Sunday, January 11, 2015

... but Abu Dhabi Do

We're back on our travels again and this time we're visiting Viv's brother Anton and his family, Catherine, Tudor, Antonia, August and Sterling in order who live in Abu Dhabi.  They've lived in quite a few places since Anton married Catherine and have been in Abu Dhabi all of a year now.  They visited Bermuda in 2013 so Viv was keen to see how much the children had grown... and of course to see their parents too.

We'd visited Dubai in 2010 just after that Emirate had defaulted and been bailed out by oil rich Abu Dhabi so we were keen to visit particularly as the price of oil has fallen below $50 a week or so back threatening the viability of many OPEC nations.

I know you know where the UAE is, but just in case you need to be reminded
Getting here wasn't too bad -- an overnight flight to Gatwick, taxi along rain sodden motorways in England to Heathrow, a civilised R&R period in Etihad Airways' very comfortable lounge (including massage and complimentary everything) followed by a 8 hour flight to Abu Dhabi arriving at the god awful time of 1.30 am.  (Writing this 2 days later, I still haven't regularised my internal sleep clock yet).

OK I know I'm repeating myself but just in case you want to see what the Empty Quarter looks like from outer space.  It's that white/grey looking bit.  All of it.

Anton greeted us and the following day -- being a Friday and therefore the Islamic weekend's most holy day -- we caught up with everyone else too.  The two sets of twins had certainly grown since we last saw them and very well too, if I may say.

First action for us was lunch ... and at this point I will pause the narrative and go into a little local background.

Abu Dhabi is by far the largest of the United Arab Emirates, more than 87% of the combined land mass, and has virtually all the oil and therefore virtually all the money and therefore is the most important part of the UAE which in December turned 43 years old.  The nation came about because of the British pull out in 1968 as part of the de-colonising strategy that robbed myself and many others of my generation the chance of meaningful employment in the colonies.

The British had first arrived to boot out the dastardly Dutch and perfidious Portuguese who were trying to gain a footing in the region to protect the sea lanes to the east.  That was in 1766 but 60 years later they/we decided to make the region a 'protectorate' as opposed to a colony by assuming all non-local powers (i.e foreign policy) and setting up a garrison in the region.  This coincided with the arrival into power of the Al-Maktoum dynasty, clearly a symbiotic relationship born out of serendipity, who still rule Abu Dhabi and hence the UAE today.  Most emiratis lived in the interior at the time and there wasn't very many of them so opposition to this notion wasn't really on.  But it must have worked as the region prospered until the 1930's on agriculture, fishing and pearl diving until the Japanese discovered Makimoto pearls -- the synthetic ones.  That hurt and it wasn't until the then ruler granted oil rights to a British/French oil consortium that things turned around.

In 1958 oil was discovered and the good times started to roll, first picking up with the departure of the British, the establishment of the UAE and the 1973 oil crisis when the price of oil started to move up quite favourably for Abu Dhabi who have the 6th largest amount of proven oil reserves, a top 10 national oil company and as of today plus or minus $2 trillion in their sovereign wealth fund.

I wonder if the current ruler ever thinks to say thanks to the British for leaving them in such a sorry state.

On the way in from the airport, I'd questioned Anton in my usual way on things here and he'd said the Abu Dhabi folks were far lower key than their Dubai neighbours and with solid financial backing and what seems like a long term plan in place were executing pretty nicely.  There's still very few real emiratis and 90%+ guest workers, so the old saying of winning first prize in life's lottery could well have moved on from the 19th century Brits to the emiratis.


Regarding religion, the emiratis whilst tolerant are themselves serious about their religion.  Maybe not as strict as Saudi Arabia next door but still stict.  No booze other than in hotels and certain very few restaurants.  No outward signs of affection.  Very conservative in fact.  According to Lonely Planet, the UAE is the most likely place for British people to be arrested in the world!  That serious.

Emiratis are Sunni muslims so are very tight with Saudi and in particular the Egyptians.  Clearly with such a stack of cash in reserve, the temporary dipping in  the oil price whilst annoying won't stop the cranes building the new Abu Dhabi that much.  But with the turmoil in the region apparently the big concern is Egypt.  If Egypt goes fundamentalist, so goes the middle east is the big worry.  So Saudi and the UAE will spend all they need to make that not happen.

They have an ally in this in the USA who themselves are concerned about fundamentalism in the region so hopefully things will not take that path.

And it was only a 30 minute ride to Anton's aprtment overlooking the Corniche in downtown Abu Dhabi.  Phew, I'm glad it wasn't longer.  Who knows what I would have learned?

Our first view in the morning.

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