‘It’s a look into the future’

 

‘It’s a look into the future’

HAVING TRAVELLED and worked in the media reporting on the Middle East for almost 30 years and now living in Dubai, English author Edmund O’Sullivan can be regarded as an excellent authority on life and business in the Gulf region.

By David Light

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Published: Wed 20 Aug 2008, 11:21 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:51 PM

After graduating from university in London, O’Sullivan joined Reuters Economic Services as a government economist. In 1979 he moved to the Middle East business intelligence organisation MEED as a specialist writer on energy and finance where he travelled extensively across Saudi Arabia and the Gulf reporting on economic booms and busts of the time. Over the years Edmund has held many positions in MEED before moving to Dubai. Upon his arrival in the UAE where he currently writes ‘The Last Word’, O’Sullivan was dismayed to find no definitive history or projection of the future of the region where so many people live had been written in English and so took up the cause himself.

His new book The New Gulf: How Modern Arabia Is Changing the World for Good is described as ‘a modern account of the changes sweeping the leading oil-exporting countries of the Middle East... a timely explanation of how the region was made and the potential political and economic impact it will have on the world in years to come.’ The book encompasses the Gulf’s entire history from ancient civilisation to predictions of how the region will be in the year 2030. City Times met with Edmund O’Sullivan to see how he condensed such a vast chronology into just over 300 pages.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

When you come to move to the Gulf as I did in 2003 and start looking round for something to read you find there’s no history on the whole region over a PHOTO: MUKESH KAMAL substantial period of time. There was nothing that dealt with the now and the lead up to now for what is currently known as the GCC. Back in 2003 it was clear there was going to be a further boom in the region and that tens of thousands of E English speaking people would be coming here and that there was going to be a need for a single piece that contained all the information you need to understand where you live. That was basically it.

I saw that there would be a need.

How did you find the process of writing a book and why did you decide to write when you got to Dubai?

The creative process was hugely enjoyable. For any writer the idea of writing a book is a bit like climbing Everest if you’re a mountaineer or run a marathon if you run and to be honest is more talked about than done.

When I came to Dubai I suddenly found that I didn’t have any gardening to do and I didn’t have to commute so there was actually some time. After about six months here I saw the need and I had the opportunity with the extra time I had been given. I wrote the book in my weekends and in the evenings and I found the whole task a bit of a learning process. Like with any idea it evolves. I was thinking about doing a sort of Brysonesque sardonic piece but you can’t really do anything like that unless you have an established body of books to be sardonic about.

Bryson goes to places like America and Australia and comments on the work already there but there was no body of knowledge here written in the English language. The initial manuscript was actually twice the size of the final and not being Robert Fisk I wasn’t able to convince the publisher to put out a thousand page book so I cut it down. It was right to do as the original was too long.

How would you describe the finished book?

What it has become is readable and concise so it’s something you can relax over on the beach but it is also a reference.

You can therefore use it in the boardroom. It answers a lot of questions that I myself have asked myself and I’m sure oth ers have asked themselves about the region we find ourselves in. It’s a look into the future but with a proper understanding of the past.

Many people’s definition of the past varies. Ask someone what they think the turning point in Arabian history was and a lot of answers will be ‘the discovery of oil.’ I would argue that the turning point of Arabian history was when Arabia was actually formed millions of years ago, when the deposition of oil and gas occurred. One of the extraordinary facts is that over half the world’s oil supply is concentrated in an area that is not much bigger than twice the size of Texas. Geologists can explain this but a lot of people see it as an act of God. This is a huge point of discussion. The book tries to discuss all the turning points in Arabian history, not just a select few.

What factors set apart Arabian history from that of other civilisations?

Each development in Arabian and Gulf history, when put together, gives it a uniqueness in the his tory of the world. To show how it is different you have to look to the future.

The most important factor at the moment and has been since the 1930’s when oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia has been the discovery and sale of what’s in the ground. This has led to development at a never before seen rate.

It has also led to immigration of other nationals to the area as a result of the money that is available. Everything is so new and happening so quickly here. The differences in culture and values are more apparent than other areas and periods throughout history.

Ultimately though it appears to be working.

So how is modern Arabia changing the world for the good?

I believe in twenty years or so logistics will be the biggest employer in Arabia. Diversification of industry, getting away from the oil industry because eventually it will run out, is hugely important. Arabia and in particular Dubai is a crossroad from East to West and vice versa. The building of airports which will be bigger and bigger and railway lines being built will make the transportation of goods easy and employ many people.

Aside from oil this region will from now on be incredibly important in the trading of goods and the meeting of cultures. I also believe that modern Arabia will be the seating of moderate beliefs which others can learn from.

Some areas struggle to come to terms with the modern world so Arabia would be a good example to follow. I point out in the book that Islamic banking is the greatest expression of how modern ideas can be incorporated into traditional beliefs. It is based on an ethical approach and you do not have to be Muslim to use an Islamic bank, it is something for everyone which is what modern Arabia will be about.

Edmund O’Sullivan’s book is available in all good bookshops now.

david@khaleejtimes.com


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