Dubai in Wikipedia
The Burj Dubai/Khalifa
UAE Community Blog
- uniting all UAE bloggers
- news and events.
The Grapeshisha Blog -
commentary on a changing Dubai
One Big Construction
Site - a long term expat on life in Dubai
Secret Dubai Diary - rather
disillusioned expat commentary
Momentary Musings - another
Dubai City Guide
- government tourism page
Dubai.com - city guide
Go Dubai - another city guide
The Burj Al Arab hotel symbol of
the new Dubai
SkiDubai - its freezing inside
The Time Out Dubai guide
Dubai's flag carrier
Dubai Airport -
arrivals and departures
Dubai By Night
DubaiLook Dubai's NIghtlife Guide
- what the Brits are buying in Dubai
All you need to know about the UAE
Dubai Eating - self explanatory
| Good morning
|| Sabah El Khair
| Good evening
|| Masa El Khair
| How are you?
|| Kaif al hal?
|| Min Fadlak
| How much? (cost)
| How many?
| Excuse me
| Thank you
| I don't know
|| Lusto Adree
| Do you speak English?
|| Hal Tatkalam Al Engleaziah?
|| ARABIC PHONETICS
| Post office
| Airlines office
|| Maktab Al Taiaran
|| Jawaz Safar
|| ARABIC PHONETICS
From 2006 to 2008 Dubai continued to grow
at a breakneck pace. There were warning of impending doom; Dubai had its
glitz and it had its critics. In 2007 I wrote that Dubai was arguably the
fastest growing city, relative to its size, on the planet. Dubai's ambitions
were staggering. There was little expectation then of how far Dubai could
Trying to maintain its Middle Eastern identity when only a
minority of the population is Emirati is a serious concern. This city state
is being built by foreign labourers and its wealth created by foreign
workers. This page has some of the more interesting news stores
from Dubai and provide links to news, blogs and tourism websites.
The articles and links here will represent all views. Of course, the
best answer is to go and experience it for yourself.
Three New Year
articles on Dubai
1 January 2008
Talent, critical mass
drive Dubai forward
The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin
Rashid al-Maktoum, likes to spy on his own people. In that, he is upholding
a modern Arab autocratic tradition. Dubai's ruler, however, is not looking
for conspirators, fifth columnists or political opponents. He's looking for
Sheikh Mohammed's "spies", known as "mystery shoppers", fan out across
government offices to observe and grade the efficiency, competence and
attentiveness of local officials. Those who receive poor marks are quietly
rebuked, while those who impress move into an informal Dubai fast-track,
receiving increasingly more challenging tasks, greater responsibility and
more scrutiny. If they survive those tests they gradually enter the rarefied
air of the Dubai high-flyer executives, the dozen or so movers and shakers
who are transforming the Persian Gulf city-state into a major regional and
global trade, tourism, transport, technology and financial services hub.
This survival of the fittest produces a top-notch government elite, not one
stocked with cronies and family members of the ruler--and might just be the
key to Dubai's remarkable rise. While western capitals search for an Arab
"democratic model", Dubai is providing an Arab "meritocratic model" that
underpins its successful growth and development.
Growing at 15 percent a year, the largely meritocratic Dubai elite will be
severely tested as the emirate's ambitions seem to have no limits: by the
year 2015 it aims to treble its GDP, create nearly a million new jobs and
continue its torrid pace of development and growth. It is currently building
what aims to be the busiest and largest airport in the world, it already
attracts more tourists than India, it remains the third largest global
re-export hub, its real estate developments--from islands in the sea to
towering skyscrapers--have grown legendary and its partially state-owned
companies are plowing money into investments from Jakarta to Japan, from New
York to New Delhi, matched and even outpaced at times by private Dubai-based
developers and investors.
A key player in charting the rise of Dubai--some call him the chief
operating officer of Dubai, Inc (with Sheikh Mohammed as the CEO)--is
Mohammad al-Gergawi, the dynamic and influential minister of state for
cabinet affairs, chairman of the state-owned conglomerate Dubai Holding and
exhibit A of Dubai's meritocracy. Al-Gergawi was first discovered by a
"mystery shopper" in the mid-1990s. He consistently outperformed in his
government assignments. When tasked with creating a high-tech zone in the
late 1990s he had a small office, a shoe-string staff and limited resources.
Today, Dubai Internet City houses leading technology giants and al-Gergawi
heads a conglomerate of some 30 companies with 30,000 staff.
In another Arab state, al-Gergawi might have become a frustrated bureaucrat
or would have turned away from government to the private sector as do many
of the elites in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Had he grown up away from the
GCC, he might have become an Arab immigrant in Europe or the United States,
joining the millions of Arabs who have left their homeland in search of
greener economic pastures.
Yasar Jarrar, a Jordanian management expert who works as an advisor in the
Dubai government's main strategy office headed by al-Gergawi, was one such
immigrant in the year 2002 before he was scooped up by the Dubai recruiting
machine and enticed away from his post as a newly minted professor in
Cranfield, England. "Five years later, I'm still here," Jarrar says,
recalling how his first visit to Dubai shattered the stereotypical view he
had of Gulf Arabs as "unproductive and inefficient".
But it's not only business, management and investment high flyers who seek a
piece of the Dubai dream. Indian middle class managers, Iranian techies,
European architects, Chinese traders, Central Asian students, American
engineers and, increasingly, global members of the media and creative
class--film-makers, journalists, artists, production hands--have made their
way to Dubai, contributing to what seems to be emerging as a critical mass
of talent driving the city-state forward.
The "build it and they will come" model has served Dubai well in the past.
From the dredging of the Creek in the late 1950s to allow larger ships to
the creation of massive man-made ports and the more modern clustered "city"
free trade zones, Dubai officials seem to have taken the motto of their late
ruler, Sheikh Rashid, to heart: "What's good for the merchants is good for
Of course, with a "local" population (UAE passport holders) that makes up
only 10 percent of all Dubai residents, the Persian Gulf city-state is truly
sui generic; thus talk of a Dubai "model" enters shaky ground. Egypt cannot
suddenly import half a million South Asian workers to construct buildings,
Saudi Arabia cannot import thousands of bankers when so many Saudis need
jobs, and countries like Syria and Jordan do not have the luxury of being
away from the frontlines of Middle East conflict as does Dubai.
While much of the Middle East remains burdened by a steady brain drain,
Dubai has managed to cut against the prevailing grain by both nurturing
local talent and drawing in leading regional money managers, traders,
bankers and consultants in what is amounting to a brain regain. An ambitious
young man in Karachi, Cairo, Tehran, Jeddah or Delhi no longer instinctively
sets his sights on Europe or the US. The Dubai School of Government, for
example, has managed to attract three leading Saudi women PhD professors
away from Europe and the US along with an array of top thinkers from the
Arab world and a smattering of World Bank executives. Whether or not Dubai
might offer a model matters less in this instance than what it is actually
doing: keeping Arab talent in the Arab world.
