By Steve Kelman

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The Lectern: Blogging from Abu Dhabi

I am in Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates in -- and capital of the United Arab Emirates --  working with the government of Abu Dhabi on public management issues. August is the hottest month of the year here: It's about 120 degrees in the middle of the day, and because Abu Dhabi is right on the water, this is not desert heat, so it is very humid. When you go outside (which people don't do very much -- the streets are somewhat deserted), it actually does feel like you're entering a steam bath. I have never been in weather this hot and humid before. For a few minutes, it feels fine, and indeed sort of fun. But when I walked for 15 minutes along the beachfront after dinner last night with a friend of my daughter's who is working teaching in a school for autistic children this summer, the heat started getting to me, even though it was evening.

Abu Dhabi has successfully constructed a society and economy through its own efforts, not just because it "won the lottery" with oil wealth. This is crucial to the future of this region and, therefore, to peace and security in the world. Abu Dhabi pursuing a model based on trying to concentrate on developing their economies and dramatically to improve the performance of its government. This is a path that everyone in the world must hope will become the kind of path forward for this region.

I've been meeting with a lot of smart, interesting people who make one optimistic that Abu Dhabi will succeed. One of the things I have asked people about -- many of them are American-educated, and know the United States well -- is whether they feel harassed or mistreated in the U.S. since September 11. The answers have been surprising, and somewhat different from answers I got in Dubai when visiting last January, where many people told me they had given up on even trying to visit the U.S. because of hassles.

Here, most of the people I have asked have said that they are treated very well, except sometimes at airports. (A very senior person told me a bizarre story about once being placed in a detention room at LAX for three hours -- he is about as likely to be a terrorist as I am.) Amazingly, however, people have generally said they can understand why the U.S. authorities behave the way they do; if Abu Dhabi faced a similar terrorist threat, their government would behave the same way. It is extremely clear from talking with people just how disgusted they are by terrorism committed in the name of Islam or the region.

At the same time, it was interesting to see an article in the newspaper the other day about a new British system that will give "points" to potential foreign students before qualifying them for student visas. The article stated that the new system would make the U.K. a less attractive destination for students, compared with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The U.S. wasn't even included in this list as a study destination.

I also had an interesting experience being driven home from dinner the other night. My host wanted to show me the location of Abu Dhabi in the Arabian Peninsula, and opened up the GPS in his car to a big picture of the region. The GPS map showed Israel there (in its 1967 borders) -- nice news given reports in the past of maps in this region where Israel is not present.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Aug 07, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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