The recent news about the debt problems in Dubai contrast with the glitzy no expense spared hotels and conference centres where I spent last weekend with the World Economic Forum, but probably do more to highlight the importance of a diverse technology enabled economy than any amount of lobbying we could do.
While Dubai has led the way for the emergence of the Gulf as a major economic centre, most of my technology work has been done in the neighbouring states, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia who, while perhaps being slightly envious of Dubai’s dash to pre eminence in the region with the worlds tallest tower and an indoor ski slope have been taking a more measured approach to development. Most of these countries have been playing the property game too, but also backing this up with major investments in science and technology, and that doesn’t just mean taking stakes in AMD or IBM but making sure that technology fits into the local economy.
The reasons to do this are all the more obvious this week, and in a region with tiny but fast expending populations, ensuring that jobs are created for locals rather than overseas labourers is of increasing importance. It is estimated that Saudi Arabia has 25% youth unemployment, and in a country where 40% of the population is under 15 the petrochemical industry isn’t going to provide all the jobs that will be needed to prevent social unrest.
What is? Increasing the size of the manufacturing sector is a key policy goal in many states, and Mubadala, one of Abu Dhabi’s investment agencies has already announced plans to build an AMD fab in the emirate but this is only the start. The longer term goal, and the financial and political situation in many of the the Gulf states allows the luxury of long term planning, is to develop new technology based industries in materials, aerospace, semiconductors, renewable energy and pharmaceuticals but based on a whole host of new and emerging technologies such as nanotech, industrial biotech and regenerative medicine.
While Dubai may in the eye of a storm right now, the longer term prospects for the region look as bright as the desert sun.
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.