The Abu Dhabi skyline. Christopher Pike / The National
The Abu Dhabi skyline. Christopher Pike / The National

False portraits do not do justice to the UAE



Many portraits of the UAE have emerged over the years and the pictures painted in some of these critiques have been barely recognisable save for a few exaggerated features designed to render the country in the worst possible light.

Those who have spent any amount of time here will tell you a different story.

They will talk about this country as a beacon of tolerance in a challenging region, as a place where young people want to come to build their careers, their families and their futures. They will point to the expansive vision of the Government, which has recently appointed ministers for tolerance and happiness and promoted young thought leaders into positions of responsibility and consequence. They will talk in sentences that use words like opportunity and peaceful coexistence. There is recognition that life is not perfect (where can it be?), but there is also an understanding that the Government is determined to look for areas of improvement and to take appropriate action where deficiencies are identified. The regular staging of high-level brainstorming meetings and, indeed, the work of the Federal National Council in scrutinising policy are clear examples of that trend. So too was the change last year to allow non-Muslim couples to marry and divorce through churches of their own faith. The nation-building work that began in 1971 continues in earnest today. And while every society has its challenges, the rate of progress can clearly be felt by those for whom the UAE is home.

Last week, Human Rights Watch, an organisation based in New York, published a review of the progress of more than 100 countries in 2017. It is fair to say the organisation does not adopt an optimistic view of many countries on its list, but its description of this country’s outward looking vision as a “fiction” and its characterisation of the UAE as being a hotbed of discrimination and labour infractions is at odds with Government efforts to review key provisions. The report also took aim at the country’s counter-terrorism law, which is an unusual target, given it should be every country’s right to protect its people. The safety enjoyed by those living in the UAE should be testament to the robustness of that law, in addition to significant work of entities like Hedayah in setting a path against extremism.

HRW also sets up Qatar as an expansive nation, calling the progress it has made on labour law as "significant", while skating over the fact that the changes only carry the country from the basement to the ground floor in terms of worker rights and, crucially, it is an unfulfilled promise. Referring to the dispute with the quartet of nations that manifested itself last year, the report claims bizarrely that it would have been easy for Qatar to retrench into authoritarianism. Its publication arrived too soon to consider the aggressive breach of international law perpetrated by Qatari fighter jets intercepting two Emirati civilian planes last week – a violation that tells us everything we need to know about Doha.

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Specs: 2024 McLaren Artura Spider

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and electric motor
Max power: 700hp at 7,500rpm
Max torque: 720Nm at 2,250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 3.0sec
Top speed: 330kph
Price: From Dh1.14 million ($311,000)
On sale: Now

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

Mountain Boy

Director: Zainab Shaheen

Starring: Naser Al Messabi

Rating: 3/5

Profile Idealz

Company: Idealz

Founded: January 2018

Based: Dubai

Sector: E-commerce

Size: (employees): 22

Investors: Co-founders and Venture Partners (9 per cent)

Married Malala

Malala Yousafzai is enjoying married life, her father said.

The 24-year-old married Pakistan cricket executive Asser Malik last year in a small ceremony in the UK.

Ziauddin Yousafzai told The National his daughter was ‘very happy’ with her husband.

The specs: 2018 Nissan 370Z Nismo

The specs: 2018 Nissan 370Z Nismo
Price, base / as tested: Dh182,178
Engine: 3.7-litre V6
Power: 350hp @ 7,400rpm
Torque: 374Nm @ 5,200rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
​​​​​​​Fuel consumption, combined: 10.5L / 100km