How Saudi Arabia and Iran could make peace and bring stability to the Middle East, if it were up to them only, would not be an impossibility as clearly demonstrated here bySamira Nasirzadeh, Lancaster University and Eyad Alrefai, Lancaster University. It would in our opinion, be made even more reachable if both countries manage to transition off their hydrocarbon-based economies and into more diversified ones.
Saudi and Iran: how our two countries could make peace and bring stability to the Middle East
Relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have rarely been worse, regarding the attacks on the oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman – for which both sides blame each other. Nevertheless, in the history of relations between the two countries, there have been regular shifts between tension and rapprochement – and things can change for the better once again.
As an Iranian and a Saudi, working as research fellows for peace studies, we believe it is time that our two countries seek to manage the conflict, improve their dialogue and begin the peacebuilding process. And we are hopeful that this could happen.
But how? Peace cannot be achieved overnight; it requires a range of factors to strengthen diplomatic ties and decrease the level of enmity between the two states. First, we suggest both states’ politicians soften the language in their speeches, altering the hostile rhetoric to a more moderate one. This would open new paths towards a direct and constructive dialogue, reducing the tensions that are affecting the two countries, the region and, potentially, the world.
Direct dialogue between the two regional actors could launch negotiations that may lead to more stability in the region. The existing regional turmoil has had a detrimental impact on relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen. The [Yemen war], which has caused a [dramatic humanitarian crisis], remains one of the main areas of conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but it also offers ground for talks between the two states.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran agree that the conflicts in Yemen and Syria can only be ended through the implementation of political, rather than military, solutions. If Saudi Arabia and Iran can take steps toward political compromises in Syria and Yemen, this subsequently will reflect positively on the trust building process.
While Saudi Arabia relies on its strategic Western allies and its ever-increasing military expenditure, Iran, which has been isolated by the US, prefers a more regional approach. Indeed, Saudi Arabia may have to ignore US protests to sit down at the negotiating table with Iran.
But the will for closer ties is, perhaps, there. Indeed, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, declared on March 13, 2018:
We believe that security of our neighbours is our security and stability within our neighbourhood is our stability. I hope they [Saudi Arabia] have the same feeling and I hope that they come to talks with us for resolving these problems. There is no reason for hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, we tell the Saudis that you cannot provide security from outside of the region.
Adel Al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, also recently stated in an interview that his country “does not want war with Iran, but will not tolerate what it considers hostile Iranian activity in the Middle East”.
Suspicions clearly remain, but such pronouncements could be viewed as a pause in hostilities, a turning point that could bring both sides closer together to resolve tensions.
There are also domestic reasons for a reduction in tensions, with both states building strategic plans for the future. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has embarked on an ambitious socioeconomic plan to diversify the country’s economy by curbing its historic dependency on oil and challenging conservative social constructs and norms by unshackling society from some past constraints. In a state where most of the population is under the age of 30, Vision 2030 serves as a mega project that will lead the country to modernise economically and socially.
The same goes for Iran. The country has adopted a promising strategic plan called the 20-Year National Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran which has social, economic, and political objectives. But to be successfully implemented, both countries’ strategies will need stable societies and vibrant economies which cannot be attained in a hostile neighbourhood. Integration and cooperation will be essential.
Diplomacy is the solution
It is evident that Saudi Arabia and Iran will benefit more from direct dialogue than hostile rhetoric. Through discussing and working together on domestic, regional and international issues, it is in the interests of both states – and the wider region – to reduce conflict and increase cooperation through diplomatic ties.
The gradual shift from hostile to inclusive rhetoric by politicians is a helpful first step, but it is also necessary for Saudi and Iran to take practical action in their bilateral relationship.
It is expected for states to compete in their sphere of influence, but pragmatism must prevail if both countries want to put an end to their conflicts in the region.
The UAE Government, in cooperation with the World Economic Forum (WEF), has opened the Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution in the UAE at AREA 2071, Emirates Towers in Dubai, the first of its kind in the region and the fifth globally.
