Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Spirit of the Nation Celebration

Today was a pretty busy day. I woke up at 7am, showered, dressed, and went downstairs for another excellent breakfast. At around 9am we all gathered in the lobby to go to the Emirates Center for the last day of presentations.

Today's presentations began with an opening statement by Dr. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi on the problems facing Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) nations since the fiscal crisis began. He grouped the nations into two major categories: oil importing and oil exporting nations and identified significant differences in issues that the two must overcome. Exporting nations need to continue to diversify, invest in, and expand their economies while importing nations must tackle unemployment, poverty, and the issue of internal stability. Regionally, MENA nations must continue to expand areas of cooperation and reduce their trade deficits with other nations to improve their sustainability.

Thomas Deford followed Dr. Jamal with a discussion on the future of politics following the effects of the crisis. He believes the world has had less political fall-out from the recession than expected and the recession only sped ongoing worldwide trends. The US has realized that it has significantly less power to influence world events and this fact will define foreign policy in the coming years. "A declining world power may become paranoid and do stupid things. The good thing is, the US has already done stupid things and now its people have no appetite for further action".

Dr. Fatima Al Shamsi spoke on the economic implications of the Global Financial Crisis and gave predictions for the future. Although the worst of the recession is behind us, a lingering unemployment issue, continued struggle in Europe, and the fiscal cliff of the US remain to shake up world economies once again. A generation of youth who lack employment throughout the world seems to be the largest issue each nation will begin to grapple with in the coming years.

Ken Hillas finished the morning discussions as the only person still actively working in the Foreign Policy realm outside of academia and discussed social changes. He pointed out that the effects of the global crisis intensified already present trends: the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, unemployment remains a huge issue, social unrest will continue in much of the world, and how countries tackle these issues will be different depending on the assets and society within them. He pointed out that "Open economies that innovate compete better but are also more vulnerable".

During the break I had the opportunity to talk to a representative from the Canadian embassy about youth unemployment throughout the world. He felt the remarks from the panel were inadequate and viewed a lack of entrepreneurial vigor as a determining factor to which of the regions of the world will escape this trap. An Emirati gentleman agreed, adding that the United States has that cultural trait and educational value as well as a general positive outlook on its people's future while his nation and regional allies don't. He feels that the nations of MENA will need to overcome these discrepancies before they can compete globally. I also spoke to a German employee to the British Embassy who also saw youth unemployment as an international issue of great importance.

The final speaker of the day and of the conference was Dr. Jonathon Rubin who had the audacious task of speaking on renewable energy in to an oil rich audience.  He applauded the UAE for its efforts in diversifying their economy but stressed that renewable energy will and has made an impact on the price of oil and at current trends, without further economic diversification within oil-rich nations, reliance on this money will not be economically sound.

After the conference, we had the opportunity to visit the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and speak to diplomats about how to get into the State Department. The embassy was a very imposing building in the diplomatic neighborhood of Abu Dhabi but, unfortunately, nobody is allowed to photograph the outside. Our discussion lasted for 2 hours and really impacted many people's intentions on their future careers.

After the embassy visit, we attended a Spirit of the Union festival back at the Emirates Center complete with laser light show, fireworks, and a visit from the Sheik of Abu Dhabi. It was impressive and great to see so many people celebrating their independence from Britain (and I'm sure most of the people reading this blog can relate). We followed up the celebration with an amazing seafood dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. It had five courses: breads, cold seafood, salad, grilled seafood, and desert. I'm pretty sure Maine would have had a run for its money on awesomely prepared oceanic meals if they ever went head-to-head. We handed Mario his going away present at the dinner as this was the last time he would go to Abu Dhabi at the head of SPIA.

After dinner we had drinks and several of us left to explore Abu Dhabi by moonlight. We took a cab to the Emirates Palace and took a lot of great pictures of the scenery. All in all, the day couldn't have gone better!

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