Free education,free healthcare,free land and free parking: How the Gulf States woo their people

The imposing entrance of the Sultan.of Oman’s palace in Salalah
Palace gardens in Salalah
Cave in the foothill of Oman’s mountains It above a spring which is a popular tourist and picnic spot

My first visit to the Gulf states of Oman and Dubai has been an eye opener and shows how two relatively poor Arab Nations have been transformed by the rise of petrodollar. Both are effective absolute monarchies that still have authoritarian rulers. Yet both have used their new found wealth to benefit their indigenous people.

This may explain why both are stable states and largely popular with the Emirates and Omani population. In Oman the 50 year reign of the late Sultan saw his people benefit from the wealth provided by oil. In 1970 Oman had only three schools now it has nearly 1100. Education and healthcare is free for the 1.5 million Omanis and when they start a family they are given a free plot of land to build a house. The younger generation are bilingual as all pupils learn Arabic and English and all signs are in both languages.

Strict regulations lay down how each house in Oman should be built on a 650 square metre plot.It should be no more than two stories high and occupy a third of the plot with a high wall enclosing a garden and garage .

Dubai skyline from the deck of the QM2 with my wife Margaret

In Dubai the government also give a contribution to building costs. The main city is ultra modern and full of skyscrapers and modern apartments. In this heavily trafficked city of five lane roads parking is also free – there were some limited parking charges in Oman in Muscat.

What is really jaw dropping in Dubai despite its authoritarian stance on alcohol, gay rights and on insisting how modestly Muslim women should dress is how cosmopolitan it is. The Dubai Mall said to be largest shopping complex in the world with 1600 shops is a complete mixture of people with women in Western Style dress walking among Arab women covered from head to toe. While young men in shorts walk among young Arab men wearing full robes.

Main square of the Dubai Mall at night

Of course expats don’t benefit from the largesse the Emirs show to their own people But professional Westerners benefit from high tax free salaries, cheap petrol and low utilities bills that are becoming more of a rarity in the UK as the wealth gap grows.

As an example my daughter who is a Dubai state school science teacher earns a tax free salary just short of £50 000 a year plus free and efficient healthcare and fuel bills of just £20 a month. Here in the UK the government is boasting that teachers will soon get £30,000 a year before tax and will have huge fuel bills and petrol costs. There is no comparison.

I noticed that Emirates airlines are now targeting Brits in the hospitality sector to work as cabin crew. They are offering tax free salaries,free training,free accommodation and healthcare as part of the package . In the UK the same person will be lucky to get just above the minimum wage working for Wetherspoon.

Dramatic fountain display in the Dubai Mall at night

The situation is not the same for workers from India,Pakistan, and the Philippines who take more menial jobs in construction or as maids to wealthy Arab families. They miss out big time and are on low wages and/or work long hours for little money.

One last interesting point.What happens if you have a car accident with a camel in Oman? According to our guide if it happens in the day the owner will claim it is his most valuable animal and you will have to compensate him handsomely. If it is after dark the camel owner will have to pay for all the damage to your vehicle. The trouble is that owners don’t always admit that is their camel and can be difficult to trace.