In line with the rapid global changes and developments of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Center aims at preparing strategies, policies and developing solutions to the most pressing challenges in the region and the world. In addition, it works towards developing mechanisms, applications and uses for the fourth industrial revolution in the UAE.
Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of the UAE Cabinet Affairs and The Future, vice chairman of the Board of Trustees and managing director of Dubai Future Foundation stated that the opening of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution reflects the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Al Gergawi also highlighted that the UAE is continuously developing new business models that are dependent on technology and the outcomes of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, to join global efforts for shaping a better future.
Borge Brende, president of WEF said: “In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, countries and businesses need to move fast or risk getting left behind. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain have the power to benefit everyone, but they must be shaped strategically to maximize the benefits and mitigate the risks.”
“We are looking forward to working with the UAE to accelerate the impact of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network’s work in this area and scale projects globally” Brende added.
The opening of the Centre was attended by His Excellency Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Deputy Managing Director of Dubai Future Foundation, His Excellency Borg Brenda, President of the World Economic Forum, Her Excellency Dr Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, Director General of Smart Dubai, His Excellency Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation, alongside a number of senior representatives from the local government and the World Economic Forum.
The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR UAE) is a collaboration between the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) and the World Economic Forum (WEF).
An affiliate center of C4IR San Francisco, opened in 2017, C4IR UAE researches key focus areas in the fourth industrial revolution network: Blockchain and Distributed Ledger, AI and Machine Learning, and Precision Medicine.
Blockchain is the first project area launched under C4IR UAE in 2019 and will look into the governance frameworks around implementing blockchain across government sectors. The center will also trial a supply chain pilot, focusing on the correct governance protocols and practices with regards to security, data privacy and identity verification within blockchain. Across the three project areas, C4IR UAE aims to showcase UAE case studies, policy, and governance frameworks to WEF’s global network, as well as develop new research and policy around relevant UAE 4IR topics.
The Centre’s official launch follows the MOU signing that took place at the Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council.
The Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution in the UAE, seen as the fifth of its kind in the world after the United States of America, Japan, India and China, comes as part of the strategic partnership between the UAE government and the World Economic Forum.
“If I can generalise and group the buildings into three categories, the overwhelming majority aim to maximise area with very low construction cost and no allowance for design,” he added. “So the buildings end up bulky, repetitive and lacking character.
“Some attempt to give a local flavour and the successful ones are commendable. However, if the traditional elements are applied incorrectly, such as outside of their intended scale, function and context, then they tend to appear pastiche and ‘decorative’. Other buildings are contemporary, with a few good and forward-thinking examples, such as the Four Seasons in Bahrain Bay and the Bahrain National Theatre.”
Omari added that, particularly in Bahrain, traditional buildings demonstrate the country’s strong cultural routes and its rich history as a pearling harbour. Built from mud and coral and featuring distinct vernacular architecture, many of these examples are preserved in Muharraq, the country’s old capital, he said.
OAOA’s design for Big Box, a new office project to be constructed in Bahrain by 2021
The comments came as part of a larger conversation regarding OAOA’s new office project in Bahrain, Big Box, which is located within a wider masterplan designed for high density high-rises, while still underdeveloped and exposed to a busy main highway intersection. His client’s commercial desire to have a building that “stood out” from other buildings in the area presented a creative challenge for OAOA.
Big Box consists of four stacked cubes with similar proportions. While retail spaces and a lobby activate the pedestrian level, parking is placed in the aluminium louver-cladded podium box. Office spaces are designated to the three upper boxes, which are visually separated by the lower box, as they are cladded with a ceramic fritted curtain wall.
“It all depends on the context,” Omari said. “Here, there were no existing buildings of historical importance that we would overshadow, and we weren’t disrespectful to any neighbours, so it felt suitable and, if the architecture is well thought-out and serves a purpose, good design adds value.”
Big Box is expected to be completed by 2021, and an in-depth review of the project will be featured in Middle East Architect’s May issue.
We take it for granted, but concrete is the foundation (no pun intended) of countless buildings, homes, bridges, skyscrapers, millions of miles of highways, and some of the most impressive feats of civil engineering the world has ever known. It’s the most widely-used human-made substance on the planet.
