For those of us that have crossed the age threshold of 30 years, one is quite aware of the changes in life. If you are not doing what you desire at that age, you ought to be. If you are content with your life to date, one then might ask “is there more?”
That is where the Gulf Cooperation Council is at this juncture – 30 years on and counting. Undoubtedly, the annual meeting was overshadowed by the year-end crisis management techniques in the UAE, specifically Abu Dhabi stepping in at the 11th hour to inject $10 billion into neighboring Dubai. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the UAE President H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan wanted to get that mopped up before travelling to Kuwait for the GCC Summit.
The council of six countries was created during the tensions of the Iran-Iraq War to create a common economic and security policy; they are, as we find out from the European example, tightly linked.
The GCC is eager to create a single currency, a la the Euro, next year. We know already that two of six countries, the UAE and Oman, will not join the party at the start. It is not clear after this most recent summit whether that union will proceed as planned and also whether the long-coveted dollar link will survive. There are more opinions about that than there are countries in the Gulf.
During a panel I chaired at the Arab Thought Foundation annual FIKR (meaning thought in Arabic) conference in Kuwait, we had a healthy debate about the key ingredients for unity. Two of the European panel members pointed to security and transportation.
They recalled the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe that also anchored Germany to the West. It was the beginning of a 40-year process that eventually led to the European Union, which now has 27 members. During that reconstruction effort, roads and rails were built right across Europe – the essential arteries to trade and the movement of people and goods.
Our two Arab members of the panel were in complete solidarity with this premise and hoped that the Gulf War would have brought not only the Gulf countries closer together but the broader region as well. That has happened to a certain extent, but old rivalries and national priorities have certainly carried much more weight than the collective good of the next generation which vitally needs to see the benefits of oil and gas wealth.
There was also agreement that the most pressing issue is youth unemployment, which, most outside the region do not know is more than a quarter of the population between 15-30 years old. Unemployment will surge with the highest birth rate in the world right now.
Five years ago, the region signed onto a regional trade agreement to lower barriers amongst the 20-plus countries of the region. In actual practice, businesses complain about the non-tariff barriers to commerce. Waiting times at borders within the Middle East can range from five hours to 50 hours – that is no joke – and we are talking about that level of delays even within the six Gulf States.
It goes back to the original premise, why 30 is not only an important threshold for the GCC and the region in general, but those who may be frustrated because they want to fulfil their dreams. A vision has been conveyed and step by step, the hurdles need to be crossed for a single market, a common currency and most importantly a common goal to create opportunity to those who most need it.
People have been using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to express their feelings about the threatened strike by British Airways cabin crews.
Both the airline and the union have been slammed by people who may be affected by the strike and CNN has been monitoring the so-called “real-time Web” to see the massive outpouring of emotion but also to help us connect directly with people who have a story to tell.
We use this huge following, and the fact that we have most of our CNN correspondents and anchors using social media themselves, to help us find people who have a real story to tell.
In the case of the threatened strike at British Airways, we asked Richard Quest to reach out using his social media accounts to ask for people whose travel plans are threatened by the strike to contact him directly. Richard will be featuring some of the people and stories he has found over the next few days on CNN. You can tweet Richard back or e-mail him at email@example.com
As well as Richard Quest, Adrian Finighan has been reporting from Heathrow Airport all day and Michael Holmes and Ayesha Durgahee will be reporting live from London today as well.
All of them are using social media to reach out to the audience and to direct people to our latest reporting on CNN and CNN.com.
We also use new social media tools such as “Twitter Lists” to collect all our relevant Twitter accounts on a story in one place. This allows our audience to easily find all of our correspondents on the story and to see the “real-time” coverage of the story alongside the reporting on CNN and CNN.com.
Here is our CNN Twitter List for the British Airways story.
We have also added the official Twitter accounts for British Airways and for the Unite trade union to our list so you can see our reporting and the information being put out by the parties involved in the dispute.
An unfiltered stream of information on social media can make it very hard for people to find relevant information and an element of “curation” helps the audience find what they are looking for but also helps us at CNN to direct people to our latest reporting on CNN and CNN.com.
We are also using the power of CNN iReport to allow people to send their stories and images about the threatened strike directly to CNN and give people an opportunity to tell their own story. We have set up an iReport assignment page for people to share their stories with us.
Looking to social media for people expressing their opinions about a story is interesting but what we are looking for at CNN is not just a stream of opinion and commentary, but real people with real stories to tell.
How have the housing markets held up in three major cities at the end of a tumultuous year?
MEERUT, India - Sajid, a tileworker from Andhra Pradesh, India, heard Dubai was a kind of paradise: A land of beautiful beaches, clean roads and plenty of high pay. So he did what many of his friends and fellow Indians had done. He paid an agent to fix him a job and went to Dubai.
Indians top the global list of migrant workers: more Indians leave their country to find work and send back money, called remittances, than citizens of any other country. The Indian Government estimates there are over five million Indian workers overseas, with 90 percent of them in the Gulf region. Most of them are considered temporary migrants.
If you travel through the south Indian state of Kerala, it is easy to spot the homes and stores built by remittances. Ask locals where the money comes from, and “Dubai money” is often the answer. Kerala has the greatest number of migrants to that Gulf nation.
Sajid and other locals estimate there were more than 35,000 others who came from their area, looking for a better future. They are from Meerut, a dusty north Indian city that sprawls into house plots being carved from former farmland.
In Dubai, Sajid says he lived in a camp with other workers, where water would run out. He says there was often no cooking gas, so he and his friends would borrow gas from other camps to make their meals. Life was difficult, he said, but for several years, it was fine. He was able to save money and sent it back to his parents, his brothers and sisters, his wife and five children.
About eight months ago, Sajid says, his boss came to him and his fellow workers and told them to work faster. “Do more in less time,” Sajid says he was told. Sajid didn’t know what was happening but started to realize something was wrong when he saw other workers being ‘sent back.’
Then his pay stopped for a month, and then two, until he was owed six months pay.
He and his fellow Muslim workers were told to go home for the festival of Eid and they’d get a lump sum on return. Sajid says they went, believing that they’d be happy to get their money in one chunk. But before he left, he was told to sign a paper in English. He couldn’t read it but says he thought it was a form for his leave.
While home for Eid, he got a call saying his visa was cancelled since he’d resigned. It was then Sajid understood he’d been tricked into signing a resignation form. Sajid has heard nothing since that phone call, and doubts he’ll get his money.
His father Shahabuddine has had to sell his land in Meerut to pay debts, including payments on the more than $2,000 that was owed to the agent that sent Sajid to Dubai.
Sajid has been trying to find local tilework – the only trade he knows – but says work in Meerut will only pay enough for him and his family to live from day to day.
In spite of his bad experience, Sajid says, he’d go back to Dubai if the work picked up. For Sajid, and millions of other Indians, a place like Dubai is still the best hope for a better future.
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