Last night, I was chatting with a close friend in a relaxing coffee shop in Riffa about the many projects that private and public companies have failed to achieve. Sometimes around 2005, without proper research, the private sector with the blessings of the public sector decided to spend millions of dollars on almost identical projects without having proper demand. There was Downtown Alareen, Marina West, Financial Harbor, Riffa Views, Mina Salam, and much more.
If all this money was properly spent on creating a new industry that would generate many jobs and make Bahrain more productive, we would be in a much better position. Bahrain’s strengths were not properly used. Before you think that the issues we are facing are complicated, let me assure you that they are not. We simply have too many of Mohamed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
In Dubai, the people living there are blessed with a leader with a vision. Whether he is a genius or not is not really important, but what’s important is that there is one focused man working all the government entities to service his vision. He doesn’t care if Burj AlArab belonged to Abu Dhabi’s royal family or if the tallest building in the world is not named Dubai Tower. The most important thing is that they both are in Dubai and that he is being politically correct while playing his cards. Roaming around Dubai with Talal, one of my close UAE friends at night, he insisted that we probably would spot Mohamed bin Rashid touring Dubai’s streets to envision his city’s additional needs or simply if there are any potholes that need to be dealt with.
Talal told me that he personally saw and greeted Mohamed bin Rashid two times within the past three weeks, in a local mall, and in a coffee shop. OK so Dubai doesn’t have a parliament that would discuss for two years whether or not to add a runway to their busy airport, like Britain, but he does attend to many of the democratic norms and values, like anticorruption and social services. If you think Dubai’s brand new airport terminal is world class humongous, wait until the next two open for business very soon.
With this model, you can look at every GCC country to see if they have a Mohamed Bin Rashid. In Kuwait, for example, they don’t and in Qatar, they do, but he may not be a local. In Bahrain, we are crowded with too many Mohamed Bin Rashids, which is potentially the sole reason for our financial competition troubles.
For many centuries, Bahrain’s strengths have been in its geographical location, marine life, and the softness and kindness of its quality citizens. When you put those three together, you’d find that Bahrain has the potential to be ‘the’ tourist destination of the region. Because of Bahrain’s size, the financial and legal institutions can easily be the most efficient and business friendly structure. Students and others from around the Gulf prefer to live in Bahrain, so having the best universities would definitely service a large demand.
I’ve been to many beaches around the world and see that the ones in western part of Bahrain have the potential to be right there on top. Both my friend and I in the coffee shop last night agreed that it is well worth investing in revamping (and eventually retaking) around 5 kilometers of beach area around Bilaj to create our own South Beach Miami style beaches. We can invest in a number of hotels to service those public beaches. Think about it, the whole Formula One area which includes AlAreen and the Water Park would be in the midst of a great tourist and public destination. That’s just one small bit of vision.
But is this possible today? The answer is probably no, not because we don’t have the ability, but because we have more than one Mohamed Bin Rashids with the potential of toe-stepping each other. Thus, the ramification is to prevent the unwanted toe-stepping in a small island with multiple visions that may not optimally maximize the use of our true strengths.
Therefore, as my friend and I ended our chat last night, the way forward is to have one coherent vision for our Bahrain and dedicate our resources into achieving this dream. Today, we are faced with important questions that we desperately need to answer and make sure that every forward looking Bahraini citizen understands and is on board. Questions that in all aspects defines our vision and explains how we are going to finance our way to it and where do we exist in its midst are but a few of them.
We have come a long way and are already enjoying slightly above average economic status, but is that where we want to be? We can be right up there and it is never too late to act.