It also happens to be incredibly bad for the climate. Portland cement, the most commonly used base (the goop that gets mixed with sand and gravel, or aggregate, to form concrete), is made with limestone that is quarried and then heated to staggeringly high temperatures — releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide in the process. Add to that all the fuel burned to mine and crush the aggregate, and you’ve got a climate disaster.
By some accounts, concrete alone is responsible for 4-8 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions. And it’s only getting worse. Between 2011 and 2013, China used more cement than the United States used in all of the 20th century — about enough to pave paradise and put up a parking lot the size of Hawaii’s Big Island. Cement production worldwide could grow another 23 percent by 2050.
It’s no secret that we have already blown past the levels of climate-altering pollution that scientists warn could have catastrophic effects on life as we know it. We set a new CO2 record just last month, notching 411.66 parts per million of CO2 in the air in Mauna Loa, Hawaii — far higher than the 300 parts per million that is the highest humans have ever survived long-term.
But a solution on the horizon could switch up the math completely. A new method of creating concrete actually pulls C02 out of the air, or directly out of industrial exhaust pipes, and turns it into synthetic limestone. The technique, which has already been demonstrated in California, is part of a growing effort to not just slow the advance of climate change, but to reverse it, restoring a safe and healthy climate for ourselves and future generations.
It’s a massive undertaking, but if we change how we think about concrete, capturing a trillion tons of CO2 may not be so pie-in-the-sky after all.
Enter Brent Constantz, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and marine geologist, who once treated cardiovascular calcification and created bone cements (used in operating rooms to mend broken limbs) by mimicking the process that corals and shellfish use to create their own shells. His patents and products are used by doctors around the world.
Developing and testing new medical procedures was perilous work, Constantz said, although the drive to cure terminal illnesses outweighed many of the risks involved. That passion lead Constantz to launch a company in 2012 called Blue Planet, based in Los Gatos, California. Its goal is “economically sustainable carbon capture.”
The company’s technology, like his previous work, builds on the power of corals. Corals turn millions of teeny polyps into stunning, full-grown reefs through a process known as biomineralization, Constantz explained. Inspired by this phenomenon, he developed a similar “low-energy mineralization” technique that turns captured CO2 into the same bony stuff that corals secrete: calcium carbonate.
Blue Planet’s process starts with collecting CO2 and dissolving it in a solution. In the process, the company creates carbonate that reacts with calcium from waste materials or rock to create calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate happens to be the main ingredient in limestone. But rather than superheating it to create cement (which would release all that CO2 right back into the atmosphere), Constantz and his team turn the resulting stone into pebbles that serve as aggregate.
This is easiest to do where there’s lots of CO2 — smokestacks at factories, refineries and power plants, for example — but it can also come from “direct air capture,” using less concentrated air anywhere, a technology whose costs are rapidly declining.
Do this on a large scale, Constantz said, and you could help satiate the growing global demand for rock and sand, and make a massive dent in the climate crisis at the same time: Every ton of Blue Planet’s synthetic limestone contains 440 kilograms of CO2. While it still needs to be mixed with cement (the goopy stuff) to make concrete, using this in place of gravel or stone that needs to be quarried and crushed creates a finished product that is carbon neutral, if not carbon-negative, according to the company.
The annual use of aggregate is over 50 billion tons and growing fast. Making it from synthetic limestone instead of quarried rock could sequester 25 billion tons a year — meaning that, in 40 years, this solution alone could remove a trillion tons of CO2 from the air, enough to restore pre-industrial levels.
And while most other methods of sequestering carbon are good for only a short time, limestone is completely stable, Constantz said. “If we look at the Earth, there’s limestone that is millions of years old, like the White cliffs of Dover.”
Blue Planet’s limestone, created using emissions collected from the Moss Landing Power Plant on Monterey Bay and other sources, has already been added to concrete in areas of San Francisco International Airport. Constantz expects to open its first commercial production facility in the Bay Area within the year, producing a little over 300,000 tons of rock annually with C02 captured from an adjacent power plant’s exhaust stack.
