Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Is the GCC Unravelling?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 11th November, 2017

C0F4FE57-2826-47BC-B8AE-6C6F8B4B45BCThe Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, more commonly known by its previous name, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), has been in existence since 1981 and aims at a degree of economic integration between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman as well as cooperation in other fields, but some of its more ambitious plans have been quietly shelved. Following the launch of the euro there was talk of moving towards a single GCC currency, to be called the khaleeji (Gulfi), but Oman said it would need to opt out and enthusiasm waned elsewhere. Then at the time of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, tentative moves were made to bring two other Arab monarchies, Jordan and Morocco, into the fold, despite neither being in the Gulf. However, the one obvious geographical absentee absentee is Iraq, which overthrew it’s short-lived monarchy in 1958, was never a serious contender while Saddam Hussein was in power and has been equally unpalatable to the Sunni Arab monarchs since Shia-dominated governments have been in charge in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion. When there was stronger than usual unrest among Bahrain’s majority Shi’i population in 2011, Saudi Arabia and the UAE sent in troops to help the Al Khalifa monarchy quash it. Since then, Iran has been the focus of much of the GCC’s animosity, notably from Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as Tehran’s rival for regional hegemony. But since this summer, another deeply complicating factor has emerged: the embargo of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, mainly because of the activities of the Doha-based TV channel, Al Jazeera, and Qatar’s alleged cosying up to Iran (with which it shares a gigantic gas field). Kuwait has been trying to mediate, while the wily ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos, is keeping well out of it. The Saudi Foreign Minister the other day downplayed the importance of the row, but it has inevitably made the facade of GCC unity crumble. And if the standoff continues for long, the GCC would be in real danger of unravelling.

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Abu Dhabi’s Cultural Pitch

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th November, 2017

6D096216-E244-4129-8838-39695569659EThe French President, Emmanuel Macron, is here in Abu Dhabi today, for the formal inauguration of the Abu Dhabi Louvre, a $1bn+ museum that will show several hundred works on loan from its Paris “mother” institution, including a Van Gogh self-portrait and Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Belle Ferroniere”. Located on Saadiyat Island and designed by Jean Nouvel, the museum aims to evoke the atmosphere of an Arab medina, as seen by a modern cinematographer; a silver-toned dome with perforated arabesque patterns “floats” above the white galleries, creating what Nouvel describes as a “rain of light”. Though there is a small section of modern art, including work by China’s Ai Weiwei, the main emphasis is on artistic treasures of the past, including religious works. Symbolically, a Yemeni Torah, a Gothic Bible and a very early Koran are placed together, open at verses that echo each other’s messages. The Abu Dhabi Louvre has been a decade in the making and is the first of three museums that will grace Saadiyat Island, the others being a Guggenheim, designed by Frank Gehry, and Norman Foster’s Zayed National Museum. Though for the next three days only playing host to local and foreign dignitaries, including King Mohammed VI of Morocco, the Abu Dhabi Louvre will open to the public from this Saturday. Abu Dhabi has always tried to distinguish itself from flashier Dubai next door, and with its trio of new museums it could not be trumpeting more loudly: Culture Is Us!

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Resurrecting Heritage

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th November, 2017

50A7EEC0-E10B-4108-B0DD-F23EE99C4BB1Tourists who visit Britain often sigh that half the country seems to be a museum: a cornucopia of historic buildings, gardens and magnificent vistas. On that count, Italy is even more spectacular, let’s admit it; I will never tire of discovering fresh antiquities and stunning palazzi in Rome. But here in the Gulf, where I am once more at the moment, heritage is often harder to find. Of course, with the notable exception of majestic Oman — with its castles and forts and jewel of a capital, Muscat — the Gulf states are relatively modern, and in the case of parts of the UAE in particularly, aggressively modern, championing the new and the awe-inspiring. Yet even in Dubai there is now a realisation that both for its intrinsic value for the local population and to lure visitors, emirates and their cities need to treasure what heritage they have. Or, in some cases, resurrect it.

9778D95D-F65F-4AC0-9023-3BB6F5852BABThe most impressive example of that resurrection is the Souq Waqif in Qatar’s capital, Doha, with its pedestrianised streets, reconstructed market shops and sidewalk cafes. Critics may sneer it is more Disney than authentic, but hats off to the Qataris for a noble effort that is a pleasant place to stroll or stop off for a juice on a cooler evening. Here in Dubai, where I am now, a massive amount of regeneration work in one if the historic districts of Bur Dubai, Al Shindagha, is underway — frustratingly cordoned off at the moment — as new wind towers are erected, pathways laid and old buildings restored. At least UAE does have some vestiges that can be rescued. Others in the region are not so fortunate. Virtually all of Kuwait’s heritage was demolished in the 20th century — the Iraqi occupiers in 1990-1991 adding their own dose of destructiveness while they were there. It is fine being modern, even ultra-modern, but a country’s identity is only retained if one foot is kept firmly in the built past.

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Gentrification Isn’t Always Bad

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th August, 2017

IMG_2663When we first started frequenting Praia de Iracema over 30 years ago, it was an arty suburb of Fortaleza, with low-rise buildings that gave it an attractive air, accentuated by the crystal blue waves that broke along the beach behind the houses. Subsequently, the city grew five-fold, population-wise, and the empty dunes that began only a few hundred metres along the shore were soon tamed and scores of hotels and gated apartment blocks were built facing them, all the way to the port at Mucuripe. Praia de Iracema itself was overshadowed by its glitzier new neighbour and became a haunt for druggies and drop-outs. Some of the old properties were knocked down and replaced with car parks by people who saw a way of making a few bucks. But in recent years, the trend has gone in the other direction, as the area has been gentrified by middle-class couples and families who, like us, have restored old properties, fought to keep conservation area status and backed the local authority’s excellent initiative to construct a wide promenade all the way along the beach from a big stone breakwater to the Ponte Ingles — a miniature pier in cast iron, imported from England a century ago, like so much of the fine ironwork in Brazil. Henceforth Praia de Iracema looked northwards the sea, with the sun marking its progress daily from east to west, as thousands of people safely bathe from the beach and in the evening enterprising locals rent out fantasy bicycles and roller skates to people from the city coming to savour the fresh air and restored environment. IMG_2682

 

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