Tag Archives: middle east

Dubai EXPO2020 theme pavilion design competition winners revealed

His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Expo Higher Committee, in partnership with leading property developer Emaar Properties, have revealed the winners of one of the world’s most prestigious architectural competitions, to design the theme pavilions for Expo 2020.

The committee sought ideas for the three theme pavilions titled Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability, which form a central part of EXPO 2020’s theme that is Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.

The winning design for the Opportunity Pavilion was submitted by Bjarke Ingels Group, a group of architects, designers, builders and thinkers based in Copenhagen and New York. Their design philosophy reflects a belief that contemporary urban life is a result of the confluence of cultural exchange, global economic trends and communication technologies as it could be read on the Expo 2020 official website.


Bjarke Ingels Group winning design for Opportunity Pavilion. Photo from Emirates24/7


Bjarke Ingels Group winning design for Opportunity Pavilion. Photo from Emirates24/7


The press release issued by Expo 2020 official website and reported by the major local newspapers, continues saying that Foster + Partners, the internationally renowned practice, based in London, submitted the winning proposal for the Mobility Pavilion. Their design drew on nearly four decades of pioneering designs including Dubai’s The Index building, and the master plan for Masdar City.

Expo-2020-theme-pavilion mobility - foster + partners

Foster + Partners winning design for Dubai Expo2020 Mobility Pavillion. Photo from ArabianBusiness.com

The winning design for the Sustainability Pavilion, which will become a long term ‘cluster’ centre promoting innovative technologies, was submitted by Grimshaw Architects. The firm designed the Eden project in Cornwall, UK, and is a leader in the field of sustainable architecture.


Grimshaw Architects winning design for Sustainability Pavillion at Dubai Expo2020. Photo from Emirates24/7

Expo-2020-theme-pavilion sustainability - Grimshaw

Grimshaw Architects winning design for Sustainability Pavillion at Dubai Expo2020. Photo from ArabianBusiness

“Expo 2020 will be a festival of human ingenuity. We hope that the nations and organisations that take part in Expo, and the millions who visit, will explore the power of connections across the spheres of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability”

“Our theme pavilions will play a central role in bringing this to life.”

said HH Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

Keep updated by visiting the official DUBAI EXPO2020 website.

Contractors face slowdown in Abu Dhabi unless new projects come to market

I particularly liked the article by  about the current status of the construction sector in Abu Dhabi published yesterday on the local newspaper The National, an extract of which is here under reported.

by Michael Fahy, The National, 20 February 2016

The feeling construction companies operating in Abu Dhabi have is that not enough projects are coming to market to replace those being completed.

BMI Research said Abu Dhabi’s GDP growth is set to slow to 2.8 per cent this year, down from 4.3 per cent last year. It said that construction would outperform the overall economy, with an average annual growth rate of 5.9 per cent predicted between 2016 and 2020 across the UAE.

Richard Marshall, a senior infrastructure analyst at BMI Research, said that there are US$103 billion worth of UAE projects under construction, with $45bn of that in Abu Dhabi alone – more than any other emirate.

The pipeline of projects due to come to market is just $62bn. Given that more than 70 per cent of the $103bn of live projects is due for completion in 2017, a potential slowdown in the sector awaits unless more tenders come to market.

Moreover, the biggest project in the pre-tender phase is phase two of the Dh40bn Etihad Rail project, which was suspended last month until a review for “the most appropriate options for the timing and delivery” of the project is undertaken.

“Other GCC markets have been slow to deliver on their sections of the planned [railway] network, which has lessened the pressure on the UAE to meet the 2018 deadline.” said Mr Marshall.

On Wednesday, the ratings agency Moody’s said that Abu Dhabi was facing an economic slowdown as a result of government cuts in response to lower oil revenues.

Moody’s senior vice president, Steven Hess, said that a prolonged period of low oil prices could gradually erode the emirate’s fiscal buffers if it did not maintain prudent budgeting, but that it has enough reserves to be able to finance fiscal deficits for five to 10 years if it liquidated some of its assets. “Overall, the [emirate’s] considerable foreign assets should mitigate the negative consequences of oil price volatility on Abu Dhabi’s fiscal and external accounts,” said Mr Hess.

Read the full and original article on The National.

A Day at the Butterfly Garden in Dubai

Dubai is a wonderful city built where once there was the desert. Skyscrapers, roads and other structures took the place that once was of the sand and completely changed the landscape.

One thing remains though: the dry climate that characterizes this part of the world and that make it naturally unsuitable for many green plants and animals.

In an attempt to make the city greener, the government and major developers have spared no efforts in creating parks and green areas all over the city, which are usually packed with people on weekends.

Few years ago the Miracle Garden opened and was an immediate success. During the good season (that here is winter), an astonishing display of flowers arranged in a way to display colorful houses, patterns and other artifacts. Due to the success of the Miracle Garden, a new Butterfly Garden opened close by. An opportunity to see such marvelous creatures in a place where it was hard to see any that we didn’t miss.

