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DOHA/DUBAI: Qatar’s Doha Tower, a spike-tipped cylinder that glows orange at night, won an award when finished in 2012 amid a Gulf-wide real estate boom, but today about half of its 46 floors are empty.
The office tower, now a familiar part of the capital’s high-rise skyline, has run foul of what real estate brokers, bankers and analysts say is an oversupplied Qatar property market ahead of the 2022 World Cup that mirrors a real estate downturn in the wider Gulf region after a drop in oil prices.
Qatar has the added challenge of a diplomatic, trade and transport boycott imposed on the Gulf Arab state by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt over allegations that Doha supports extremist militants, a charge Qatar denies.
The protracted row has made it tough to lure would-be foreign buyers of residential or commercial space.
Residential prices are down about 10 percent from June 2017, when the boycott began, and office prices have fallen by a similar rate, according to analysts and economists. Rents are down 20 percent from three years ago, they say.
“Qatar’s property sector has been one of the main casualties from the blockade that was imposed in mid-2017,” Jason Tuvey, an economist at Capital Economics, said.
The property downturn has so far not translated into bad loans, as bankers say borrowers holding sluggish real estate assets tend to be among the country’s wealthiest.
“They have capacity to withstand the market ... I don’t see a major threat,” Doha Bank CEO Raghavan Setharaman said, when asked about his view of the real estate market.
A banker at Al-Khalij Commercial Bank said banks like his have been restructuring many property loans in recent months, extending them to 20-year payment periods from 10 in some cases, to keep business moving for developers hit by slow demand.
But with the World Cup edging closer, real estate experts say long-planned projects are now set to flood the market, even as buildings in prime locations, like Doha Tower, sit idle.
“It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they (real estate prices) are really put under pressure in a year’s time, when a lot of new supply hits the market,” Johnny Archer, Associate Director of DTZ, a Doha-based real estate firm, said.
Tiny but wealthy Qatar plans to increase residential space by about 50 percent and office space by 40 percent in the next three years, partly on expected demand from the World Cup, according to a report published last week by real estate company DTZ.
The lion’s share of construction underway is for high-end residential towers, white-collar office space, and luxury hotels and shopping malls.
FIFA requires Qatar have at least 60,000 hotel rooms in place for the month-long World Cup tournament, which Qatar estimates will draw about 1.5 million fans — more than half of its roughly 2.6 million population.
Qatar has about 26,500 rooms and will add another 15,000 by 2022, DTZ’s report estimated. The rest will be met by rooms aboard cruise ships and in desert camps, according to the local World Cup organizing committee. These camps are expected to be bedouin-style accommodation to give visitors a taste of desert life.
Much of the building is in an entirely new city, Lusail, a 38-square kilometer stretch just north of Doha dotted by commercial towers, hotels, and shopping centers at various stages of construction.
Lusail is being developed by state-controlled Qatari Diar Real Estate Company, which envisions it hosting 200,000 residents and 170,000 employees. It is anchored by Qatar’s largest World Cup stadium, an 80,000 seat venue that will host the opening and closing matches.
Colliers International, whose office was an early entrant to Lusail, says getting companies to fill a rush of towers coming online ahead of 2022 will be a daunting task.
“There’s going to be massive structural oversupply for office infrastructure for the foreseeable future,” said Colliers’ Qatar country director Adrian Camps.
In a bid to spur activity, Qatar last month ratified an investment law allowing foreigners full ownership of companies, and for years Qatar has designated certain high-end areas like Lusail open to foreigners, but brokers say demand remains low.
Shopping malls, lacking the Saudi or Emirati shoppers who once flocked to them before the boycott, are among the most visibly affected, with some having to shutter shops in recent months.
New malls are being built anyway.
Total retail space has doubled in three years and will grow 50 percent more by 2021 with nine new malls, according to DTZ.
Beyond 2022, Qatar real estate faces an uncertain outlook. Aside from soccer stadiums, Qatar has not specified legacy plans for what happens to infrastructure developed for the World Cup after the tournament.
