The new decade that was ushered in by the usual dazzling Burj Khalifa fireworks provoked some reflection on my part, for it was 10 years ago this year that I made the move to the Gulf.
Back then it was a leap into the unknown, where blissful ignorance of the customs, shortcomings and foibles of the region meant ups and downs even more marked than the NMC Health share price chart. Well, not quite. But today, the things that sent me into a tailspin of incredulity and temple throbbing exasperation seem perfectly normal. Except for the banking system. And the driving. Oh, and the standard of workmanship. Better add in the price of a bottle of very average wine. I suppose you would have thought, also, that over the past decade the cult of building real estate that no one is going to buy and banks lending like drunken sailors to developers might have stopped, but no, it’s business as usual. When the shimmering Arabian Gulf tide goes out, it isn’t the borrowers who will be seen bearing their all. It’s the lenders and investors. But that’s life here, and the cycle never seems to stop, apart from the odd arrest and short term public humiliation.
Back in 2010, as Gordon Brown handed over to David Cameron (and Cleggers) and Barack Obama was in office (whose first inauguration I attended in Washington DC), who was to know that the United Kingdom would go through a painful divorce from Europe. Moreover, who would have predicted the ascent of the Mango Mussolini, (as Donald Trump has been nicknamed by none other than Brian Moore, the former England pit bull) to the White House and become the most amusingly powerful man on the planet.
Here in the UAE, Dubai was not nearly the size it is today, and in Abu Dhabi, Reem Island, Saadiyat island and Al Maryah Island were mere squiggles on the draftsman’s paper.
2010 was the year that the Burj Khalifa opened to the public, and a decade on it still pulls the crowds, Coronavirus notwithstanding. The Meydan racecourse opened for Godolphin to win more often that they lose. The population was 8.3 million.
By 2019 the population had grown to 9.8 million and the UAE had won the bid to host Expo 2020, sent a man into space, embraced alternative energy with the inauguration of the Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid solar park, which will provide 5000 mega watts of power. On that theme, Abu Dhabi was the launch place for Solar Impulse 2, the first solar powered plane to circumnavigate the earth, covering 40,000kms without using one drop of fossil fuel.
We have seen the launch of the wonderful Dubai opera house and the creation of a water canal that cuts through the city. It has been announced that the world’s first Hyperloop will come to the UAE, offering commuters a 12 minute jet propelled journey from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, which should be marginally safer than the Sheikh Zayed Road.
In 2017, the Louvre opened in Abu Dhabi, adding another cultural destination to the guidebooks. More museums and exhibition centres are to follow in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with the Museum of the Future under construction, to name but one.
Pope Francis even popped over to say hello.