Wednesday, March 16, 2016


On Wednesday, March 16th our group had the great opportunity of meeting with the Globesight team at its office in Dubai. Globesight is an advisory firm devoted to helping organizations build strategy around emerging markets in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Based on our lively and insightful conversation with founder and director Taufiq Rahim and Globesight staffer Alaa’ Odeh, the company seems to currently be focusing on helping clients strategize how best to invest in humanitarian issues/assistance in order to maximize impact. Alaa’ spoke of the work and research she has been doing around Syrian refugees and irregular migration. She discussed the kinds of issues clients looking to invest in aid and development for Syrian refugees face and how Globesight guides them towards solutions. Beyond consulting, Globesight also functions as a think tank through producing research and analysis of issues facing the Middle East region.

The open layout of the office lent itself to a very friendly and tight-knit office dynamic. The team discussed one another’s projects and often referred to one another when they felt someone else in the office was better versed in a certain topic area. We were grateful that the team was willing to speak to us honestly as well about life in Dubai and what it’s like to move from the United States to the Emirates. For those of us looking into jobs in Dubai, it is very helpful and encouraging to hear other people’s experiences moving and living there. Taufiq was introduced to our group through a SAIS-er’s personal friend, but we realized that coincidentally he also knows many of the other individuals we met with during out trip. We’re glad to have been put in touch with him and Globesight.

The Globesight team mentioned to us that they are moving towards working more in the field of entrepreneurship and technology. We wish them all the best in their endeavors and thank them for 
their time.

~Kimya Zahedi, second year Middle East Studies concentrator, SAIS

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority or ADIA, as it is popularly known, welcomed us at its Abu Dhabi headquarters by providing access to a panel of the fund’s seasoned professionals as well as promising young talent. ADIA is one of the largest and most sophisticated Sovereign Wealth Funds in the world and the discussion we had with various members of its team was illuminating.

The story of ADIA is 40 years old and the individuals we met shared their individual stories with us.  A common theme was how fortunate they felt to be part of ADIA. Established in 1976, the fund is independent from the government and responsible for investing to secure the long term prosperity of Abu Dhabi. It does so in a prudent, effective and innovative manner through a team of approximately 1700 hailing from as many countries the fund has invested in.

ADIA takes a long-term approach to investing and has, over the years, built its internal capacity and capability, while also building long-term relationships with major financial institutions all over the world. Today the fund carefully prepares the next generation of its Emirati employees by identifying and developing potential employees from high school, providing scholarships and training. 
ADIA’s expatriate workers are drawn from more than 60 countries. The fund cites its diversity of nationalities and skills as a key strength.  A number of employees we meet describe adapting to living in a new country as relatively easy: “They make the transition easy for you,” we hear often, while people also point out that Abu Dhabi is considered very family-orientated.

Leaving the meeting, we were convinced that ADIA continues to follow the mission it was created for in 1976 and stands for something more than a typical investment fund. 

~ Munkhnaran Bayarlkhagva, second year Middle East Studies concentrator, SAIS

Ferrari World

The UAE is a country full of “most” and “-est”. Tallest skyscraper in the world (the Burj Khalifa). Largest single pane aquarium in the world. If not for a handful of competitors, the Emirates would also be able to claim “Largest Mosque in the World” with the Sheikh Zayid Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Though we happily experienced many of these during our too-short week in Dubai, we also were lucky enough to visit another, less traditional one of the UAE’s “mosts.” For located about 60 kilometers from Abu Dhabi, there is the “Most Ferrari-est Place in the World.”
It’s called, well, Ferrari World, and it is the largest indoor theme park in the world, an 86,000 square-meter facility devoted to the Italian supercar icon, complete with rides, exhibits, food, and games.

In the course of four days in the UAE, our group of SAIS students met with a number of businesses and such important Emirati government figures as the Minister of Energy and the Minister of American Affairs. Though all of these meetings were provided valuable insight into the politics and economy of the country, by the time we got to Ferrari World, we were happy to take a break from these more brain-intensive activities to simply have some fun in one of the best theme parks in the world.
As our noble tour-guide Harris explained the history of the park and showed us its attractions, he made a critical tactical error very early on when he started our tour at the Formula Rossa, the fastest rollercoaster in the world (and yet another of the UAE’s superlatives.) The ride is designed to emulate the force and speed of a Formula 1 race, accelerating from 0 to 62 miles per hour in less than 2 seconds, before reaching its peak speed of 150 mph (!) in 5 seconds (after which it settles to a more “reasonable” 90 mph). After we saw that ride, Harris might as well have been one of those teachers in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Ferrari World had enchanted us, and we wanted to see all it had to offer. With jaws agape, we walked past high-end Ferrari simulators, a go-kart course, and of course, numerous showcases of such Ferrari legends as the 458 Italia and the Testarossa.

