Observations/Opinions: Travel In Rich Arab Countries
Strange is not the word, neither is unreal, neither is peculiar or unusual. These countries which have experienced dramatic wealth over a relatively short time span and are also finding that it is difficult to responsibly handle it and still maintain elitist control over the populous. I believe that the social & political conflicts are being compounded by the disparities we see everywhere, the so called 99% vs 1%. What makes it more difficult in these countries is that there are so many (mostly ex-pat, non-citizens) who rely entirely on this wealth/income and realize their powerlessness will not change with political/social change and actually, that change threatens their livelihood.
Our travels through these countries has not put us in contact with local citizens, and in the case of Bahrain, we saw NO Shiites who are reportedly in the majority, at least none we were made aware of. However, even given our limited exposure to 'the people', there are some things which to me are clear. If the religious principles espoused by these people (both sunni and shiite)are to continue, only the extreme views will prevail through maximum force. This will in turn, bring them into greater conflict with the West both economically and politically if rights issues continue to be ignored. Unfortunately, the West worships the $$$ and is being bankrolled by these elites who are getting massive amounts of Western $$$. Oil can and will bring these two 1% elites together as it has in the past, but this time the West will not be calling the cards. As always, the elites can buy off enough of their opposition to maintain control, but where the military gets involved without the implicit support of the 99% then real conflict (read Syria) can be the only result. In this part of the Arab world, materialism (the 'buying off') has enough of a hold that for as long as the elite can afford it they can & will spend, spend, spend. Change will creep in, most likely in the form of more woman's rights, but no sort of democracy is in the near future without a violent uprising.
Since climate change will impinge increasingly upon these countries, the money needed to address physical changes in how these people confront/respond to change is easily available. The elites are already ahead of this eventuality due to their desert location (solar power & water desalination). The main problem they face is the increased pressure from poor African countries trying to escape the inevitable disaster there. But they are also building a lot of huge structures which all require air conditioning (power supply is via oil mostly), so unless there is a dramatic increase in investment into solar, they will be using an increasingly huge amount of $$$ to maintain this extravagent air conditioning of massive amounts of unproductive, cooled space!
To summarize, the powers that be will continue although with concessions to opposing groups without relinquishing their power. Failing concessions, they will resort to a military 'solution' as last resort, to protect their 'religious principles'! Their vast wealth will be protected even if it means forming/reforming an unholy alliance with the West but only if (like OPEC in the past) they hold the cards this time. Watch out China!!
Interestingly, I have not heard of any solutions or developments in improving the efficiency of air conditioning, something the elites rely on everywhere we go! Perhaps the value of their own oil has yet to have a negative impact on their power systems (still reliant on oil for the most part)!
Notes...sreelanka, wholesale, filling in, cleaning everywhere,
Another thing I noticed was the continued heavy reliance on wholesalers, something of a rarity in the states due to the emergence of big box stores and dealing direct with manufacturers.
With building going on everywhere it is also notable that here in Dubai other than around highways, there is almost no in-fill i.e. land not being built on is empty sandlots. This creates huge, long distances between services and occupied dwellings. At present, the population is increasingly using cars/trucks which is putting great stresses on infrastructure and more polution. I suppose this could go on indefinately as long as they can afford the fuel, but sooner or later the spreadout nature of their development will have to be addressed.
If you don't look closely you miss all the personnel devoted to cleaning, constant cleaning...floors, walls, windows, any surface the public comes into contact with.
Overall, the Arab states are very free of the ills of the West...crime, drug addiction, family dislocations due to divorce, health care costs, indebtedness. Mostly, these ills are absent because of their religous imperitives...no alcohol/drugs allowed, males control most decisions, money seems to be no object - they have lots! Unfortunately, the children of this older generation are for the most part spoiled, uneducated, and lazy from reports that I have gathered. An exception might be Oman, although the government is aiming at 90% Omani employed the actual figure is closer to 40% and most of the positions are at higher levels, owners, technical, financial, business...most of the menial, service jobs - car repair, manufacturing, etc. are filled by expats (Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani - we met no Philipinos in Oman though there are many in UAE).