the most expensive water on earth.

It costs more than petrol to produce, and belches vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it goes. It's the main reason why a resident of Dubai has the biggest average carbon footprint of any human being — more than double that of an American. If a recession turns into depression, Dr Raouf believes Dubai could run out of water.


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But if we had lower revenues — if, say, the world shifts to a source of energy other than oil Water is the main source of life. It would be a catastrophe.

The Enduring Appeal of “Sectarianism” and the Artificial State

Dubai only has enough water to last us a week. There's almost no storage. We don't know what will happen if our supplies falter. It would be hard to survive. Global warming, he adds, makes the problem even worse.

Subcommittee Hearing: Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 1

Developers keep saying it's all fine, they've taken it into consideration, but I'm not so sure. Is the Dubai government concerned about any of this?

Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2 Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2
Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2 Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2
Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2 Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2
Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2 Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2
Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2 Shifting Sands: Political Transitions in the Middle East, Part 2

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