In many ways, Ferrari World is a tribute not only to the car manufacturer, but to the country from where it came. One roller coaster is dedicated to Italian fighter pilot Francesco Baracca, a section of the park is the fa├žade of an Italian village, and a children’s ride traverses a miniature version of Italian landmarks and monuments.

In our brief time in the park we couldn’t experience everything, and as we made the trip from Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi back to our hotel in Dubai, we discussed the next day’s schedule and meetings. While we were all looking forward to returning to the more studious tasks at hand, we all were thankful for the welcome respite of Ferrari World.

-Andrew Lubrano, second year Middle East Studies concentrator, SAIS

Sheikh Mohammed Center for Government Innovation

On Wednesday, March 15th, our group had the opportunity to visit the office of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and was given a presentation by representatives of the Mohamed bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation, a subset of his office. As we drank tea and coffee, the representative gave us a brief history of the Centre, its strategy and its outlook on the future. 

The Centre for Government Innovation was founded in September 2014 as a center of gravity for innovation in the public sector. The functions it performs are: coordinating “innovation labs” in government organs to build capacity for innovation across the country, building a national database for innovative government initiatives and international best practices, and consolidating individual projects into a unified framework to better serve federal and local government entities while preserving intellectual rights. The Centre also plans to form partnerships with international universities to drive this innovation initiative. 

The Centre seeks innovation in seven public sectors:
  •  In the renewable energy sector, it intends to facilitate decentralized power generation projects such as small scale solar installations and encourage innovation in the renewables industry and support applied research in clean technology.
  • In the transportation sector, it seeks to stimulate innovation in air and sea travel as well as logistics and make procedures more effective and save time and focus the field of unmanned drones.
  • In the education sector, it desires to establish innovation labs in schools and universities in order to provide students with abilities such as “critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, perseverance and adaptability.”
  • In the health sector, it intends to boost advanced technologies in healthcare services and promote the growth of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries and support medical research.
  • In the water sector, it seeks to promote innovations to the large problem of water scarcity in the country.
  • In the technology sector, it seeks to promote overall research in technology and the sciences.
  • In the space sector, it wants to support space technology for exploration and satellite communications.

The representative reiterated that the overall purpose of the Centre is to make the United Arab Emirates a global hub for innovation.  Our final meeting of the trip proved fascinating and informative and exposed us to the future ambitions of the U.A.E. 

-Vivek Sharma, second year Middle East Studies concentrator, SAIS

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque 

After our very interesting meeting with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, we headed to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates, for a guided tour.

When we first saw this architectural jewel, we found ourselves astonished and speechless. Indeed, how could one remain unmoved by this magnificent mosque, impressive by its size and somehow reminiscent of the Taj Mahal’s splendor? The mosque, which opened in 2007 after a decade of construction, covers an area of more than 12 hectares. Its erection was ordered by the founder of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who died in 2004 and now rests in the grounds of the mosque. Through this project, Sheikh Zayed wanted to establish a symbol of the Islamic world while uniting historical and modern architectural styles. And when one looks at the mosque, there is no doubt that this is a real success.

While we could clearly feel the stylistic inspiration from Islamic art - with the predominance of arabesque decorations, vaults and arches - we were also amazed by the modernity of the design and construction techniques used. In particular, the main prayer room blew our minds, with its sumptuous carpet and chandelier. The carpet, which is the largest one in the world, was handmade in Iran. A beautiful bright green is the main color, with nuances of pink and gold. This elegant combination of colors was matching the colors of the splendid overhanging chandelier. This chandelier, made from different types of glass coming from all over Europe (including Italy, Greece, Germany and Belgium), also holds an international record, being the largest one in the world.

The prayer room is not the only treasure in the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. The surrounding gardens and basins, as well as Sheikh Zayed’s mausoleum where two imams are reciting the Quran at any time of day or night, add to the calm and pious atmosphere of the place.

Each of us greatly enjoyed wandering in this peaceful and marvelous environment, far from the hustle and bustle of Dubai – in sum, a much-appreciated detour in our meetings schedule. This wonderful and memorable visit well reflected our overall perception of the country: a unique alliance between traditions and modernity, with a strong inclination towards architectural feats.