The DSG executive president, Nabil al-Yousuf, is an Emirati national who
rose to prominence not through flattery or political intrigue but through
his ability to chart government performance indicators. On the back of that
success, he recently led the study for the 2015 Dubai Strategic Plan,
pulling together a disparate array of advisors and consulting with some
3,000 individuals to produce a substantive document that resembles something
that a major multinational company would generate.
Filled with graphs, charts and projections, the strategic plan lays out
areas of projected growth and notes how the government intends to maximize
those sectors. In the way it was presented--Sheikh Mohammed standing before
an audience of some 2,000 people using power point and taking questions--and
the detailed projections it offers, the strategic plan offers a level of
transparency and expectation rarely seen in autocratic states.
And why not? The last time Sheikh Mohammed unveiled a ten-year strategic
plan was in 2000, and Dubai had surpassed most of the targets by 2005. While
other GCC states may have more wealth than Dubai, whose oil revenue accounts
for less than five percent of GDP, its secret weapon is not so secret or
mysterious at all: talent. To achieve its 2015 targets it will need to
continue grooming local talent and attracting international and regional
As a critical mass of the world's professional elite increasingly sees Dubai
as an attractive destination to live and work, the city-state will benefit
from this transient, mobile and knowledgeable pool of workers. "The hardest
part about taking a job in Dubai," one former World Bank executive joked,
"is the dozens of CVs I get from colleagues asking me to help them find one
too."- Published 27/12/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org
Afshin Molavi, a journalist and fellow at the
Washington DC-based New America Foundation, was a Dubai-based correspondent
Model unmatched in a
If there is a place in the world today that deserves the
title "universal capital of globalization" it would be Dubai. The rapid
growth of this city-state emirate has exceeded all expectations and
continues to challenge those economists and business strategists who talk
about a "financial bubble" bursting any minute. Not only has the economy
proven to be on solid ground, the political and security situation in Dubai
has also remained intact in a highly volatile and unstable region.
A lot has been said about the reasons behind the success of Dubai. Some
attribute it to the vision of its leadership from the time of Sheikh Rashid
al-Maktoum until the present reign of his son Sheikh Mohammed. It was Sheikh
Rashid who initiated the idea of building the Jebel Ali Port that has
expanded with time to become a major regional seaport. The free zone
business model was utilized by the leadership to the extreme, resulting in
the birth of several thematic free zone cities like Dubai Media City, Dubai
Internet City, Dubai Healthcare City and many others. Extravagant shopping
malls and luxurious hotels have made Dubai a favorite site for millions of
tourists. Top professionals from all business fields and domains are either
based in Dubai or deal with companies there. Walking anywhere in Dubai is
like taking a stroll in a United Nations facility where many foreign
languages are heard simultaneously.
The vision was not fully based on "build it and they will come". It was also
based on providing incentives to attract foreign direct investments and
major multinational companies. These incentives came in various forms and
shapes, but the most important were:
* Corruption-free efficient bureaucracy in the public sector, a rare or
non-existent phenomenon in the Middle East in general.
* No taxes and low tariffs that proved extremely attractive to western
companies and expatriates.
* A hyper-free market economy with low restrictions on movement of funds and
transactions. Old fashioned wire-transfer systems, hawala, still exist next
to modern banking systems.
* Establishing high-tech state-of-the-art infrastructure to sustain a
prosperous electronic-based economic system and e-government.
* Government support, direct or indirect, to all major economic projects to
ensure their success at reasonable costs.
* Sharing the wealth with the local Emirati people in order to ensure
political stability and wide public support for the government.
* Maintaining a good security record of zero major incidents by investing
heavily in the Emirate's security apparatus.
* Easy and quick processes to issue visas to businessmen and visitors.
* Allowing foreigners to own property in free zone areas.
The "Dubai Model" has become a big attraction to neighboring Arab countries,
especially in the Gulf region. It offers a way of life that appeals to many
people, except power-crazy regimes and rulers who only like to do business
in Dubai but without imitating it. Leaders in some neighboring countries are
still resisting reforms to their political and economic systems and are
waiting to see the long-term results of the Dubai experience before they
make their judgment. Still, a few Arab leaders are trying to imitate Dubai,
but with little success largely due to lack of incentives, socio-political
instability and the continued growth of Dubai itself.
Challenges for Dubai are growing along with its size. The booming real
estate business has brought in more Asian workers, and a free press has
created more transparency and fame that have placed the city-state in the
international spotlight. Hence, Dubai now has an image to preserve that
includes high moral values and responsibilities to the international
community. Under the new conditions, old tribal traditions of favoritism and
special privileges have conceded to the rule of law, especially when having
to deal openly with labor issues and sensitive cases like sex crimes.
Nevertheless, firmness against troublemakers has remained central and the
practice of deporting convicted offenders and criminals has "kept rotten
apples out", leaving the city free of misfits.
Dubai has managed to keep a fairly good balance in its relations with the
outside world. Major Chinese, Russian and Indian companies share the same
ground with their western counterparts. Iran continues to find in Dubai
breathing space for its economy despite persistent pressure from Washington
to curb the finances of Iranian officials. The ongoing dispute between
Tehran and Abu Dhabi has not undermined the strong economic relations
between the two countries, especially Dubai.
Al-Qaeda and its affiliated terrorist groups occasionally mention Dubai on
their website with concealed threats. Some official sources have spoken of
attempts by extremist groups against western targets that were foiled by
vigilant security forces, but with no independent confirmation. Yet the
threat exists, as does the possibility of war between Iran and the United
Dubai leaders watch anxiously as their city-state grows in size and strength
unhampered by the troubles of the region. Nobody seems to know how much
Dubai would be affected or harmed by a terrorist attack or a regional war.
However, most experts seem to agree that an incident in the world's capital
of globalization would most likely impact both the world's economy and the
city's way of life. Hence it would only be logical to assume that harming
Dubai would not be in anybody's interest, including the bad guys.-
Published 27/12/2007 © bitterlemons-international.org
Riad Kahwaji is director general of the Institute
for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, and the Middle
East Bureau chief for Defense News.
The hidden costs of
Dubai's post-oil diversification strategies
By the close of 2007, contributions from non-oil related
sectors of the economy will account for an estimated 95 percent of Dubai's
GDP. Therefore, the emirate is now very much a "post-oil economy" and, on
paper at least, would seem to be succeeding with its diversification
However, the Dubai development model is now drawing heavy criticism for its
replacement of dependency on oil with an equally dangerous dependency on
foreign direct investment. Should international confidence in Dubai be
shaken by a nearby conflict in Iran, by domestic terrorist attacks, or by a
regional economic downswing, then it is likely that tourism would slow and
foreign investments in real estate and free zones would be relocated to a
Also problematic may be the political costs of the reforms necessitated by
the diversification. As a number of studies have demonstrated, many of the
world's surviving traditional monarchies rely upon a delicate balance of
legitimacy resources that together make up something of a "ruling bargain"
with the national population. Dubai is no exception and the al-Maktoum
family's survival has rested on a combination of legitimacy resources,
backed up with distributions of oil-rent-derived wealth to its citizens.