Constantz dreams of having thousands of plants up and running by 2050, with most of the resulting rock being used by government agencies to construct roads and buildings. “Even the poorest countries in the world are still mining rock in open pit mines, and that’s an important aspect to what we’re doing,” he said. “There is already funding out there that is paying for rock. I’m not talking about increasing government spending a bit.”
The Foundation for Climate Restoration estimates that getting 30,000 Blue Planet plants running by 2030 would create enough CO2 removal capacity to remove all the excess CO2 from the atmosphere.
The Foundation is part of a growing movement for climate restoration, whose goal is to restore a climate with a CO2 concentration below 300 ppm, and rebuild the Arctic ice. Those actions, its leaders say, will get us back to a climate more like the one our grandparents or great-grandparents lived in.
The bottom line? We’re inching closer toward an uninhabitable planet of our own making — even faster than once thought. To get ourselves back on track, we need to continue curbing our emissions to avoid making the problem worse. At the same time, we’ll need to remove a trillion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere, says Peter Fiekowsky, Founder of the Foundation for Climate Restoration.
“We all want to restore a safe and healthy climate for ourselves and future generations,” Fiekowsky says. “Mobilizing commitments from diverse stakeholders is required for success in any global endeavor, especially one as important as climate restoration. The explicit goal is what makes restoration possible now when it seemed impossible before.”
This article is sponsored by the Foundation for Climate Restoration, a nonprofit partnering with local governments, NGOs and communities around the world to launch ecosystem restoration projects at restoration scale. Its Healthy Climate Alliance is an education, networking, and advocacy program to advance these goals.
The Middle East’s top engineering schools have been revealed.
The significance of young engineers in the oft-traditional construction industry is well known around the world, as well as in the Middle East. But which colleges and universities will produce the engineers needed to build the tourist attractions, solar parks, and transport infrastructure projects – among various others schemes – that are needed support the economic diversification plans under way in the GCC and the wider Middle East?
The UAE Ministry of Education’s Majors in Demand Study 2018, published in January 2019, revealed those who studied civil engineering were the most likely to be snapped up when entering the job market in the UAE. Read the study on the education ministry’s website here.
For young professionals seeking exciting and rewarding careers, the good news is that there is plenty of choice when it comes to studying engineering in the region. From Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, every Middle Eastern country has engineering institutions to be proud of. The UAE is also the home of various international universities from Australia and the UK, which have established regional centres in the Emirates.
In the following list, Construction Week takes a look at 25 of the best universities in the Middle East offering engineering qualifications.
The Middle East’s 25 best universities to study engineering are:
The University of South Wales
American University of Science and Technology
Kafr El Sheikh University
Holy Spirit University of Kaslik
German Jordanian University
La Sagesse University
Tafila Technical University
Westford University College
Heriot Watt University Dubai Campus
Al Ain University of Science and Technology
American University in Dubai
University of Wollongong Dubai
Jordan University of Science and Technology
Misr University of Science and Technology
Lebanese International University
King Abdulaziz University Saudi Arabia
Higher College of Technology Oman
Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University
Sharjah Women’s College
Abu Dhabi Vocational Education and Training Institute
American University of Sharjah
Please note that this article is not a ranking and has been published in random order.
The University of South Wales in Dubai
The University of South Wales (USW) is the first international campus to be launched by USW. Based in Dubai South’s business district alongside Al Maktoum International Airport, the campus is ideally placed to prepare students for entry into employment.
Home to its aircraft maintenance engineering degrees, students can look forward to a learning experience that combines academic study with practical training using impressive facilities.
To help meet the skills demand in the aerospace sector, the university works in partnership with organisations to offer staff development opportunities through prior experiential learning. Employees can top-up to a recognised qualification by having some of their prior learning accredited; some of the training and development that staff have already undertaken can normally be taken into account by the university and, in many cases, count towards completion of a degree – a cost-efficient way to gain a higher education qualification.
The “MENA region has to import about 57% of the calories consumed domestically, mostly wheat, grains, proteins and dairy,” all as per ZAWYA’s #MENA|10 FEBRUARY, 2019 with a call for action such as it is high time to start thinking: where does the MENA region’s food comes from?