The entrance fee is 50 AED but I guess it is justified by the high costs the management has to maintain a suitable environment for the butterflies to survive. They require constant care and a daily provision of flowers to suck the nectar from.

The show the butterflies offers in their three different closed environments is breathtaking.

Butterfly 1Butterfly 2Butterfly 3Butterfly 4Butterfly 5Butterfly 6Butterfly 7

“I will go on TV naked and resign if . . . “

Before revealing who made this bold statement to the press recently, we shall understand the current situation in the Real Estate market in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai in particular.

As we all know, the oil price has dropped by more than 50% in one year affecting not only the oil giants that had to slash investments and cut jobs but also the oil exporting Countries that registered a huge public deficit in 2015. According to Bloomberg, Saudi Arabia, one of the world leaders in terms of oil production and export, has accumulated a 98 billion dollars deficit (19.5% of GDP circa) during the past year.

The fiscal deficit has been covered, in most cases, by selling assets owned by sovereign wealth funds as reported by The National, with Saudi Arabia expected to have sold 70 billion USD worth of assets and Kuwait 30 billion USD. The position of the UAE seems to be much better thanks to the diversified economy that is less depending on oil revenues and its stash of wealth that amount to a staggering 275% of the GDP.

In a persisting low oil phase, however, the GCC countries have also initiate issuing new bonds and actively using the liquidity deposited in the local bank system to plug the accruing deficits. The occasion is also favorable to introduce the VAT, as already anticipated by this blog months ago, that is supposed to be operative from 2018 as reported by Emirates24/7 and to implement subsidies cuts to water, energy and fuel as lastly happened in Saudi Arabia where the fuel price jumped by 50% as reported by SaudiGazzette.

In this context of reduced spending power, it seems inevitable that some of the projects currently going on could be affected as stated by Alan Robertson, CEO of JLL MENA, and reported by ArabianBusiness.

dubai Real Estate troubles

He said: “2016 is expected to see more challenging conditions in the UAE real estate market as we begin to feel the impact of the continuing fall in oil prices and ongoing geopolitical tensions leading to reduced liquidity and pressure on government budgets“.

Of course the wars in Yemen and Syria are destabilizing the area and contributing in the creation of additional factors of anxiety for many investors.

The media started talking about liquidity problems affecting the completion of the projects and about oversupply that was pushing down the prices like the one published by GulfBusiness, discouraging the developer to complete their projects. The news flow had a worldwide echo and articles started popping in all major newspapers.

It is at this point that Mr. Ziad El Chaar, Managing Director of DAMAC Properties, made the bold statement to the Sunday Times that he will “go on TV naked and resign” if the worst predictions about Dubai’s property market are realized this year as reported by ArabianBusiness.

Damac Chief

Bold statement supported by the expert absolute certainty of the strong and healthy status of the Real Estate field in the Emirates.

The slow but scaring propagation of MERS-CoV in Middle East and Asia

More than one year ago, in March/April 2014 to be precise, I was living and working in Saudi Arabia and was discretely preoccupied for the MERS (Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome) virus that was spreading in the Kingdom. It wasn’t a real breakout, since the daily cases were few, sometimes 1 sometimes 4 or 5. What scared me the most was the fact that the new cases reported were constant, meaning that the virus had a suitable carrier that was perfectly working.

Many associated the Virus with the camels new born season that in effect had caused the previous spike in the daily cases census. The spike had alarmed the international and local authorities that intervened to contain the infection. Saudi Arabia was the origin of the new Corona Virus and it was the Country with the highest number of cases reported.

After several weeks of general hysteria, the situation seemed becoming normal, with very few and isolated cases that seemed to happen just to remind us that the MERS Virus was still among us.

 After a period of relative tranquility, the MERS-CoV suddenly and powerfully appeared in South Korea where it spread and killed many people from May 2015 as reported by BBC News at the beginning of July 2015.

MERS CoV Global Situation Map by World Health Organization - photo from www.who.int

MERS CoV Global Situation Map by World Health Organization – photo from http://www.who.int

After the most recent outbreak, South Korea became one of the most severely hit Countries with hundreds cases that brought the local authorities to preventive quarantine measure for almost 7,000 people (as of end of July) and  provoked a collective fear of a pandemic in the population.


The level of alert in South Korea is so high that this wedding photo was taken with mask. – photo credit in the right corner

Surprisingly enough, concomitant with the recent outbreak in Korea, there has been a re-awakening of the virus even in Saudi Arabia with 22 new reported cases in the past 4 weeks. But while in Saudi we could have linked the presence of the virus to the camel farming activities, I am quite puzzled about its persistent presence in Far East. World Health Organization is strictly monitoring the evolution of the situation.

Iran Nuclear Deal by Shadi Ghanim

Have your say: Iran Nuclear Deal

I have read many articles about the Iran Nuclear Deal and got somehow confused because each and every Country directly involved in the deal has announced it to its respective population as a Victory, with a capital V (emblematic the cartoon published by The National and here reported as featured image).