Dubai's diversification does not upset the wealth component of the bargain
given that it is still the nationals who own the plots of land that the new
residential properties, hotels, and foreign business parks are all built
upon. Indeed, although there are a few hidden taxes creeping up on Dubai's
nationals, and although they may no longer be receiving blatant handouts
from the government, it is important to appreciate that the majority of
Dubai nationals are still elevated above the wealth creation process and can
still enjoy a rent-based income, albeit a different form of rent.
What Dubai's recent reforms do upset are the cultural and religious
resources of the ruling bargain. With accelerating foreign ownership, and
with foreigners beginning to make profits out of activities that were
formerly the preserve of the indigenous population, many of the nationals
feel that Dubai's development is not really to their benefit any longer.
Moreover, not only are formerly exclusive privileges being eroded for
nationals, but so too is their way of life, as the government continues to
bend rules to accommodate the increasing number of non-Arab and non-Muslim
expatriates and visitors.
Most obviously, the volume of loudspeakers on mosques has been reduced in
many residential areas and previous restrictions normally observed during
the month of Ramadan are now rarely monitored in an effort to boost
non-Muslim tourism. Similarly shocking to the local population has been the
explosion in prostitution. Dubai is now firmly established as a center for
sex tourism and the authorities allow thousands of sex workers to flood into
the emirate. Also noteworthy is the tolerance of homosexuality (which is
officially illegal in the UAE), and the existence of Dubai-based gay bars
and nightclubs is widely acknowledged. Perhaps most controversial of all has
been Dubai's increasing communication with Israel. With its rising profile
in the international banking system, Dubai has hosted meetings that have
included Israeli delegations. This is remarkable given that the UAE is
supposed to uphold a total boycott on all Israeli relations and trade.
Should a threat develop, it is most likely to come from disaffected and
radicalized young Dubai or other UAE nationals that view these reforms and
relaxations with distaste. Already, a number of UAE nationals have
participated in al-Qaeda operations (including two members of the 9/11
hijack team), and there is a concern that attention may soon be turned to
their own country. At present, it is unlikely that expatriates would be
involved, as the majority are strictly monitored through the employment and
residency visa system and most are simply working in Dubai in order to send
remittances back to their families.- Published 27/12/2007 ©
Dr. Christopher Davidson is lecturer at the Institute
for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Durham University.
Older articles from 2006 and
The Orlando of
22 June 2007
Widely touted as
the Middle East's very own Orlando, Dubailand, a cluster of
mega-billion-dollar projects, is gradually emerging across the desert sands
of the booming Gulf emirate.
Faced with a
dwindling wealth of oil, Dubai has taken on a new challenge of
larger-than-life projects in line with its ambition to become the region's
main business and leisure hub.
Already primed as
a holiday destination, it is fast executing plans to build a host of new
hotels, golf courses, malls and leisure facilities in order to more than
double the number of tourists to 15 million by 2015.
to cover an area of two billion square feet (185 square kilometres),
Dubailand, billed as the "world's most ambitious tourism, leisure and
entertainment project," is expected to be a sprawling three billion square
feet. This would make it larger than the entire city of Orlando, Florida --
home to Walt Disney World, Universal Resort, Sea World and a variety of
other attractions and hotels.
going to be a city within a city," said Mohammed al-Habbai, chief executive
officer of Dubailand, a subsidiary of the government-owned Tatweer.
"We are very
confident in what we are doing," he told AFP. "I would say that most of our
projects are on time."
Dubai's bid to position itself on the world tourism map has propelled it way
ahead of its oil-rich conservative Gulf neighbours.
It already prides
itself on the sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab hotel and building three palm-tree
shaped islands off the coast, where the ambitious island project in the
shape of a world map has fast become yet another landmark.
On Monday, Dubai
also announced its 100-million-dollar purchase of the Queen Elizabeth 2, one
of the world's most majestic cruise liners, which it plans to turn it into a
luxury floating hotel berthed at one of the palm islands.
A model version of
Dubailand still shows its vast barren surroundings, which in three years
time will be awash with even more golf courses, theme parks, mega-malls and
"This area will
definitely be completely different by 2010," when three million visitors a
year are expected to Dubailand alone, said Habbai.
24-project venture, not scheduled for completion before 2025, is estimated
to cost 235 billion dirhams (64 billion dollars, 48 billion euros), 60
percent of which is expected to come from private investors.
This does not even
include the mammoth 'Bawadi' project, announced in 2006 as the world's
largest hospitality and leisure development consisting of more than 50
themed hotels with 60,000 rooms, almost double the number currently
available in Dubai.
In May, the
emirate's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, seen as the driving
force behind Dubai's phenomenal economic growth, announced doubling the
value of Bawadi to 54 billion dollars.
One of its hotels,
AsiaAsia, tipped to be world's largest with 6,500 rooms, will be developed
by Tatweer, with 45 percent of Bawadi already agreed upon with private
investors, Habbai said.
Tatweer is part of
Dubai Holding, a conglomerate owned by the government of Dubai which
oversees mega-projects in the emirate, currently experiencing a burgeoning
In the throes of
constructing the world's highest building, whose ultimate height remains a
closely-guarded secret, Dubai also plans to house a Great Wheel, whose size
will rival that of the London Eye observation wheel.
also house the world's largest transparent snow dome and a Universal Studio
theme park, announced in March by Tatweer.
The latter will be
part of a 2.2-billion-dollar Universal City Dubai, comprising 4,000 hotel
rooms and some 100 restaurants.
Along with Tiger
Woods Dubai -- a 25-million-square-foot golf course and community featuring
palaces and mansions by September 2009 -- Universal City will be the only
Dubailand projects funded by Tatweer.
Taking it one step
further, the Falcon City of Wonders will boast replicas of the Pyramids, the
Eiffel Tower and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Aqua Dunya is also
expected to be one of the world's largest water parks.
are being constructed in Dubailand's Sports City and a comprehensive Motor
City is taking shape around the currently operational Dubai Autodrome.
frenetic expansion, Habbai dismissed fears of saturation in the market,
which currently faces a hotel room shortage in peak periods.
going to create a new segment in the market for leisure and entertainment,"
now mainly focused on beach and shopping holidays, he said.
malls are also well in the making in Dubai, a member of the seven-strong
United Arab Emirates.
in May a 2.7-billion-dollar deal with Al-Ghurair Investment to develop a
four-million-square-foot mall in the Bawadi retail zone.
And the Mall of
Arabia, expected to open its first phase in early 2009, aims to extend to
become the world's largest at 10 million square feet.
Dubai, the capital of the United
Arab Emirates, is unique: a city whose decentred multiplicity informs and
accommodates everything it touches, from the role of Islam to that of global
capitalism in the region. Faisal Devji presents an acute analysis of a place
where tradition functions not to forge a non-existent nationality, but to
accommodate and naturalise change. In this, he suggests, Dubai is a global
city of the post-national future. From openDemocracy.