“There’s too much uncertainty as to where that demand specifically is going to come from,” Richard Rayner, who surveys property for DTZ said.
LONDON: Saudi Arabia plays an important role in maintaining regional peace and stability, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said.
Speaking ahead of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan, Qureshi said that it is expected to lay the foundations for effective and comprehensive cooperation between the countries, and strengthen bilateral relations to “higher levels.”
“We are very pleased with the crown prince’s visit that seeks to establish effective communication at all levels. I expect this visit to have a significant impact in driving the solid ties between the two countries to higher levels,” Qureshi told Asharq Al-Awsat.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Qureshi added that the Kingdom enjoys great influence and respect in Pakistan, and that the country aims to learn from Saudi Arabia’s example of fostering coexistence and moderation through organizing cultural activities and festivals.
The foreign minister also said that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have contributed to pushing the Afghan peace process forward, and that Pakistan considers this “to be a very important role.
“Pakistan also played a role in this reconciliation and helped to overcome all difficulties. We hope that security and stability will prevail for all.”
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is due to arrive in Islamabad on Feb. 16 on a two-day visit as part of his upcoming tour of several countries in Asia.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is expecting to sign two out of 10 memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for the establishment of an oil refinery and petrochemical complex in Baluchistan’s deep-sea port city of Gwadar during the first state-level visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday, officials familiar with the matter told Arab News.
The deals will see Pakistan join hands with Saudi Aramco for the state-of-the-art facility worth $10 billion, with a groundbreaking ceremony expected to be performed early next year for the purpose.
DUBAI: Among the artefacts on show in the “Roads of Arabia” exhibition, on show for the final weekend at Louvre Abu Dhabi, is a photograph of a handsome young man.
He is an imposing figure, with chiseled features and his eyes hinting at a shrewd intelligence. His is the face of a man accustomed to command, a man who might change history — as indeed he did.
Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal bin Turki bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Saud was such a man. Known more commonly as Ibn Saud, he became the founding father and first monarch of the country which bears his name: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The photograph was taken in Kuwait in 1910, when he was about 35, and is among the first pictures taken of the future king, for he had never seen a camera before. The man who arranged the sitting — and in all likelihood took the photograph — was only the second European Ibn Saud had encountered. But Captain William Shakespear, a British explorer and diplomat, became such a trusted friend that the Arab leader called him “brother” and made him his military advisor.
And it was thanks — certainly in part — to their closeness that Britain and Saudi Arabia signed a treaty to formalize a friendship that endures to this day.
William Henry Irvine Shakespear was a son of Empire. Born in Bombay in British India in 1878, he served as an officer in the Bengal Lancers before joining the British Foreign Office in 1904 and five years later was posted to Kuwait as a political agent.
He was not a typical colonial official. A gifted linguist, he spoke Urdu, Pashto, Farsi and Arabic, and indulged his passion for photography, botany and exploration with long expeditions into territory that had never been mapped, where he met and talked with Bedu tribesmen and studied the flora and fauna of the desert.
Shakespear soon formed the view that the man to watch was Ibn Saud, son of the emir of Najd and scion of a proud ruling tribe. He was physically imposing — well over six feet tall and a proven warrior who, after a decade in exile, had recaptured Riyadh, the Al-Saud power base from the rival Al-Rashid tribe.
The chance to meet Ibn Saud came one day in February 1910 as Shakespear returned from a journey into the eastern desert. The trip had gone drastically wrong when tribesmen overran the camp, shot dead his chief guide and almost killed Shakespear himself. But then they recognized the rest of his party as old acquaintances and joined them around the campfire for gahwa (Arabic coffee) and storytelling.
On returning to Kuwait, Shakespear found an invitation from the ruler, Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah, to a banquet in honor of his visitor, Ibn Saud.
It was a most lavish affair which “cannot have cost less than £20,000 ($25,600),” Shakespear noted in his report.
In his diary he recorded that Ibn Saud was “a fair, handsome man, considerably above average Arab height with a particularly frank and open face and, after initial reserve, of genial and very courteous manner.”
