Gulf World Port

Michael Vatikiotis
Aug 7th, 2014

If the world has a gulf that swallows travellers, it's probably close to Doha, according to Michael Vatikiotis

 

You arrive ahead of the dawn, when the temperature hovers near a tolerable thirty-three degrees.  The desert below has acquired a lustrous hue, as if someone has spilled a giant glow lamp.  You step off the plane and are conveyed along wide air-conditioned corridors of steel and glass, the senses numbed by lack of sleep. Where are you? Some hint emerges at the security check, where a dull-faced Arab by the X-ray machine listlessly provides boxes for your shoes and belt. 

 

Welcome to The Gulf; it could be any one of the postage stamp states, for almost all of them now collectively serve as the world's transit-port, a conveyor belt shuttling weary passengers from one side of the world to the other with soulless efficiency.

 

There's a brutal air of regimentation about these places – Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Despite their desert provenance, they seem to have been wrought by beings from another world.  Their soaring steel and glass towers give way to nothing but desert, like the movie set of some imagined Martian colony. 

 

Doha is in a profoundly troubled neighbourhood where suicide bombers pound their bomb-strapped chests and declare war on the Kaffir and, just a few hundred kilometres away, areas controlled by the so-called new Caliphate are stoning or crucifying apostates. Yet Doha's airport offers a cornucopia of Western evils, ranging from Burger King at the low end to Burberry at the top. Just as Cavafy's poem suggests, The Barbarians are "a kind of solution."

 

The Arabian Peninsula has never seen such contrasts, nor managed to carve out so lucrative a living since the discovery of oil and gas.  While its fossil-fuel wealth will eventually run out, the Gulf's people-moving business looks set to become this region's future, a product of little more than good flying conditions, cheap fuel and geography.

 

Indeed, the 12th century Arab geographer Al Idrisi's famous map of the world puts the Arabian Peninsula dead centre of the known world.  His writings, which described cold lands to the North as far as Ireland and warmer lands to the East as far as China, reflect a bifurcated geographical mind-set derived from lying at the axis of east-west trade.

 

Much of that trade today is in the movement of people, reflecting the incessant inter-continental travel that characterizes our age.  So long as the global economy supports the mass movement of people from the cold West to the beaches of the tropical East, and perpetually shuttles executives to and fro, we can expect these pretentiously labelled "Five Star" airlines to prosper and grow.

 

Meanwhile in the cavernous transit area at Doha's Hamid International Airport, throngs of passengers shuffle past shops selling luxury brands, like schools of fish darting between colourful coral reefs.  They are serviced by a hotchpotch of East and West: most of the airline ground staff or shop assistants are from the Philippines or Indonesia; but look closely at the pushcarts that carry their hand luggage and you'll notice that they were provided by the Federal Republic of Germany.

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Michael Vatikiotis
Singapore
Last blog date: Oct 18th, 2016

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