Devji for openDemocracy (20/04/07)
As the images of planes crashing into the twin towers of
New York's World Trade Center were relayed across the world on 11
September 2001, throngs of shoppers stopped to watch this spectacle on the
television monitors of Dubai's many malls. Surrounded by American
fast-food outlets, and clutching just-bought items of American fashion
like the baseball caps that are worn with Arab robes, these spectators
cheered as if they were American fans watching a sporting event. What did
this celebration mean for the prosperous citizens of the United Arab
Emirates, a country that is not only an American ally but in love with
American commodities and culture? A country where Twin Towers and World
Trade Centers continue to be built, looking now like the growing children
of a fallen parent?
Whatever the reasons for their unseemly cheering as the
events of 9/11 unfolded on television, the shoppers of Dubai were not
manifesting anti-American sentiments because of their economic
deprivation, nor out of hatred for the west. They were not even motivated
by Arab or Islamic politics, since that now familiar entity, the "Arab
street", does not in fact exist in Dubai. Like other members of the United
Arab Emirates (UAE), this wealthy principality has a resident population
that is overwhelmingly non-Arab, also possessing therefore a substantial
non-Muslim component. So perhaps what happens in Dubai should be judged by
the city's very lack of Arabs and Muslims, which is perhaps why its
citizens celebrated 9/11 in the way they did, as the vicarious members of
a virtual community. Indians are the real national majority in Dubai,
accounting for some 66 percent of its population, and are alone in
occupying every rank in its society.
Emiratis themselves only comprise some 10 percent of
their country's populace, though by law they dominate all public-sector
enterprises there. Yet even the Arab domination of Dubai's public sector
is due to an unusual policy of "emiratization" or affirmative action for
the ruling minority, whose standards of living have been in relative
decline over the last few years. Lacking the educational background and
professional qualifications of the foreign experts who manage their
country, let alone the skills of the laborers and technicians who make it
function, Emiratis are now being reserved positions in private sector
enterprises as well. Though they do not possess the numbers to displace
foreigners from either public or private sector, Emiratis can no longer
afford to live on state subsidies or on fees paid to be the local partners
of foreign companies. It has also become clear that the presence of many
successful businessmen among the Emiratis is no substitute for a ruling
race, one whose dominance must be secured by quotas, and whose purity
safeguarded by restrictions on intermarriage.
While the travails of this ruling minority are curious
enough, much more interesting is the society they are part of. What does
it mean that the most vibrant part of the middle east, in economic terms
at least, is not in fact middle eastern? This paradoxical situation, or
rather the novel society it brings to light, makes Dubai far more
intriguing than its wealth or vulgarity might suggest. For it reveals to
us one of the few societies not founded upon nationality. With a small
number of locals outnumbered many times over by a large number of
outsiders, most of whom are barred from becoming citizens of the UAE, the
nation-state remains nothing but a mirage in Dubai's desert. The
implications of this astonishing fact are far-reaching, and inform
everything from the role of Islam to that of global capitalism in the
The spirit of capitalism
Dubai's cosmopolitanism rivals that of New York or
London, the difference being that it is the local who's an exception here
rather than the foreigner. But the privileges of Emirati citizenship can
never become grounds for nationalist hysterics and xenophobia, as they
sometimes do in Europe and America. Being itself a minority phenomenon,
nationalism here cannot pitch itself against other minorities. Despite its
huge numbers of immigrants, therefore, immigration as such is a non-issue
in Dubai. However strong local feeling might be against the role that the
United Kingdom and United States are playing in Afghanistan and Iraq, for
example, the tens of thousands of Englishmen and Americans who live here
have never become targets of general hostility. This is because
nationality does not provide the basis for society in the UAE (see Faisal
Devji, "Welcome to Dubai, the society that capitalism built", Financial
Times, 5 February 2007).
Despite the regulations it imposes to give the
impression of a national culture, Dubai plays host to what is possibly the
most diverse society in the world. This was brought home to me on my
frequent visits to Jumeirah Beach, whose clear waters get saltier by the
day as desalination plants providing the city with its water continue to
dump the salt they extract back into the Gulf - which is also where the
fresh water thus produced is held in submarine reservoirs. All day until
late afternoon the beach is populated by white-skinned sun-worshippers
from places like Europe and North America. From about five in the evening
it draws increasing numbers of Indians and Iranians, Pakistanis and
Filipinos, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Arabs who're more interested in
maintaining a lighter complexion. Women veiled in black from head to foot
mingle with those in the skimpiest of bikinis, while Frenchmen in thongs
bob alongside Afghans dressed in tunics and baggy trousers. Egyptian
youths form human pyramids in the water, as if from some atavistic
impulse, and Russians chat to each other while floating in circles. And in
all this no language or ethnicity predominates.
The Arab culture that is meant to give national form to
a place like Dubai exists mostly in the form of advertising and
commodities. It is to be found in the guise of leisure and entertainment,
from shisha bars to desert safaris, whose designers, builders and
consumers are generally foreigners. Similar is the use of Arabic in public
life. From announcements on Emirates Airlines to street signs, Arabic
serves as an exotic backdrop to the babble of Urdu, Russian, Persian and
Tagalog that are the true languages of Dubai. Though it is possible to
make one's way in the city using Hindi alone, there is only one common
language here, English, which even local Arabs must use in their daily
interactions with Chinese shopkeepers, Indian teachers and Iranian
dentists. And rather than being diminished by the foreigner's length of
residence in Dubai, this diversity is only compounded there, since even
schooling is provided the children of migrant workers and expatriates
according to British, Indian, Australian or Pakistani standards.
Given the fragility of national culture, it is Islam
that lends moral and legal substance to the UAE. This is manifested in
disparate ways like banning alcohol and pork products for Muslims and
pornography for everybody, forbidding the missionary activity of religions
other than Sunni Islam and legitimating certain legal decisions by
reference to the sharia. Rather like the Church of England, Islam is the
state religion of the UAE, though professed in its official form by a
minority of the country's residents. Unlike the Anglican church, however,
Islam replaces rather than defines national history in Dubai. This is
evident from the city's religious architecture, with so many of its
mosques built to imitate those from other Muslim lands, that I'm inclined
to think the emirate's only distinctive religious environment is the
shopping-mall. To hear the call to prayer broadcast amidst the glass and
marble of upmarket European shops, with American fast-food outlets set
alongside prayer rooms, is surely a distinguishing feature of the Gulf.
State-supported Islam functions like an iron mask meant
to conceal the lack of a face, which is why not a single refinement in
religious thinking, culture or practice has emerged from the UAE. In this
respect Dubai is not the successor of medieval Baghdad, Cairo or Cordoba.