The real question is: who’s going to benefit from this deal? 

While trying to answer this question, I came across an interesting article titled: “Who will cash in on the Iran nuclear deal?” where it is excellently reported how the European countries, especially those with Oil&Gas know-how will benefit from lifting the embargo. The French Total, the Norwegian Statoil and many German companies are eager to sign multi billion dollars contracts to expand Iranian extraction, refining and transportation of Natural Gas and Oil. Italy, who was not invited in the 5+1 committee and lost an estimated 45 billion Euro in the period 2010-2012, follows closely with oil giant Eni and its engineering arm Saipem, ready to get advantage of the situation.

This reasoning has been recently confirmed by Iranian authorities who confirmed that Oil&Gas Projects worth USD 185 billion are going to be awarded as soon as the sanctions are effectively lifted, as reported by Reuters. Fresh cash that is much needed by the O&G sector that is experiencing a substantial cut in new project’s number and value because of the low oil price.

But European Countries are not the only one to get benefits from the deal. The States are in pole position to get the maximum out of the deal, both directly and indirectly. A recent report published by the National Iranian American Council affirms that the States lost hundreds of billion in potential exports revenues to Iran and oil exploitation Joint-Ventures since the States-Iran relationship started deteriorating decades ago.

But this shall not be the only item we take into account. Other than guaranteeing a source of income to the European partner, the US have to grant protection to those allied Countries in the middle east that perceive Iran as a threat: Saudi Arabia above all. An this goal is not reached only by using political means but providing defensive systems to the concerned parties.

As reported by GulfNews, the States are going to sell to Saudi Arabia USD 5.4 Billion worth of missiles to enhance its defensive system.

“The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the sale would benefit a key US partner in the Middle East. Notification to Congress was sent on Tuesday and follows a major nuclear deal with Iran. The missile sale approval could help reassure Saudi Arabia about the US commitment to its security.

Definitely, Iran will witness a skyrocket increase in its economy not only because of the possibility to sell oil in the international market, but also by the consistent investments that foreign companies might decide to do in the country in the next months. The new flow of oil and gas that Iran will make available on the markets in few months time, will put further pressure on OPEC countries because of the expected (and partially already manifested) slump in the prices that are already low (WTI is at 47.72 USD/b today).

Dubai Economy boosts (and cost of living soars)

Many countries in the middle east are trying to diversify the economy in order to guarantee a prosperous future to the generations to come even in periods when the oil won’t be necessary or available any more. Among the various countries forming the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), the United Arab Emirates is the leader in the diversification process and this is mainly thanks to a very wise leadership.

Some decades ago, oil was almost the only source of income since the volume of money the oil trade was bringing home was several folds bigger than the other voices listed in the GDP calculation. The efforts put in place in order to diversify the economy were immense. First, transforming Dubai in a commercial and financial hub, then investing in culture and innovation and last, but not least, creating the conditions for many manufacturers to establish their production in the Emirates.

All without forgetting the construction sector that has been one of the most important drivers of the economic growth and the fantastic success of Emirates Airline that significantly contributed to the economic development of the Country. A strategy that projected Dubai to host the EXPO 2020, the coronation of years of sacrifices.

But what about the economy? It is artificially sustained by the oil incomes or it is definitely switched to a diversified one? The results in the past decade are astonishing.

Last year (2014) the GDP increased of 4.6%. In the past decade the value of manufacturing and construction sector doubled bringing the non-oil sector to account for more than 68% of the GDP as shown in the info-graphic published by Khaleej Time few days ago after the economic data was released by the Ministry of Economy.

UAE Economy by Khaleej Times

The brilliant economy development of the UAE. A clear example of wise leadership.

The target set by the leaders of the UAE is challenging. Develop an economy system where the non-oil sector accounts for 80% of the GDP by 2021, leaving the oil trade to play a marginal role in the domestic revenues, hence further stabilizing the economy.

Unfortunately for the Dubaians, the progress of the economy (hence more job positions, opportunity to invest and make money) is almost equalized with the soar of the cost of living. As reported in many articles published in newspapers and magazines like Dubai Week, many Dubaians complain that their dirhams aren’t stretching as far as they used to and now the statistics prove it.

As a matter of fact, the cost of life in the city has hit a six-year high with Dubai’s consumer price index rising 4.6% annually last month, the highest since 2009, following a surge in housing and utility costs.

The Dubai Statics Center said the consumer price index increased 0.6 percent month-on-month. Housing and utility costs, which make up about 44 percent of the consumers expenses, soared 7.8 percent year on and 0.7 percent from April, the government agency added (details here).

However, the worst of the price rises could be over, economists say, as retailers often push up prices ahead of Ramadan. A global report issued by Mercer ranks Dubai as the 23rd most expensive place in the world for expacts.