20 September 2008

* Rush to the Gulf set to lower salaries

Dubai has positioned itself as the natural home for frazzled bankers as the region’s fundamentals seem to dictate growth amid global gloom, but the rush to the Gulf could finally bring down the mega-salaries commanded here.
Bankers are expressing relief that they are in Dubai or elsewhere in the Gulf, rather than back home in London or New York, in spite of lingering concerns that there are not enough banking fees for the long list of recent newcomers. 
Two years ago, when banks such as Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank were betting on the Gulf as the “next China”, two-year guaranteed bonuses were common as whole teams were poached at vast premiums.
Now, as more bankers seek work in Dubai, the premier staging post for the booming oil rich region, the laws of supply and demand are kicking in.
“Bankers who are under threat in London or New York may have less bargaining power if they are asked to relocate to the Middle East,” says David Johnson, regional chief for headhunter Whitehead Mann. “You may therefore see a reduction in packages being offered.”
At the height of the Gulf poaching frenzy, managing directors were commanding two-year guaranteed basic salaries of $1m, which has now slumped to $500,000-$750,000, says one banker building a team in Dubai.
He now believes he can lure people with the equivalent of London basic salaries of $300,000 or $400,000 for New York bankers, bolstered by benefits and the Gulf’s tax-free living. But Mr Johnson warns against hiring cheap bankers who lack experience.
”A few months ago, I wasn’t getting too many good CVs,” says one senior banker with a European investment bank.
“Now I am being offered class acts, though not all of them have the relationships needed to do business in this region.”
As the coalface of Middle Eastern investment banking moves deeper into the outer reaches of the Saudi economy, Arabic-speaking bankers command the highest premiums.
Bankers are sifting through the 40-strong contingent at Lehman Brothers’ DIFC offices, who did not get paid this week.
Lehman veteran Makram Azar, who was global head of sovereign wealth funds, has within days of the company’s bankruptcy signed up to launch a regional office for private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts.
Other Lehman staff might be less lucky. Some had relocated to Dubai weeks ahead of the collapse and have since been approached by the removal companies who cannot invoice Lehman.
The governor of the Dubai International Financial Centre, Omar bin Sulaiman, has promised to bend the rules to help them out.
The DIFC will extend visas to let employees find another job, and may even respond to requests from employees who cannot meet financial demands.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.