~Mathilde Cohen, second year Middle East Studies concentrator, SAIS

Monday, March 14, 2016

Ministry of Energy

The SAIS MES delegation to the United Arab Emirates had the honor to meet with His Excellency Minister of Energy Suhail Al Mazroui. In his introduction, the Minister emphasized the original philosophy of the Sheikh Zayed, founder of the UAE, to use oil and gas revenues to develop and modernize the country. Today, the goal of the Ministry of Energy is to further the country’s energy strategy through programs and policies to decrease reliance on oil and gas revenues, increase energy and water usage efficiency, and diversify the country’s electricity generation portfolio. The country aims to eliminate government budget reliance on oil and gas export revenues by 2030. Minister Mazroui also shared his thoughts on the establishment, historical development, and future outlook of OPEC and world oil markets. He spent some time explaining the dramatic decline in oil prices, primarily related to the supply boom linked to the shale oil revolution in the U.S.

          The Minister also discussed the UAE’s 2007–2017 plan to phase nuclear generation into the electricity mix, emphasizing its strictly civilian nature.  Currently, the UAE uses primarily natural gas for electricity generation, much of which it needs to import. Nuclear power will help the UAE to diversify its energy supply and reduce its natural gas import bill, and possibly free up resources for renewed gas exports in the future. The country aims to bean example for the region of how to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program.
          The Minister highlighted the government’s process in eliminating many energy subsidies in order to make the UAE economy more sustainable and energy efficient. He emphasized how the UAE managed to recently remove all gasoline subsidies, which encourages people to limit their consumption. He also discussed plans to phase out general electricity tariff subsidies, target subsidies to those in need only, and various programs to incentivize energy and water efficiency in residences and businesses. The government is setting an example by retrofitting existing public buildings with high-efficiency building envelopes and appliances, and by adhering to efficient construction standards with all new buildings.

          A Q&A session followed, with many questions regarding energy challenges facing the country and whether or not the UAE aims at a higher use of renewable energies. Minister Al Mazroui singled out excessive and unsustainable water consumption as the country’s primary resource challenge moving forward. He believes that the country needs to find new and alternative sources of fresh water. Moreover, the UAE population needs to be educated on ways to drastically reduce water consumption. Regarding renewable energies, the UAE has been already investing substantially in this field. The Minister emphasized the need for a solution to enable electricity storage, which would significantly boost investment in renewable energy.

The meeting provided SAIS students, some of whom are also pursuing concentrations in Energy, Resources, and Environment, with the opportunity to engage in dialogue with someone shaping the energy policy of a major oil producer in a world increasingly focused on resource sustainability.

~Samer Abdul Samad, second year Middle East Studies concentrator, SAIS
~Geoff King, second year Middle East Studies concentrator, SAIS

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

On Monday 14 March 2016, our group had a meeting in Abu Dhabi with the American Desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates.  Over one and a half hours the group discussed many issues, e.g. the history of US-UAE relations, the foreign policy of the UAE, as well as the Republican and Democratic primaries in the United States. After a brief introduction by our eleven group members and the four members of the American Desk (three female and one male) the discussion started with an overview of the US-UAE relations which were established in 1971.
About 2,000 Emiratis are studying in the United States and that about 50,000 Americans are working in the UAE. Besides the embassy in Washington, the UAE furthermore has four consulates in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York.  Currently, there are around 22 agreements  in place between the US and the UAE, and an additional 15 are being negotiated. The American Desk praised the good communication between Washington and Abu Dhabi, which was demonstrated further by the fact, that Vice-President Joe Biden had visited the UAE just prior to our trip. On the bilateral level the US and the UAE are engaged in a strategic and economic dialogue and on a multilateral level , Abu Dhabi was recently hosting the sixth session of the IRENA (International Agency for Renewable Energy) Assembly which was held on 16 and 17 January 2016.

The discussion about the dynamic economy and the transformation of the country over the last decade was especially interesting. Today, the oil revenues only contribute 30% to the GDP of the UAE. The addition of two new museums on UAE culture, one in Abu Dhabi and one in Dubai, as well as the cooperation between the UAE and museums in the US and Western Europe, are supposed to increase the range of cultural activities. Besides hydrocarbons and finance, tourism is becoming an increasing contributor to the economy of the UAE.

After discussing the economy, the group and the American Desk elaborated on the biggest security threats for the UAE; regionally as well as globally. In regards to foreign policy in the region, the discussion touched upon the civil war in Yemen and Syria, as well as on the US-GCC summit and the prospect of US-UAE relations under a new administration in 2017. The American Desk was interested in the perception of the UAE in the United States. It was agreed among our group that among the American population the United Arab Emirates is basically reduced to the Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. A discussion about the Emirati view of expatriate workers from the United States and Western Europe was followed by a lively debate over the Republican Primaries and the forthcoming US Presidential Elections.

After an intriguing discussion our group and all the members of the American Desk took a final picture in the beautiful lobby of the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

~Kevin Matthees, second year Middle East Studies concentrator, SAIS