Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (CNN) – For the past three years I have taken part in what is known within a group of 50 business and policy makers here in Riyadh as the “sand and snow expedition.” It starts from the capital of Saudi Arabia at the Global Competitiveness Forum and finishes at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
From an editorial standpoint you can, in one week, capture the views of the world’s largest oil producer and the latest on the Arab Spring before moving on to an arena with some 2,600 chief executives and political leaders trying to share the stage perched high among the Swiss Alps.
The visit in Riyadh included an exclusive interview with the wealthiest businessman in the Middle East, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal (pictured), chairman of Kingdom Holdings. From the 67th floor of the tower that bears the name of his group, Prince Alwaleed delved into some of the most sensitive issues in the region, from the Arab Spring to sanctions on Iran.
In the halls of the GCF, executives expressed deep concerns about potential conflict with Iran and the impact such a move would have. As he does with some of his investments, Prince Alwaleed took a contrarian view.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (CNN) – With 260 billion barrels of oil, Saudi Arabia has more than double the proven reserves of Iran, its nearest competitor within OPEC.
In an interview in Dhahran, in the Kingdom’s Eastern Provence, the veteran energy minister Ali Al Naimi said the country is ready step back in as the swing oil producer if sanctions undermine Iran’s exports of 2.2 million barrels a day.
“We have the capacity to produce 12.5 (million barrels a day) and we are idling now between 9.4 and 9.8. So we have substantial spare capacity,” he said.
Abu Dhabi (CNN) – Iran is using what is normally a quiet holiday lull in the West to make the most of its military manoeuvres in the Strait of Hormuz, which have concluded after 10 days. The navy test-fired two types of long-range missiles, following the launch of medium-range devices on New Year’s Day.
From afar, it would appear that Iran is throwing its trump cards on the table very early in this standoff with the United States, the European Union and the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar).
Abu Dhabi (CNN) – This time last year a match was lit by a fruit vendor in Tunis, which triggered uprisings throughout the region. Countries big, Egypt, and small, Tunisia, have witnessed wholesale change and the toppling of governments.
But at the one year mark, those on the ground here in the region are asking a simple question: Are we better off today than we were before the Arab Spring? People talk of a “The New Middle East” with a mixture of both optimism and despair, from Bahrain to Yemen.
Clearly the voice of the people has been heard and resonates on the streets of Cairo, for example, but unemployment is at a decade long high in Egypt, tourism is down officially by a quarter from a year ago and the Cairo Stock Exchange is the world’s worst performer of 2011.
“This country is literally and figuratively burning and we are approaching the threshold which it will become very hard to rebuild trust in the system,” says Mohamad Al-Ississ, a professor of economics at the American University of Cairo.
Abu Dhabi (CNN) - There is a milestone about to be set which is going largely unnoticed around the world. Oil will average more than $100 a barrel for an entire year for the first time.
Here in the Persian Gulf states, they call it three digit oil. Simply put, that is a number above $100.
Due to advancements in healthcare and people generally living longer, they say 60 years old is the new 40, meaning we are more youthful in age in the 21st century.
Does this apply to the oil market where $100 a barrel is the new $80 - not too hot, not too cold but just right for oil producing countries and consuming nations alike?
(CNN) – With the eurozone debt crisis in full swing and a Super Committee on Capitol Hill that admitted at least temporary defeat, one could be caught flat-footed and miss a milestone anniversary.
A decade ago, November 30 to be precise, the long serving international economist Jim O’Neill in a paper outlined his research on the power of the “Big Four” of the emerging world, Brazil, Russia, India and China. In his piece, “Building Better Global Economic BRICs,” O’Neill marked a turning point in economic thinking that future growth will be driven by these large emerging markets.
O’Neill boldly stated back then that the BRIC economies will surpass the G7 economies of the industrialized world by 2027 and most of his peers have lined up behind that strategy in agreement. In 2008, most strategists believe the western led financial crisis marked the quick transformation from the G7 to the G20 context, no less than an official recognition of O’Neill’s work.
The BRIC countries sit on $4.5 trillion of foreign reserves; add in the Middle East sovereign funds and their reserves and those tally up to nearly $6 trillion. That could explain the quick embrace by leaders during the heat of the crisis.
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(CNN) – As the Arab Spring continues to cause unrest in the Middle East, King Abdullah of Jordan is speeding up political and economic reform in his country.
In an exclusive interview with CNN's John Defterios, he explains why Jordan is moving on from the Arab Spring, and preparing for national elections next year. The king tells CNN the country is moving from "the Arab Spring to the Arab Summer."
However, the king has "great concern" about Syria, where thousands have been killed in anti-government demonstrations over the past eight months.
Abu Dhabi (CNN) – A stone's throw from the Abu Dhabi downtown waterfront, it is hard to miss major construction works. Hotel and apartment towers and road building are taking place right across from the Emirates Palace Hotel.
It does not look as if there's scope for recession here or heading east to Asia, where growth is expected to average more than 8% next year, according to the International Monetary Fund's latest forecast.
Athens (CNN) – They say a crisis can bring out the best or worst in people, a society or on a continent. Seeing the Greece situation unfold first hand and talking to politicians, business people and those on the streets, one can witness how divided this country of 11 million people on the tip of southern Europe is becoming.
The divisiveness is multi-layered; first within the ruling, socialist Pasok party itself. On the left, party members yearn for the days of the current prime minister's father in the 1980s, Andreas Papandreou, when state ownership was the call to arms, a large public sector provided employment and an equally large safety net. On the right of that party, those who are aware the country is living on borrowed time and money.
Within Parliament, there is no sense of a common good. Prime Minister George Papandreou and the leader of New Democracy Antonis Samaras –despite being college room-mates in the past - cannot rally their party rank and file members to finally deliver deep, overdue reforms.
In the opulence of probably the world’s most luxurious hotel, finance ministers from more than 20 Arab countries have gathered to examine the state of the global economy. They are also calculating the impact the debt crisis in Europe and the slowdown in the United States could have at the crossroads of East and West, the Middle East.
But nearly nine months into the Arab Spring, the finance ministers who are in charge of regional economies without the benefit of huge oil and gas reserves have expressed deep concerns about funding transitions in Egypt and Tunisia and potentially in Syria and Yemen.
The Chairman of the Arab Monetary Fund Jassim Al Mannai painted a picture of a prolonged period of economic uncertainty: "The fear is that economies of countries whether those that witnessed political shifts or those that are still witnessing political unrest today, will take a long time before they recover and go back to normal.”
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