There are, however, many attempts to make money from Islam in a global
market where Dubai competes with countries like Malaysia, which is trying
to corner the global market for halal food by patenting its
standardization and certification on the model of kosher food. While
Malaysia is rushing to become a "halal hub," Dubai is competing with
London to become the hub for another moneymaking enterprise called Islamic
banking that is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
This offshoot of a mythical discipline called Islamic economics emerged
during the dictatorship of Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan, as part of his effort
to legitimize his rule in Islamic terms while gaining Saudi backing at the
Founded by Pakistanis but now disseminated by big
business the world over, Islamic banking is motivated on the one hand by
perfectly genuine concerns over ethical investments and market practices,
including abstaining from deals involving the manufacture or sale of
alcohol and pork products. All this is quite in tune with the kind of
ethical investment schemes already available in the West. On the other
hand Islamic banking means abstaining from usury, incorrectly but
popularly defined as interest. Of course it is impossible to operate in a
capitalist market without either taking or giving interest at some level,
so a great many euphemisms and often tortuous evasions are required to
hide this fact, often to the financial detriment of those purchasing such
sharia-compliant services - though of course to the benefit of its
Islam is in fact as modern as anything else in Dubai. Or
rather Islam is more modern than anything else in the emirate, because
like other religions it is the first institution to adopt new technologies
and make itself at home in them. But of course it will survive long after
these novelties have disappeared. One needs look no further than the veil
that has fascinated and repulsed the west for so long to see how this
happens. Unlike the burqas and chadors worn by poor women in other parts
of the Muslim world, it is clear that its various forms, like the abaya,
worn in the UAE are statements of fashion as much as anything else. Not
only is there a plethora of changing styles for what might appear at first
glance to be a standard garment, but veils are also very obviously part of
an economy of seduction.
Emphasizing as they do the body's visible extremities,
such clothes are often worn by women with heavily made-up eyes, painted
lips, bright nail polish, hennaed hands or feet and eye-catching footwear.
Veils allow these parts of a woman's body to become fetishes, and indeed
there is nothing so overpoweringly feminine as the heavily perfumed,
painted and bejeweled Muslim woman to be found strolling the corridors of
Dubai's many shopping malls. But then veils have been the garments of
seduction for centuries, with a vast literature dedicated to their allure.
It is this, rather than any misogynist prescription of modesty or
invisibility, that accounts for their enduring popularity in certain
In any case the habit is a sign of modernity not
tradition, because it has put an end to the physical segregation of the
sexes by allowing women to move about in relative freedom enveloped in
their own cocoons of privacy. Indeed the veil permits its wearer to do
things that many unveiled women would find impossible, like holding hands
with their husbands in public or mingling with half-naked men at the
beach. And of course what lies under the veil is often the most daring of
European fashion. Instead of the familiar western distinction between a
secular appearance in public and a religious one in private, we find the
reverse in Dubai, with tradition signified in public and modernity in
private. Instead of being kept at arm's length or reserved for the outside
world, the west becomes the most intimate part of a Muslim woman's inner
Love's labor lost
Rather than seeing all this as some failure of
modernity, the elimination of nationhood as a basis for identity, as well
as the capitalization of religion as a replacement for it, might be viewed
as the portent of a global future. For Dubai is the closest thing to a
society organized by relations of capital. It is the nearest approximation
of the urban and island communities that served as models in the early
days of capitalism, from Thomas More's Utopia to Daniel Defoe's Robinson
Crusoe. Unlike these model communities, however, Dubai exists as a
temporary home for most of its residents, who therefore repatriate the
money they earn from a country that will rarely grant them citizenship.
New laws giving permanent residence to those who buy property have been
designed to lure a certain class of person and investment here, but these
are the very people who will flee Dubai at the first sign of trouble, and
who are unlikely in any case to invest in the public welfare of its
residents. The emirate's financial success is built, paradoxically, upon
capital flight not capital investment.
Because it is temporary, investment in Dubai is about
short-term exploitation without much regard to social or ecological
consequences, as so many of the emirate's grandiose building projects
illustrate. What has resulted is the façade of a city, the urban version
of a Potemkin village, much of which seems to be made out of cardboard. It
is only in the older and poorer parts of Dubai that a genuine urban life
can be glimpsed, in which pavements exist on which people walk and local
businesses rather than international chains operate. Not that there is
anything traditional about this, since old Dubai is as temporary as its
younger sibling. It's just that the world of the clerk, laborer, petty
merchant and shady operator has more autonomy and therefore creativity
than that of the professional linked to an increasingly homogeneous
corporate culture. The new city is a kind of Disneyland, full of pretend
urbanity and even pretend infrastructure like the enormous and expensive
system of roads, which are not only choked with traffic and populated by
maniacal drivers, but also badly designed despite their beautiful quality.
Befitting a capitalist paradise, the UAE has a
reputation for bad labor practices, with maids from the Philippines
immured by their employers, and construction workers from Bangladesh
laboring under harsh conditions. Recently there have been a number of
disruptive protests by laborers who block highways, destroy company
property or hold a manager hostage when they are not paid wages or
deprived of water and electricity in the stifling desert camps where they
are housed. These latter tend to be made up of hundreds of flimsy cabins,
each one crowded with three or more workers, which have a tendency to burn
down taking the lives and possessions of their inhabitants with them.
Conditions at the workplace tend to be just as bad, with many injured and
killed in accidents.
In these situations the government steps in promising to
check conditions and impose penalties, though what they in fact do is act
as mediators between management and labor. Companies are rarely if ever
prosecuted even when they forcibly detain and beat their workers - who are
rescued by police only to be deported. The UAE's labor regulations are
routinely flouted and insufficiently policed. So even when companies do
observe the law requiring a three-hour rest period for those working
outdoors during the intensely hot summer, they sometimes release their
employees onto the streets, where they may be found lying on grassy verges
in their hundreds, as if stupefied by temperatures soaring well above a
While strikes are forbidden the "temporary" workers who
form the overwhelming majority of Dubai's labor, they seem to be occurring
more and more, and now even among white-collar workers. The days of cheap
and unregulated labor may in fact be coming to an end, because of a more
assertive workforce as well as rising wages and opportunities in their
home countries. But if labor practices in the UAE are still bad enough to
drive the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to distraction, this has
little to do with any local tradition of exploitation. Indeed most of the
companies involved in violations are based in countries with strong
workers' rights, and the managers in charge of laborers in Dubai are
rarely locals. Even when it is a UAE company in charge of one of the
gigantic, some would say megalomaniacal, building projects in the emirate,
the actual work is sub-contracted to European or South Korean businesses,
so that it is very difficult to determine where responsibility lies. From
management to labor, everything here is outsourced.
It remains to be seen if government plans to create some
kind of collective organization representing laborers to address the
mounting problems that it recognizes in this sector of the economy. But
whether they are for labor or for capital, laws and rights in the city are
not phrased in the terms of national unity. Freed from cant about the
greater good, workers and management here have recourse to a language
beyond citizenship. It is not the greater good of the nation, but the good
of the individual, as much as of humanity, that is invoked here. The kind
of language that characterizes relations of all kinds in Dubai is one that
is private instead of public, particular instead of general and religious
instead of secular. Even when the state intervenes to affirm the right of
one or another of its subjects, it does so not to represent some national
will, which indeed it cannot, but as an arbiter possessing its own very
The state's judgment has little to do with neutrality,
not because it is biased in some way, but because the emirate is unable to
function as a third party at all. It is instead the first among equals as
far as the great interests of Dubai are concerned. As owner, partner or
large investor in almost all the big private companies that make their
home here, the state acts as one owner, partner and investor among others.
While this is not a phenomenon unique to Dubai, it has achieved an
unprecedented success here, such that it is difficult to tell where the
public sector ends and the private begins. This means that the state
actually ends up competing with its own subjects - undercutting rival
businesses or buying them out, rather than providing a congenial site for
their work. It is, therefore, predator as much as protector of its
As the most powerful private interest in a society of
such interests, the state presides over a marketplace rather than a
country. It is not surprising, then, that this city should be the capital
of other societies without states. Somalia, for instance, which has been
without a government for more than a decade, is even more of a marketplace
than Dubai, though obviously a much poorer one. Like other African cities,
Mogadishu is supplied with goods largely through the emirate. More than
this, Dubai actually provides the base for Somalia's airlines and banking,
so that we might say Somalia itself has been outsourced to the UAE to
become a business like any other.
Dubai functions as a technocracy rather than a
democracy. To call it a monarchy is anachronistic despite a powerful
ruling family, which exists as the simulacrum of monarchy. Having been
granted their titles by imperial Britain, the rulers of the UAE derive
their glamour from the vanished world of the Raj, while in fact working
like presidents of corporations. Democracy is misplaced in Dubai, since it
is only possible in a community of citizens. But if confining democracy to
the small minority of Emiratis is nonsensical, offering citizenship to the
country's majority is absurd, as it would entail the creation of a
national culture and therefore proscribe the very diversity that makes
In today's international order democracy means
citizenship, citizenship means nationality, and nationality means the
creation of a majority. But there is no ethnic, linguistic, religious or
even political majority in Dubai, and nor can there be one given its lack
of political representation. This makes for a bizarre situation in which
demographic majorities and minorities do not translate into majority and
minority interests or even consciousness. Though they are the largest
national group in Dubai, for example, and probably the only one to occupy
every rung of Dubai's class ladder, Indians neither think of themselves as
a majority nor behave like one even in ways that are strictly
non-political. One finds fewer signs in Hindi or Malayalam here than in
Tempests in a teapot
If democratic representation does not characterize
political life in Dubai, public opinion certainly does, in the form of
newspapers, radio and a welter of professional and community associations.
The lively debates through which public opinion in the city are registered
are not of course regulated by national interest, though they do sometimes
include national loyalties from elsewhere - thus the many letters in the
local media by well-paid American expatriates complaining about
anti-United States bias. But unchained from the politics of citizenship,
even these everyday loyalties luxuriate into strange growths. So the
terrorist attacks on Mumbai's commuter trains in July 2006 were followed
by at least three letters in one of Dubai's English-language newspapers
pointing to the remarkable assistance that the city's residents rendered
each other - but only to disprove a Reader's Digest poll some weeks
previously that had named Mumbai one of the world's rudest cities.
Pakistani and Egyptian taxi-drivers will tell you of the
bigotry they have started to experience following the arrival of the most
recent group of expatriates: whites from Britain, Australia or South
Africa. And highly educated professionals of Indian or Pakistani origin,
often themselves British or American citizens, express their shock at the
overt racism they face from their new compatriots. But then many of these
white expatriates have been imported to Dubai precisely because they are
white, and come to hold jobs and enjoy lifestyles here that their class
and qualifications would bar them from at home. Their contribution to the
city is their color, which fetches a high price in the bazaar, as white
slaves always had in the region because of their rarity. They are, in this
sense, the most racial group in the UAE.
Even racism, then, has become an effect of advertising
and the market, with members of the master race being mere servants at
another level. This is also why racism here is not founded upon a code of
silence or denial but forms the subject of lively debate. Rather than have
liberal and conservative factions of a dominant ethnic group argue over
race relations, with a few minority voices thrown in, as is done in Europe
and America, there is no racial majority here, or at least not a dominant
one, so the newspapers are full of letters from all sides of the racial
Here is a story from summer 2006. Someone writes to a
local newspaper wondering why the city's Lebanese populace seems to have
adopted the Brazilian colors as a kind of uniform during the soccer world
cup. He suggests that these young men are a rather mercenary lot because
they support a strong team only so that they can enjoy a vicarious
triumph, something that they are obviously unable to do as Lebanese
citizens. In response arrive a number of letters pointing out that since
more Lebanese live in Brazil than in Lebanon itself, it makes perfect
sense for them to support Brazil. The fact that the first writer did not
know this fact, he is told, is because he is an arrogant westerner who
takes his ignorance for wisdom. In any case, he is reminded, it is common
for people whose national teams are not playing in the World Cup to
More common than tales of racial discrimination are the
relations of prejudice that structure social life in Dubai. These are
often harmless, so the notion that Chinese are hardworking, for instance,
is unlikely to effect them negatively in Dubai, just as the perception
that Emiratis are lazy is unlikely to disadvantage them either. While
everyone everywhere entertains stereotypes about other ethnic groups,
these are generally cut across by the language of citizenship - which
itself is often racially marked. But without ties of citizenship, only
those of contract and prejudice bind as well as separate the disparate
groups making up the population of the UAE. Stereotype, in other words, is
as much a unifying factor in the city as a divisive one, since in the
absence of a common or even a dominant nationality, it provides the only
cultural background for social relations there. Prejudices are so highly
developed in Dubai that they become signs of intimacy rather than
A good illustration is provided by the story of Lebanese
fans during the World Cup. Exchanges over their allegedly mercenary
practice of supporting the stronger team continued for weeks in the
newspapers. Once Italy had won the cup, a writer with an Anglo-Saxon name
sent in a letter beginning with this sentence: "Congratulations to Lebanon
on securing another remarkable World Cup victory. Particularly amazing
after being knocked out at the Quarter, then Semi final stage". In
response the next day came a letter wondering at the obsession with
Lebanese fan behavior, which was put down to the first writer's shock at
no longer being part of a dominant majority: "Maybe because the only place
you saw apart from the suburbs of England is Dubai." What struck me about
this response was its attribution of English nationality to the first
writer. Why not American, Australian or South African? I suspect because
his Englishness was derived from his wit.
That prejudice may be the product of knowledge rather
than ignorance, and signal intimacy instead of estrangement, is an
important point and one repeatedly borne out by the humor and
sophistication with which it occurs in Dubai. Witness another exchange of
letters: First, a lengthy complaint from "a non-British who is tired of
people ruining the name of Asians," about a Pakistani couple boarding a
flight to England so that the pregnant wife could give birth there and
claim benefits. The letter ends with the words: "I can tell you what lazy,
ungrateful spongers some of these immigrants can be." The next day's
newspaper carried two responses, one from a British "expat for life" who
agreed entirely and vowed never to return, and the other by a Pakistani
refuting "the Indian person" and ending with: "I think the person must
have been referring to an Indian passenger as I believe the security
apparatus in India at airports is very lax and the butt of many a joke."
But intimacy comes in many forms, and among these the
sexual one enjoys a high profile in this emirate. In a masculine
population swollen to an absolute majority by large numbers of migrant
male workers, sexual services are bought and sold as well as being
forcibly procured. This city, which bans all material deemed pornographic,
is nevertheless home to the most bewildering array of prostitutes. From
Russian "Natashas" in the seedier hotels of Bur Dubai, to Filipina
streetwalkers whose nocturnal pacing is watched by off-work Keralan men
with hands wedged firmly in trouser pockets, sex workers are everywhere.
Even shopping malls, whose air-conditioned passages surely provide Dubai
with its true public spaces, accommodate prostitutes who advertise and
make assignations by mobile-phone.
Yet the smallest sexual infraction with a "respectable"
woman of any class or nationality often meets with swift reprisal, from
jail terms to deportation. Indeed if labor practices in Dubai are unlikely
to give the ILO much cheer, its laws on sexual harassment are as stringent
as any a feminist would wish for. There are news items every other day
about men in shops who use the cameras in their mobile-phones to look up
women's skirts while supposedly bending to glance at products on bottom
shelves. A woman squatting on a public toilet only realized she was being
filmed by a camera-phone held above her head when it suddenly rang and she
looked up to see an arm being quickly withdrawn.
What is interesting about acts of this kind is that they
all have to do with the desire for privacy. Rather than purchasing the
services of a prostitute or pornography from the black market, these men
are interested in gaining access to some very personal image of privacy
that would be adjudged as having little or no sexual content in the
market. Though occurring for the most part in shopping malls, such acts
seem opposed to the market in sex and other commodities that makes Dubai
what it is. The mobile phone, which offers a prosthetic intimacy in any
case, has simply had its range extended, allowing it to scan a privacy
that can never be experienced.
Calling at all ports
Dubai is heir to a long history of free ports, from
Zanzibar to Hong Kong. Such places have always provided the junctions
along which international capital flowed. The city in fact is only the
latest of the many ports that have garnered extraordinary riches in the
region's past. It is the successor to Aden, not so long ago a vibrant and
cosmopolitan centre that connected India to Britain. These city-states are
also essential to the global capital of tomorrow. So Dubai is not only
crucial in opening up the ex-Soviet republics of central Asia to business,
it is also singularly important to countries already integrated into the
This was brought home to me when I found myself on an
Air Tajikistan flight between Delhi and Dushanbe a couple of years ago.
The aircraft had originated in Sharjah and was bound for Moscow, so
Tajikistan itself was only a pit-stop for its national carrier. What made
the connection between these disparate cities possible? Goods from around
the world were being re-exported from the UAE to India, central Asia and
Russia. Buyers and sellers were moving between countries. And middle-class
Indian students shut out from western universities by cost, and from
Indian ones by quotas and competition, were traveling in the cheapest way
possible from places like the Smolensk Medical Institute to the provincial
towns from whence they came.
The importance that a small place like Dubai has for its
much larger neighbors is nowhere more evident than in its relations with
India. The Persian Gulf provides a huge country like India, Dubai's
largest trading partner, with the bulk of its diasporic capital in the
form of labor remittances. It also keeps India's national airline
financially viable by ferrying these laborers back and forth. More than
this the Gulf provides the world's largest film industry, Bollywood, with
one of its major markets. And this is not even to mention the fact that
many of the sub-continent's crime syndicates operate out of here.
Among other things Dubai serves as the transit point for
pirated DVDs and other goods that are not allowed to move legally between
India and Pakistan. In this sense it serves to repair the economic links
between Mumbai and Karachi, as well as between the Ganges and the Indus,
that were severed with the partition of British India in 1947. Indeed
given the numbers of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who live here,
Dubai has even managed to reproduce the Raj by bringing its dispersed
inhabitants to live together as they do nowhere else in the world.
Media attention has focused on Dubai as a place full of
marvels, indeed as a modern version of the marvelous East. But it is
better viewed as a junction for traffic of all kinds. In this age of
closed and patrolled borders, Dubai represents a highly monitored but
remarkably open invitation to the world, though not of course an
invitation to everyone. This is a city that plans to attract visitors who
will outnumber its own shifting population by more than ten times. It
lives by re-exporting not only automobiles and electronic goods, but also
Russian dancers, Philippine lounge singers and British DJ's, who are now
fixtures in every Asian city worth its name.
Along with its Gulf neighbors, Dubai even recycles the
United States. Thus the fashion of building scaled down versions of the
White House, which began in Kuwait after the first Gulf war and was
exported throughout the region, as well as to places like Karachi. Here
entire neighborhoods are filled with White House knock-offs, their
pediments inscribed with gilded phrases from the Qur'an. But Dubai
re-exports itself as much as it does the rest of the world, and may now be
found in special economic zones all over the world. Yet the most important
thing it recycles is a new kind of global society beyond the reach of
The future of an illusion
There are those who say the excessive publicity Dubai
now receives, as well as its transformation into a destination for mass
tourism, signal the end of its moment in the sun of global innovation. The
energy and undoubted vision of its rulers in transforming this small port
in the long-distance dhow trade crossing the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean
must be acknowledged. From a town catering to pirates and pearl divers,
Dubai has become one of the world's richest cities. But it is true that
scale and vulgarity appear to be the only things that characterize the
emirate's latest developments.
There is nothing innovative about the environmentally
destructive and financially risky obsession with tourism, conventions and
sports tournaments, all of which would dry up at the first sign of trouble
in this volatile region. Even without a war or terrorist incident,
however, Dubai cannot remain fashionable for long, since unlike a Paris or
a London it has nothing to offer visitors sheer novelty apart, and this
too is now entering a blowsy phase. Not all the luxury in the world will
prevent fashions from changing and taking the celebrities this city woos
elsewhere, followed in short order by the package tourists.
More dangerous is the possibility that Dubai's success
today may be putting its future in peril. Quite apart from the threat
posed by the spiraling costs of housing and commodities that will
eventually reach the all-important labor sector, Dubai's latest fixation,
property speculation fuelled by a construction boom, threatens to wipe out
every attempt to create other forms of value. For instance eminently
worthwhile efforts to make the city a hub for international media,
medicine or e-commerce seem not to have borne fruit, with much-hyped
projects like Dubai's Media City becoming zones for yet more property
Similarly, prestigious institutions like Harvard's
medical school appear to operate here only as businesses, transferring
services for cash rather than knowledge for development. Like upmarket
European and American shops in the city's malls that send only their
second-rate goods to Dubai, these prestigious institutions seem to be
interested only in flogging their least successful products here. But how
can it be otherwise given the abysmal quality of so much higher education
in Dubai, where a number of plush universities function with ranks of
indifferent faculty and students?
Yet it is precisely in sectors like higher education,
now a huge growth industry as the establishment of profit-based British
and American universities in Dubai demonstrates, that the emirate can take
a lead. Dubai might easily become a hub for medicine, technology or design
serving not only the entire Middle East, but also South Asia and much of
Africa. The fact that it has not yet become a center for such enterprises,
not even for publishing or music in the Arabic language, is surely a sign
of the real failure behind Dubai's apparent success. For like many of the
now-vanished cities of hurried riches before it, Dubai is still stuck in
the first phase of an economic miracle and has been unable to entrench its
gains at the next one.
