The GCC countries are vying with each other to promote their particular model of development as the way forward on the one hand, while trying to complement each other at the same time. Each is being pulled and pushed toward the so-called Dubai model of development, or the Saudi alternative. Just as with the laws of physics, sometimes the pendulum swings in the direction of one and then swings back to the other. Right now the pendulum has seems to have swung to the Saudi model but the Dubai model has many inherent characteristics which can positively shape the future of the region in a fierce globalized world.
Visitors to Dubai seem awestruck by the phenomenal growth and development that has taken place. Secretly many wish that their own countries exhibit the same boldness in planning, the aspiring to lofty dreams where nothing is impossible and where human nature can conquer all. Dubai represented what was possible under free market economic forces in a competitive environment, guided by a benevolent hand in the background. It was the darling of multinationals, foreign bankers and entrepreneurial expatriates. Dubai was the child of globalization at its best. Qatar is now entering this model, and for it to succeed in its World Cup ambitions and realize it to fruition, the Dubai model is the one that it will gravitate to.
Societies however need to balance their economic development with transformation that takes into account internal social cohesiveness and responsibilities for the wider community. While Dubai has undoubtedly provided its native citizens with the trappings of a comfortable welfare state, a luxury lifestyle and seeming guaranteed employment, the desire and obsession to be the number one in many areas has also created social stress and uncertainty about core family traditions and values and a feeling that the local population is not really in control of its own destiny, nor in screening more effectively those expatriates who came to share in the dream, as some of the best and the worst flocked in.
Success is also measured by overall social responsibility to others, especially non-citizens who have transformed Gulf countries through sweat and tears, and, by all accounts, some were marginalized in the process. At the same time the Dubai model allures. Most long for the application of what Dubai stands for — a transparent set of rules and regulations in how to conduct business with minimal bureaucracy and red tape. One marvels at the efficiency of Dubai's application approvals and the courtesy and efficiency of its technocrats compared to the many mindless hurdles in other GCC countries.
This is the lesson of Dubai's model for the wider Arab world. Dubai is a mind-set, which sees things as a glass being half full and nothing is impossible, hence the rush for the tallest, widest, deepest, and biggest, while in Saudi Arabia one often see obstacles and the glass being half empty. Dubai seems to do thing with a passion and a belief, while in Saudi Arabia one only believes if prodded. But that is changing as pragmatic self confidence and the feeling that countries such as Saudi Arabia escaped relatively unscathed following the recent global upheavals, have made the Saudi model more attractive.
Countries such as Kuwait, Oman and, to a lesser extent, the emirate of Abu Dhabi, are turning to the Saudi model of socio-economic development - somewhat slower, pragmatic but conscious of the effects of taking wide sweeping changes which cannot be controlled later, especially where it impacts national identities and internal dependency as much as possible. Unlike Dubai, Saudi development has aimed to create a less hectic, stressed-out and disorientated society, coupled with a long-term stable, and balanced economic and social development objective. National resources are harnessed from revenue surpluses and dependency on foreign credit is minimized. The recent announcements of Saudi mega projects and economic cities shows that Saudi Arabia can also construct the biggest and tallest, as well as attracting large inward direct foreign investment, but this is being planned in such a way that it takes into account a unique Saudi identity and cultural environment, while controlling who comes in. Pragmatism is the keyword.
However, as Qatar has demonstrated against all the odds, it is also important to be a lofty aspirer and dreamer of what can be possible ... The Gulf needs both models to complement each other ...
(Mohamed A. Ramady is a former banker and currently visiting associate professor, finance and economics at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran.)