Cover story The tumultuous events of 2008 have set the stage for a year of fear, but there is also hope that change begins now.
Fear and hope in 2009
The tumultuous events of 2008 have set the stage for a year of fear, but there is also hope that change begins now. John Mather explains.
Before looking ahead to 2009, it's important to acknowledge that the year's defining moment has likely already happened. Unfortunately the Gregorian calendar rarely aligns itself with momentous global events. If it did, then the new year would have been marked on September 14 2008, the day the American financial behemoth Lehman Brothers collapsed. The news triggered the first in a series of stock market shudders, which in turn led to more paralysed institutions and the recession that is now at the forefront of global consciousness. Yet, as financial analysts point out, the fallout of the credit crunch has simply been the prologue to the real drama set to unfold in 2009.
So, try as we might to avoid monetary doom and gloom in this look-ahead, the following articles reveal that money fears will seep into most realms of society for at least the first part of this year (and likely beyond, if those pesky analysts are anything to go by). Financial woes will be the undercurrent, if not the undertow, to the next 12 months. But that's the bad news. The good news is that out of fear comes hope. From politics to film to food, our writers have predicted that the world will push forward in 2009, the UAE not excluded. While many think oil revenues will provide the Emirates with a layer of protective coating from global recession, there are already leaks. The Central Bank has warned that 2009 will be a slower year for growth. How Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the other emirates handle lagging oil prices and slowed tourism in the coming months will be crucial to their long-term success. If the UAE can look past the economy, 2009 is poised to be a historic year for the young nation.
In Dubai, the government plans to begin implementing a universal health-care scheme. Residents and visitors will take their first rides on the city's ambitious metro system in September. The emirate's budget airline, FlyDubai, is also scheduled to take off, which may be a welcome option in a city known for luxury. The Burj Dubai, already the world's tallest building and a symbol of Dubai's growth over the past decade, is scheduled for completion in the next 12 months, despite reports of falling prices for space. In fact, Dubai's property market is to likely settle down across the board after years of rapid growth.
In the capital, the opposite is set to occur, as property prices keep climbing at their fastest rates yet. The residential developments that will some day cool the overheated housing market are not scheduled to be ready until the end of 2009 at the earliest. As the municipality issues eviction notices to residents of illegally partitioned villas, some analysts predict prices will increase by 25 per cent by 2010. Still, the capital's residents can distract themselves from painful rents at Abu Dhabi's first Grand Prix on Yas Island and the footabll Club World Cup in December. The Abu Dhabi Classics concert series will also continue to entertain. More public bus routes will be introduced, which should hopefully ease the capital's traffic woes during these events and on nightmare-enducing Salam Street.
On the international stage, the UAE Government will line up with other world powers to form bonds with the Great Hope in world politics, US president-elect Barack Obama. In the wake of the Mumbai attacks and bloody conflict between Israel and Palestine, the need for international unity is strong. While George Bush became a symbol for the culture of fear that has gripped the globe for the past decade, in the GCC the embattled president helped build and maintain a sense of security. That not withstanding, many UAE residents look to Obama as a symbol of hope. If there is hope that the next decade will change tack and be a time of progress, innovation and ending conflict, then 2009 could very well be remembered as the year the world turned.
The changes have already begun. After the financial sector, the world of American sports seems to be the first turning sour. Many sporting events have already been cancelled, from LPGA tournaments to major IndyCar races. The Arena Football League, a professional American league filled with young potentially NFL-worthy talent, has cancelled its entire 2009 season, citing the "current unprecedented economic climate".
The world can expect more cancellations of this sort: in television land, Canadian Idol, a spin-off of the popular American reality show and one of the country's most-watched domestically produced programmes, has cancelled its 2009 season "as a result of the current economic climate". And while losses like this will disappoint fans and strike fear in the heart of similar reality TV ventures, it also presents an opportunity for new ideas, forms of entertainment and sports to fill the holes. Or at least we hope.
Hope, after all, is why we anticipate the future in this look at 2009. The following predictions could all prove wrong (and many will), but having any idea about what's next is better than blindly marching forward into uncertainty. (Not to mention, it's useful to know that U2 have an album coming out this year.) So instead of spending the next 362 days under your sheets eating canned preserves, make some custard, go outside and get ready for 12 months that should, at the very least, be as dramatic as the last.