With the exception of Bahrain, where anti-government protests were violently suppressed by the ruling royal family with military support from Saudi Arabia, the kingdoms and sheikhdoms of the Arabian Gulf – in America we refer to it as the Persian Gulf, but that terminology does not sit well with the Arabs – have appeared largely immune from the struggles of the Arab Spring. There have been no street demonstrations, no tear gas, no bullets, rubber or live.

I have just returned from a three-week stay in the Middle East. A few days in Doha, the Qatari capital, to attend the World Petroleum Congress and then the rest of the time in Kuwait, where I am part of a team doing a feasibility study for a technology park. It was my first-ever visit to Qatar and my first to Kuwait since 1986. Doha, flush with money from natural gas, a small low-slung, dun-colored city 20 years ago, now resembles a sci-fi movie set, all futuristic towers glowing with neon, surrounded by the most barren of landscapes. Kuwait City has expanded enormously, and sprawls almost from the Saudi border in the South to the Iraqi frontier in the north. Areas that were empty desert 25 years ago are now studded with new suburbs filled with enormous mansions and shopping malls. Young Kuwaitis zoom around town in Hummers, Range Rovers, and Maseratis or on Japanese super-bikes, stopping to eat at any of a mind-boggling array of Western restaurant chains. Applebee’s, Chili’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s, they are all there. The 1991 Iraqi invasion seems impossibly distant. [click to continue…]


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