Monday, April 19, 2010

My response to Connor Purcell's defense of his Foreign Policy piece following my critique

Recap:

1) Purcell's Dubai Goes Legit on Foreign Policy

2) My thoughts on the story

3) Purcell's defense

First,

CJP: Yes, maybe ‘many’ should have been ‘some’, but the opaque nature of society here means getting exact figures is difficult.

concedes that 'many' was excessive and that 'some' - which I still think is excessive considering some is not an indicative adjective, let alone a quantifiable one - would have been better. He blames the lack of transparency as the reason for the opaqueness of his assumption. This statement would hold if he had personally seen a 'significant number' of Emirati families moving to the desert. According to the Dubai's 2009 census, Dubai's population stood at 1.77 million at the end of 2009. Now depending on who you're speak to, Emiratis are estimated to be anywhere between 8-15% of the UAE's population with Dubai closer to the low-side of this estimatel; let's talk that for the sake of the argument. 8% of 1.77 million is 141,600 <- Emiratis living in Dubai. So I ask you this: how many Emiratis (of the 141,600) would have to move to the desert for a reporter to feel comfortable saying that that number constitutes a 'some'? I agree that some of 141.6 is below a 100, it's also below 50 and it's even below 25. So what's this number? 15? 10? Does he think 10,000 Emiratis have left Dubai and moved to the desert. Well he doesn't know. Purcell read an article written by Hugh Naylor in the National which references just two people of which, ironically, one is a retired ex-resident of Abu Dhabi, not Dubai, who has now moved to Bani Yas, a 30 min drive from Abu Dhabi. Isn't that what 'many' do when they retire all over the world? I resent the insinuation that this a national trend; some or many all the same. This is the story of two old guys who can't deal with traffic.

Second,

CJP: miss the point. The sentence was intended to say that the merchant families may be poorer (post crash) but are politically stronger. It was not comparing their wealth to the civil servant’s wealth. Bad sentence structure I agree.

In that case I agree. However, let us note that the income drivers are rooted in consumer demand driven products and services i.e. their loss of wealth is temporary as they are the blood line of the city.

Third,

CJP: I tried to get interviews with people from all the major semi-government bodies. Not one mail/call was returned. As a journalist this makes educated guesses unfortunately necessary. I have written stories about the Metro for foreign magazines and sent over ten (10!) mails and multiple calls to their PR without getting a single reply. And the guy wins PR of the year. People are going to write stories about Dubai with the best facts they have to hand – Dubai should be more proactive in disseminating those facts, it would certainly make my life easier.

I completely sympathise with Purcell on his frustration with being unable to get official statements from government officials. I have called for a proactive government information & communication office before; this has been our greatest failure during the crisis.

However, Purcell calls his guesses educated. I wonder how his guesses warranted such an adjective. Has he met the US-educated Sultan Bin Sulayem? Mr. Bin Sulayem studied in the US over two decades ago, how telling is it about his personality? Just as much, what does he know about Ali Lootah? What does he know about the Lootah family itself? Does he know they started what is considered the first Islamic bank in the world? Yes, that's meant as a testimony of progressiveness, not conservativeness. Does he know that the - very large - Lootah family is regarded as an enlightened family that has produced many poets, writers, scholars, tradesman and civil servants? We are not talking about a conservative house here by any means. To the contrary, they are viewed as incredibly enlightened family. How educated is Purcell guess about how Mr. Lootah is likely to manage Nakheel's affairs?


Fourth,

CJP: Sharjah did get bailed out by Saudi – I put it out there as something people were saying to me as a possible road Dubai might take but dismissed it. I think it’s fair comment.

No true. I would really like to see Purcell back this up with evidence.

FYI

Sharjah banned alcohol and imposed dress code shortly after its current ruler came to rule. I'm not sure what these financial woes of the 1980s that Sharjah went through unless he's talking about the 40% drop in oil prices in 1986 which affected the whole Gulf. Saudi's financial support was provided in recognition of Sharjah adherence to Islamic values as compensation for losses that would've been sustained due to that.

Moreover, the special Sharjah-Saudi relationship relates to the fact that Al Qassimi family adheres to the Hanbali school of thought, while Al Nahayan and Al Maktoum adhere to the Maliki school which together with two other schools constitute the four main schools of the Sunni sect. The relatively new school of thought, Wahabism - the moral high ground by which the house of Saud built the kingdom into its current form - was founded on the teachings of Ibn Taimiyya (1263-1328), who belonged to the Hanbali school of thought. Just take a look at how Saudi the names of the Al Qassimis (Sultan, Faisal, Abdulaziz, Khaled) are as opposed to the rest of the UAE's royal families.