The two men, who were roughly the same age, hit it off straight away and Shakespear invited Ibn Saud to dine at the British diplomatic residence the following evening. Over a classic British meal of roast lamb with mint sauce, roast potatoes and tinned asparagus, the Arab nobleman was impressed not only by his host’s fluency in Arabic but by the way he could converse knowledgeably about aspects of desert life, including hunting with falcons and saluki hounds.
It was, as authors David Holden and Richard John wrote in their book “The House of Saud,” “a cordial meeting of minds” that deepened over many lengthy conversations in Riyadh and in remote desert camps.
Britain was keen to extend its influence over the Gulf, and Shakespear urged his masters to recruit Ibn Saud as an ally. But London hesitated. Kuwait was controlled by the Ottoman Turks, who in turn were Britain’s “buffer” against other, more hostile European nations trying to carve up the region, and Turkey was allied with the Al-Rashids, enemies of the Al-Saud. Even when Ibn Saud drove an Ottoman garrison out of the coastal oasis of Al-Hasa, Britain still would not commit, to Shakespear’s immense frustration.
However, as he was coming to the end of his stint as a political agent, London consented to his request to visit Riyadh on his way back home.
After five weeks on the back of a camel, he arrived to a warm welcome from his friend. It was during this stay that Shakespear took photographs of Ibn Saud and local scenes that comprise the first pictorial record of the Arabian heartland, showing Riyadh as little more than a village with mud walls, although, as Shakespear noted: “Quite a third of the town is taken up by the homes of the Saudi family.”
The outbreak of World War I changed everything. Turkey sided with Germany. Suddenly, the British were desperate to have Ibn Saud as an ally against Turkey and dispatched Shakespear back to Riyadh to keep him away from the Turks at all costs.
Within a week of his arrival in January 1915, Shakespear had drafted the first Anglo-Saudi document, which recognised Ibn Saud as independent ruler of Najd under British protection and sent it off to Kuwait for approval.
Meanwhile, Ibn Saud rode 400 kilometers north with 6,000 men to confront the forces of his old enemy, the Al-Rashids, at a spot called Jarrab in what was both a traditional bedouin battle, with camels and plenty of hand-to-hand combat, and a proxy war between Britain’s newly signed-up ally and the Turkish-backed Al-Rashids. Shakespear made the fateful decision to tag along to photograph the event.
On Jan. 24, scouts reported that Al-Rashid forces were mustering nearby. Ibn Saud urged Shakespear to stay behind at Qassim, but the Englishman wouldn’t hear of it. Riding in on a camel, wearing his British khaki uniform and pith helmet, he set up his camera in the center of the Saudi line on a hilltop. When the Al-Rashids charged, he made an easy target.
At the end of the battle, Shakespear lay dead, but nobody was sure how he had died until his personal cook, Khalid bin Bilal, provided a first-hand account. Bilal had been captured in battle but escaped two days later and overheard Al-Rashid fighters talking about the Englishman who had been killed.
Bilal went to the elevated spot where he had last seen his master carrying his camera and found his body, which bore three bullet wounds. A digitized form of his account was released by the British Library in 2015, a century later.
Shakespear was 37 when he was killed. His diaries, notes and photographs went to the Royal Geographical Society, but historians have speculated on what other diplomatic successes he might have achieved and how different both Gulf and British history might have been had he lived.
What is known is that on Dec. 26, 1915, Britain and Ibn Saud signed the first Anglo-Saudi Treaty — the document drafted by Shakespear — and that the great Saudi leader never forgot his English friend.
Many years later, when he was king of Saudi Arabia, he was asked who he considered to be the greatest European he had met. Without hesitating, he replied: “Captain Shakespear.”
JEDDAH: Saudi women will be able to get property loans from the Real Estate Development Fund (REDF), following a decision from its board of directors.The move aims to support Saudi women in purchasing property, as well as increase the proportion of home-owning Saudis to 60 percent by the end of 2020 and to 70 percent by the end of 2030.The REDF decision came during its first board meeting of 2019.The board reviewed the updated number of people who have benefited from the mortgage loan program since early 2018, with the figure currently at 62,841.