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.

Revealed: Boris’s Imperialist dream: £3 billion for military adventures ” East of Suez”


Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson


The row over Boris’s clumsy intervention over ” proxy  wars ” and ” puppeteering ” by  Saudi Arabia in the brutal war in Yemen has somewhat obscured what Britain is really up to in the Middle East.

The full text of Boris Johnson’s speech to his Arab audience in Bahrain released by the Foreign Office at the weekend reveals that we are going to be spending vast sums of public money propping up the  undemocratic and inhumane regimes run by wealthy Arab Sheikhs  in return for their investment in Britain. We are reviving plans for a world military role ” East of Suez”.

All this at a  time when Theresa May is committed to retaining austerity at home well after 2020 with  all that entails in cuts to disabled benefits, social care,public services and restricting the growth of the NHS.

Boris began his speech by boasting how his new foreign policy overturned Harold Wilson’s 1968  Labour Cabinet decision to withdraw Britain’s troops from Borneo,Singapore and the Middle East. He showed extraordinary affinity for the then foreign secretary, George Brown, who like Boris, was a very colourful figure once found in the gutter after a particularly hard night’s drinking..

He described his decision as ” a triumphant vindication” for  the ” brilliant “George Brown over  Europhile Roy Jenkins  who with a ” frog like beam ” was determined to get Britain into Europe ( how Brexiteers love to damn Europhiles even way back to 1968!).

But it was the picture he drew for Britain’s future role for” centuries to come ” that was the most revealing.

He pledged that Britain would be involved in any future crisis in Gulf – which given the present volatile situation is no mean commitment.

As he put it “:any crisis in the Gulf is a crisis for Britain – from day one; that your security is our security ” and that ” your interests military, economic, political – are intertwined with our own..”

He goes on to cite  the billions Britain is spending for new military engagements in the Middle East.

This includes:Reopening HMS Jufair, a naval support facility  in Bahrain, which His Majesty the King of Bahrain,Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said he remembered from his childhood before our disengagement.

Basing  Britain’s Gulf Defence Staff in Dubai.

Developing the Al-Minhad air base in the United Arab Emirates providing a hub for the RAF.

Establishing a Regional Land Training centre for the British army – one of only four in the world.

As Boris put it : “Britain has in total 1,500 military personnel in the region and 7 warships, more than any other Western nation apart from the US.  We are spending £3 billion on our military commitments in the Gulf over the next 10 years and that is deepening a partnership that is stronger than with any other group of nations in the world outside NATO.”

So what is the pay back.?So much Arab money is pouring into London that the city is becoming a Gulf owned state. Boris named the capital as the 8th Emirate.

As he put it : “London is sometimes called the eighth Emirate. I think I may have made that up myself, but we’re proud of it.”

And he detailed how much retail estate is owned by Gulf states in London.

The Qataris own The Shard, Olympic Village,Harrods, and Chelsea Barracks.

The UAE owns the Excel exhibition centre in Docklands and the Tidal Array in the Thames Estuary . And there is the Emirates cable car across the Thames.

The Gulf states own the DP World Port. which has replaced London Docklands.

And even City Hall the seat of London government is owned by Kuwait.


As Boris said :” I didn’t know it until today but I’m stunned to find out.”.

Of course the foreign secretary stated that Britain gains from exports to the Middle East – from Marks and Spencer to military equipment and even sand for golf bunkers.

However after Britain’s bruising encounter in Iraq it seems the Tories are rapidly becoming the main defenders of a group of very wealthy Arabs – all of whom ( it has happened already) could face uprisings in the future from their own people.

Britain would have to defend them or see large swathes of the capital being owned by the very people who have overthrown them or if there is war – by another country.

I am not sure how keen the British people will be to get involved – but for the Tories ( although they were careful not to say it) it has smacks of returning to the glory days of Empire and Rule Britannia. That could be a very big mistake.