Fifth,

CJP: I never said they asked – interference is far more covert than overt. I am sure there was no ‘phone call’ just as I am sure there is more AD influence on Dubai affairs in myriad ways I have no idea about.

Abu Dhabi would not and did not either covertly or overtly show interest in the name change; This was a gesture from Dubai.

Sixth,

CJP: I could have talked about Ras Al Khaimah’s relationship with the Revolutionary Guard in Iran but that would have been going off on a tangent and makes for an interesting article of its own. I could have talked about the security problems in Ajman but again, that is better saved for another article. Generalizations, as much as I want to avoid them, are necessary for brevity’s sake. Also try getting anyone on the record about Ajman last year for example.

I really encourage Purcell to attempt an article with facts and detailed stories about Ras Al Khaimah's 'shady' relationship with the 'Revolutionary Guard'; same goes to Ajman's 'security problems'. I would specifically like Purcell to demonstrate that these realities are actually taking place against Abu Dhabi's knowledge or will.

FYI

The Revolutionary Guard is the group that runs Iran. They own the businesses, the ports, the banks etc. Sure, they sound scary and wrathful but I'm sure China's ruling party has just as much a problematic name. More generally, this whole business of demonising Iran to be the top security threat to everyone from guys living in California to Bahrain's financial harbor to Uber-Nuclear Israel is frankly a joke. Iran wants recognition as a regional super power and has become convinced that pursuing nuclear power is the only path. US, EU and the GCC must develop new communication moods with Iran.


Seventh,

CJP: I think [Dr. Davidson] gets quoted so much because he is quite honest unlike many people in the UAE who won’t speak honesty (am not including you in this!) as they have too much too lose. I agree that he is over quoted, but if there were more Emirati analysts that would go beyond soundbites and truisms, they could be quoted. I had 3 other interviews I could not use, because they sloganeered and generalised and were unpublishable.

I think Dr. Davidson gets quoted so much because he's willing to talk about almost any issue from economic development to cultural affairs and then some. I also think that For someone who lives in Durham he's a pretty confident guy that he's 'on top of things' in the UAE. I personally find his analysis either generic or esoteric, rarely have I seen him accurately shed light on an opaque manner. Most recently I would collectively reference his comments on the late Sheikh Ahmad Bin Zayed's passing - how it was allegedly going to upset the balance of power within Abu Dhabi's ruling family, how ADIA's strategy could change based on who is appointed as his replacement and topping it all off of course was his comment on the appointment of Sheikh Hamid Bin Zayed as head of ADIA: "he was always the most likely candidate''. Really? Why didn't you say that beforehand? - as sensational. Let's face it, Abu Dhabi's succession plan has never been this clearly carved in stone, ADIA has a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) that is so solid that its investment decisions would not be materially affected even if it's complete board was wiped out and I'm sure it could've been two other members of the royal family just as much as Sheikh Hamid. So where is Dr. Davidson's know how that warrants the preeminent scholar in all things Emirati?

Anyway, he wrote the book and the second book and so it's obvious that he comes up on the list often. I'm not saying he shouldn't be quoted but that reporters should question the accuracy of the 'detail' he gives because it can be embarrassing.

I'm sure that you can find other Emiratis Sultan and Dr. Abulkhaleq are a good start, and there are others who are less general and can speak about specific sectors too.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This "debate" is great. Interesting, informative and healthy. Good stuff - and thanks for taking the trouble.

You still don't advocate solutions to the fundamental problem of access to reliable information for foreign media. Sultan and Dr. AbulKhaleq are great and you proposed a government information & communication office (which has actually been set-up . . .3 times . . .) - but are they actually working? Are there results? Evidence of improvement? Mr. Purcell's article and comments would suggest not.

So either the problem was underestimated or the solution was inappropriate - or both.

As an Emirati, an intelligent and progressive commentator - and someone close to government circles, surely you are well placed to offer alternative or improved solutions?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Difficult to permit Iran's claim as a regional superpower when it suppresses free speech, frequently intimidates journalists and crushes dissent. But then it depends on what type of region you want?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010  
Blogger Mishaal Al Gergawi said...

Re Dubai's lack of communication, Foreign media's access to reliable information. We suffer from this just as much and advocate for the reversal of this attitude. Until then, independent Emirati analysts will fill the gap.

Re Iran's freedom failings, doesn't everyone else in the region do this? If we keep cornering Iran like this it will become very aggressive. Not good.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010  

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