Something for everyone - the region's rapid growth heralds lucrative opportunities for all.
Eddie O'Sullivan's book, The New Gulf, has a preface describing an Arabia of some eight million people in 2030, with a thriving, diversified economy. For those of us fortunate to have witnessed first-hand the transformation of the last decade, it is not difficult to visualise.
It is easy to describe the huge wealth from hydrocarbons, or to revel in the stories of sheikhs owning numerous luxury cars and huge private jets. But the story that matters, and not just to visiting businessmen, is the emergence of a modern, confident, moderate society. An Arab friend told me, "We are no longer afraid of making mistakes, needing to wait for others – it is our time now to show leadership".
It is true that the region's rapid growth has caused major issues with regard to power, water, waste and congestion. But, in the main, they are being addressed with equally stunning speed.
From having the ecological footprint of a developing nation, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is currently per capita one of the worst polluters in the world, and yet the move to address carbon is developing at an extraordinary pace.
Masdar is the largest R&D project in carbon neutral design on the planet. What's more, it is actually happening, unlike in many countries where ecotowns are often no more than greenwash.
The ethnic mix is now extraordinary. Staff currently move to the UAE as they would to London or Bristol, with spouse and children in tow. The days of the stereotypical expat, with spouse and kids in tow, living a type of colonial club life are largely a thing of the past.
However, the issues of labour abuse are serious.
The illegal gangmasters exploiting immigrant workers are a blight on Arabia and the Indian subcontinent and need addressing, as they do in Europe. Such abuse is somehow portrayed as worse in Arabia than when it occurs in somewhere like Morecambe Bay, yet in our globalised economy such human rights abuses shamefully occur throughout the world.
The development of universities will change the nature of the local workforce within the next half decade.
It will mature into intellectual force. For example, in little more than 15 years, the role of women in politics and business is beginning to show real signs of change, which was inconceivable in the mid-1990s.
What does this emerging world mean to engineering? Enormous opportunities to be at the cutting edge and see projects actually happen! The Dubai Metro will open on 9 September, 2009 – before Crossrail starts construction.
For business, it means being a visitor no longer works. The Gulf States and each emirate are places for permanent business, with locally based management. It's a business culture based not on procurement procedures, but performance and reputation and, significantly, free from corruption. Not a bad set of places for an engineering company – particularly one that enjoys challenges.
- Atkins has been in the Gulf for more than 30 years, and now has permanent offices in Oman, Sharjah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar, with more than 2,600 staff in the region.