The Middle East and North Africa has long been disadvantaged by a
climate and geography unfavorable to large-scale agriculture. This in turn
affects food security in the region. Scarce water supplies and mostly dry, arid
lands will continue to cripple the region’s ability to achieve self-sufficiency
in food production.
The abundance of hydrocarbons and other minerals has mitigated some of these
concerns, and some MENA countries can afford to import large quantities of
produce and grains. Additionally, resources, manpower and capital are certainly
available but mismanagement, waste, poor planning and a lack of clear policies
have taken their toll on the region’s ability to harness meager resources and
grow its own food. Higher population densities and population growth rates have
inevitably turned the region into a net importer of agricultural commodities
for food for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, it is not only the Middle East that is experiencing population
growth, and subsequently increased demand for food and water. A US government
report estimates that the global demand for food, water and energy will
increase by 50 percent as a result of changing consumption patterns among the
expanding middle classes.
By 2030, the world’s population is expected to reach 8.3 billion, which will
put additional strain on food and water. Already, in the past eight years, the
world has consumed more food than it has produced, while global water
requirements are predicted to reach nearly 7 billion cubic meters, 40 percent
above the level of current sustainable supplies. Expected climate changes will
only exacerbate these alarming numbers. Agriculture already consumes more than
60 percent of water supplies and these requirements will increase to 65 percent
a decade from now, when nations are supposed to meet 2030 Millennium
One of these goals is the elimination of hunger, but the MENA region has
to import about 57 percent of the calories consumed domestically, mostly wheat,
grains, proteins and dairy. Given that the ready availability of affordable and
diverse foodstuffs is a crucial factor in long-term stability, MENA countries
can be forgiven for relying heavily on imports for the time being. For example,
the conflict in Yemen has reduced grain harvests there by a third, and with the
water table falling by about 2 meters a year, it is unlikely that the country
will be able to stop importing more than 80 percent of its grain any time soon.
Grain harvests are also falling in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, while populations
are still growing.
Relying on imports makes the region vulnerable to the effects of economic
downturns, population growth, climate changes and supply disruptions caused by
natural disasters. This last problem is of growing concern due to the
increasing incidence of extreme-weather events, mainly influenced by climate
Weather patterns are likely to intensify, with wet regions getting wetter while
dry, arid areas such as the Middle East and North Africa will experience
further declines in rainfall. Some forecasts suggest precipitation in Algeria,
Saudi Arabia and Iraq will decline by 4.9 percent, 10.5 percent and 13.3
percent respectively. This decline will also affect the southwest United
States, southern Europe, Central Asia and parts of southern Africa. Reduced
rainfall will in turn affect agricultural production among net exporters and
increase food imports elsewhere. If current trends persist, the Middle East is
likely to experience shortages of food and water, necessitating outside help or
a transformation of current policy, either to boost local production or
increase spending on imports.
When the effects of protracted, often violent, conflicts are taken into
account, food security becomes a very serious concern. A United Nations report
found that more than 27 percent of the population in conflict areas is
undernourished or chronically hungry. This contrasts with more stable
countries, where less than 5 percent of the population is undernourished.
Transforming an economy away from a dependence on imports of agricultural
produce and foodstuffs is not easy. Several sectors, including agriculture,
education, trade, health care, labor, transport, law, finance and even
technology, need to function in close cooperation and coordination to achieve
appreciable gains in local production.
Given the fast-growing population in the MENA region, dwindling water supplies,
extreme weather events and unpredictable markets, governments must act swiftly
and with utmost urgency to counter a looming food and water crisis.
This fast-approaching challenge, which threatens the national security
of all Arab countries, can only be faced and managed collectively, through
serious, urgent and deep cooperation. It is, in short, an existential threat
that can no longer be ignored.
Hafed Al-Ghwell is a non-resident senior fellow with the Foreign Policy
Institute at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International
Studies. He is also senior adviser at the international economic consultancy
Maxwell Stamp and at the geopolitical risk advisory firm Oxford Analytica, a
member of the Strategic Advisory Solutions International Group in Washington DC
and a former adviser to the board of the World Bank Group. Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell