The road to Damascus

Last week I joined a number of UAE and Syrian business leaders at the Second Syrian-Emirati Economic Forum, held in Damascus.

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By  Ben Dawson Published  June 18, 2006

|~||~||~|Last week I joined a number of UAE and Syrian business leaders at the Second Syrian-Emirati Economic Forum, held in Damascus. It was impressive stuff, with Emaar chairman Mohammed Alabbar leading the way, thanks to the near US$2 billion that the company is likely to invest in Syria over the coming years. The big question is who will follow Alabbar’s excellent example? Word at the forum is that a queue of UAE companies are looking closely at Syria, including Mashreqbank. Syria has gone a long way in introducing financial reforms, and though there is still further to go, president Bashar Al Assad deserves a lot of credit for his work so far. Mashreqbank boss Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair is, I am told, looking closely at how the bank can expand its operations into Syria. Another company that may also make a foray into the market is Etisalat. The country’s telecoms sector is in urgent need of development, and there is a lot that Etisalat can do. I am told senior Etisalat executives are hoping to have some concrete ideas within the next three months. Aiming low Most delegates attending the Second Syrian-Emirati Economic Forum were staying at the Four Seasons Hotel, including guest of honour, former German chancellor Gerhard Shcroeder. I caught up with the very impressive Schroeder shortly after the England v Paraguay World Cup game. “England won’t win the World Cup, not if they play like that,” he told me. But he wasn’t exactly smiling when he said this. “To be honest, I don’t think Germany will win either. It’s going to be Brazil.” I’m afraid I have to agree with him. Bus to nowhere I have refrained from taking pot shots at PR companies in recent months, but this week I simply can’t resist. Earlier this month, I received an interesting invitation from Percept Profile Gulf. It said: “On behalf of Gulf Finance House, the Bahrain-based Islamic investment bank, we would like to invite you to the launch of a major project in Saudi Arabia on the lines of the King Abdullah Economic City.” Great stuff. All the better, as the invite continued: “We would like to fly you to Riyadh from Dubai on June 13th morning. From Riyadh we will fly to Hail, where the project will be located, by a private jet in the afternoon…It is an all expenses paid trip.” Wonderful. At least it could have been. Unfortunately, no sooner had the private jet been booked then Percept Profile called up all the female journalists invited, and told them they couldn’t come on the private jet, because they were, erm…female. Instead, buses would be organised. But before the first bus even arrived, Percept Profile realised it hadn’t processed any of the visas required to get into Saudi Arabia. The entire trip was embarrassingly shelved at the last moment until further notice. He’s the one What is about Thomas Lundgren that is so impressive? Last week The One founder spent two hours discussing the intricacies of interior design with a well known Dubai-based journalist. How did she find him? She emailed me to explain: “Really good. I love him, I want to marry him. No man will ever compare with him now. He’s spoiled me forever and I am doomed to a life of collecting cats, growing herbs and sticking needles in errant footballs that come over my fence because I will never find anyone like him.” “She” will of course remain nameless!||**||

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