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UPI: Commentary: Move over Dubai

Author: Arnuad de Borchgrave
March 5, 2010

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Arnaud de Borchgrave comments in UPI on the downfall of Dubai as the capital of 'casino capitalism' and rising Qatar as its replacement.

DOHA, Qatar, March 5 (UPI) -- For years, the new Hong Kong was Dubai, one of seven United Arab Emirates and a one-time smuggling port on the Persian Gulf, now the latest casualty of "Wild East" casino capitalism.

It was all fevered speculation with little oil and no gas to back it up. An indoor ski slope where the outside temperature hovers over 100 degrees Fahrenheit all summer, the world's tallest building -- twice the height of the Empire State Building -- and a downtown golf course couldn't prevent the implosion of Dubai's speculative bubble.

Thirty minutes away by air and you're in the Arab ElDorado, no longer the imaginary place of great wealth and opportunity that eluded 16th-century explorers in South America. Qatar with a population of 2.1 million is the wealthiest country in the world with a per capita income of $78,000. With only 35,000 people, Liechtenstein (banks) claims $118,000 but is in a separate league of stamp-sized states.

The oil giants are pouring tens of billions of dollars into GTL -- gas-to-liquid -- ventures with Qatar Petroleum. Depending on different criteria, Qatar is the world's first or second exporter of liquid natural gas. This week some of the 2,500 separate GTL systems, with 800 operators and technicians, began churning in a gigantic project that employs almost 50,000.

Fifteen years ago, Qatar's Sandhurst-trained Crown Prince Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani concluded that his father the emir, Sheik Khalifa bin Hamad, was squandering Qatar's future, hidebound as it was by a religiously inspired status quo. He deposed his father, on vacation in Switzerland, in a bloodless transfer of power.

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