Picture: City of Dubai skyline from Jumeirah Beach, East of the City
After a one-hour delay, both technical and social, – our Qantas flight had to unload the bags of a passenger who “decided he didn’t want to fly with us today”, our gleaming A380 lifts us off from the world’s busiest International airport, Dubai. We say farewell to a wonderful set of new experiences, cultures and tradition, but a country facing multiple potential future challenges.
We leave seven other planes lined-up awaiting their turn. We soon turn right, contrary to our journey’s destination, seemingly perversely, to head North East. We only turn North-West once we pass Ras Alkhaima at the northern tip of the Emirates, already at 19,000 feet. Rapid ascent is part of the enhanced safety strategy the world’s airlines have had to implement as they cross multiple strife-torn terror or war zones.
Our flight crosses into Iranian airspace, already at 26,000 feet. As Australians know all too well, following the shooting down of Malaysian Flight MH-17 across Eastern Ukraine in July 2014, flights from Dubai’s bustling hub of global connections also pass across multiple troubled regions. Within 30 minutes we are at 40,000 feet, – 6 to 8,000 feet higher than the initial cruise altitudes of a year earlier. Several tonnes of added fuel are the price of today’s added safety steps to minimize ground-to-air missile attack on this civilian aircraft. Meanwhile inside our cocooned pressure-can Airbus, we have our own drama: “If there is a medical professional or doctor on board, would they please make themselves known to a member of the cabin staff.” Several doctors move to provide assistance. The passenger’s health stabilises. Crisis is suddenly local – as all conflicts or politics ultimately are.
Yesterday, as we sat by our comfortable hotel pool, enjoying early sun, The Gulf Times reported a suicide terror attack in an Al Qudaih mosque in Eastern Saudi Arabia, killing many worshippers. Sunni or Shia, IS or Al Qaeda, Syrian Government against people, Ukrainian separatists against their Government, Annexation of The Crimea by a Russian leader intent on restoring the former glories of USSR, -disruption is below us, almost everywhere we fly. This flight’s route is directly over Iran, around Iraq totally these days, across Khurdish territories to Iraq’s north, skirting north east of Syria, past Georgia, over the troubled Armenian East of Turkey, and then across Romania, before reaching Western Europe and finally descending into London’s Heathrow.
So many hundreds of thousands of lives lost this past decade in these troubled lands. For many Australians, they are but distant points on a map. They are the third lead in the World News pages of the local paper, which gives higher priority to the wrongs of a throwing tackle in the previous night’s ARL game. We are indeed lucky that sport is the extent of our concerns. But returning IS fighters could suddenly bring the war on terror to our own door-step.
Picture: The Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach Resort, poolside
Against the serenity of our pristine pool, four days in the progressive Emirate of Dubai, ruled by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, gives pause for thought at so much change, so much conflict, so nearby. Saudi Arabia, to Dubai’s South West, is no longer the world’s largest producer of oil. It continues to pump out huge volumes of the stuff, in an attempt to deter other higher cost producers. Its US ally has however overtaken them, through massive Shale production. The global price of oil remains low in real terms.
All the while, hanging over the Oil Sheiks, are the growing efficiency rates of alternative energy sources and the announcement of the Tesla system of peak load battery energy. Time is fast running out for the influence of the immense oil wealth in the Middle East, concentrated in a few privileged, sometimes despotic, principalities and Royal houses.It’s why epic new buildings and development is the number one prioritiy for this narrowly wealthy tiny kingdom.
America’s growing self-sufficiency in energy may cool its ardor for Middle Eastern influence. Saudi is involved in a seemingly less than successful war to its north in Yemen, but it is failing to arrest the pace of the Houthi rebels. All the while the west is moving closer to re-embracing Iran, Saudi Arabia’s long time enemy back to Persian Empire days. IS, with its well-funded militia continues to fracture Syria and Iraq. Stability is certainly not close. Europe, only now struggling out of a decade of near recession, may suddenly have to up its involvement, just as the US tries to detach itself from what increasingly looks like a totally failed mission in Iraq. A massive increase in military activities involving multiple countries in the region is but a breath away.
While Dubai races to make Tourism, Sports Events and Finance a rapid substitute for oil dependency, its $110B annual Economy (one twelfth that of Australia) could almost overnight succumb to some terror incursion that might transform this 85% guest-worker Emirate into a hollowed out ghost-town. Not likely, one hopes, but possible. IS was not even an idea three years ago. The pace of an Australian summer bush fire is little match against the potential for massive disruption in the years ahead in the multi-cultural UAE Emirate, should just one of many potential sources of conflict touch Dubai’s gleaming resorts and soaring towers. It would be a dangerous sunset indeed for this seeminly unstoppable Emirate of today.
All Text and pictures, © Copyright John Swainston, 2015