Feature

Middle East: Special report

From the opulently appointed bar at the summit of the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel, you can see the transformation of Dubai into a 21st-century metropolis.

To your left, the Palm Jumeirah, an island made of reclaimed land in the shape of a palm tree. To your right, the Burj Dubai - soon to be the tallest building in the world.

In Saudi Arabia, cities are emerging from the sand, offering homes and offices for thousands. Aside from being one of the wealthiest nations, Qatar has just hosted the Asian Games, and is taking on the BBC and CNN with Al Jazeera English. Meanwhile, Lebanon is licking its wounds after its conflict with Israel; and Iraq remains one of the most volatile of places. Sometimes it seems all eyes are on the Middle East.

Arabs are fiercely protective of their heritage and traditions, but the region is embracing Western culture more readily than ever before. As a result, there is a fine line between freedom of expression and censorship, and nobody is entirely sure where it lies. The pace of change is astonishing (most of modern Dubai was desert 25 years ago). Money is available to fuel growth, and technology is enabling it to happen quickly.

Agencies are working round the clock to keep up with demand, but there is a dearth of experienced people to keep all the plates spinning. Creatively, the region is on the cusp of greatness. If you ignore the daily tide of dross that fills local newspapers and airwaves, there is some outstanding work. A trickle of Cannes Lions will testify to that.

The BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India and China - may make the economic headlines, but the Middle East has muscled in on boardroom discussions, too. It's a land of opportunity. The hotels aren't bad either.

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