Property speculation is the biggest business in Dubai
today, and not only has the whole city been transformed into a
construction site, but artificial islands in fanciful shapes are also
being dredged out of the sea to provide more sites for speculation. Such
speculation, of course, is not limited to the UAE, with companies like
Emaar now taking on gigantic building projects in Turkey and Lebanon
(where it rebuilds Beirut after each war) as well as in Pakistan and
India. This is already a big jump from old-fashioned investments in
prestige properties abroad, which still continue to buy Dubai financial
security as much as political influence in London or New York.
Despite all the talk of economic diversification, the
city does not produce value but remains a site for the adding of value.
And for all its boasts about an economy that is not based on oil, Dubai
depends precisely on cheap oil to keep its economy growing. It is still
only a junction after all, and so at the mercy of financial speculators,
such that the mere rumor of Saudi Arabia opening up its stock exchange is
enough to wipe hundreds of millions of dollars off Dubai's market. While
it is an extraordinary city by any measure, Dubai is caught in a time warp
with nothing to offer but "bigger, better and more of the same". For
innovation in the region we need look no further than Qatar, which changed
the world with a single product - Al-Jazeera. This is the kind of
productivity that should represent the next phase of Dubai's future.
In the everyday lives of its residents Dubai's novelty
displays itself as tradition, and it is this taming of the new in habitual
acts that gives the city its charm. One would think that such quotidian
practices have been going on for centuries, as indeed they have in various
forms, even if elsewhere and among other people. One of the most charming
moments of Dubai's traditional life comes when dusk falls across the
creek. As neon signs and naked bulbs flicker on in the twilight, the drone
of motors heralds the return of Keralan clerks and Punjabi shop
assistants, seated in rows on the wooden boats ferrying them home. Not far
from where they disembark, the cathedral mosque receives Yemeni and
Pakistani worshippers, streaming into its ablution hall while the call to
prayer sounds out. And just behind the mosque is a Hindu temple, into
which proceed Sindhi and Gujarati women clad in saris, some bearing
coconuts and others with handkerchiefs fastidiously tucked in at their
waists. Devotees of both faiths mingle briefly before disappearing each
into their house of worship.
These humdrum practices are familiar to me from my
childhood on the east African coast. If I recognize them here it is not
only because Dubai and Zanzibar partake of the same history but also
because such traditions are themselves mobile and not firmly attached to
places - having escaped the clutches of national culture thus far. The
fact that communities can migrate with their traditions and reconstitute
them in different places and among different peoples makes these histories
as modern and as flexible as the latest technological habit. For such
traditions can coexist with others and include as many strangers as they
exclude. It is the possibility of reconstituting everyday practices in
this way that keeps them alive, allowing quotidian acts to naturalize the
most novel of phenomena. I suspect it is this history of tradition outside
the nation-state, rather than any system of governance, that makes Dubai
the stable and peaceable society it is, despite the extraordinary
transformations it has undergone.
Unlike the conservative role it plays in nation-states,
tradition in the UAE functions not to forge a non-existent nationality,
but to accommodate and naturalize change. In this sense it is in fact the
most modern thing about a place like Dubai. This is a modernity that the
official culture of the emirate tries desperately to colonies. My favorite
example of such a colonized tradition is camel-racing, surely one of the
great symbols of the UAE's Arab past. After receiving a great deal of
criticism for the use of kidnapped or indentured child jockeys in this
most traditional of sports, Dubai banned the practice only to replace the
Indian or Pakistani boys with remote-controlled robots. And so a
supposedly archaic custom was transformed into the most high-tech race in
the world, one in which the animal element was combined with robotics to
produce a cyborg. The use of remote-controlled robots in camel-racing also
transforms this sport into a monstrous video game, becoming therefore the
perfect example of Dubai's prosthetic modernity.
Dubai and its gold market … (by Larry Edelson)
Money and Markets (29 March 2007)
why U.S. oil giant Halliburton is moving to Dubai. That’s a whole separate
discussion. From what I’m seeing on my four-day visit, this city is going to
need more than a single U.S. oil giant to help it fill up all the new
the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai would probably need to
attract at least ten major corporations with 300,000 employees to occupy all
the buildings going up.
I came to
Dubai with an open mind, to find out first hand what all the excitement is
about. In a moment, I’ll tell you what I think about investing here. And
I’ll tell you what I learned in Dubai’s gold market.
start with an overview …
Is Great for Business and Travel, And Its Economic Numbers Reflect That
This city of
1.4 million people is a heaven for businesses! There’s no corporate tax
(except for oil producing companies and branches of foreign banks) … no
personal income tax … no capital gains taxes … and no withholding taxes.
are no foreign exchange controls, quotas or trade barriers. The UAE’s
currency, the dirham, is freely tradeable and linked to the U.S. dollar.
So all the
right structural forces are in place to make this a booming city. And the
numbers coming out of Dubai are certainly enticing:
GDP is well over $30,000 … the highest in the Middle East and up there
with the world’s top 25 economies.
- GDP growth
has been running at 13% annually since 2000.
- Over the
same period, the industrial and construction sectors have been rising
around 30% a year.
You could say
that Dubai has "arrived." Its port is now home to 120 shipping lines and 105
airlines, connecting 136 nations to the region. The Dubai International
Airport is the second-fastest growing airport in the world, based on
international passenger movement and cargo traffic.
No wonder Emirates Airlines is one of the most successful
and profitable airlines in the world. It recently placed the largest order
in aviation history for a total of $19 billion of new airplanes from Airbus
Dubai is the world’s fastest-growing tourist destination, with nearly six
million visitors in 2006, and 15 million expected by 2010. The richest ones
stay at the only seven-star hotel in the world, the famous Burj Al Arab,
where one night costs more than $1,500.
The city has 14 million square feet of existing commercial space, and 98% of
it is occupied. But another twenty-four million square feet of commercial
office space is in the works!
The current pace of commercial office construction in Dubai makes it the
largest and busiest new construction market in the world, even bigger than
Shanghai, China! Dubai has more construction cranes per square mile than any
other city in the world, new or old.
Just three of the enormous projects …
The Burj Dubai Tower: This, the most ambitious skyscraper in history, will
reach as high as 800 meters (2,624 feet) when complete. That’s a whopping
300 meters higher than 101 Taipei, the tallest building in the world right
Dubailand: Set to become the most ambitious tourist destination ever
created, Dubailand will be more than twice the size of the Walt Disney World
Resort in Florida. This mega-project theme park will cover three billion
The Dubai Mall: When completed, this will be the largest mall in the world,
with more than 1,000 stores spread over two million square feet of retail
There’s also something like $100 billion in residential developments going
up, including hundreds of man-made islands in the shape of palm trees and
one project called "The World," which is an entire seascape of man-made
islands arranged to look like a map of the world.
It all sounds great …
But Here’s the Big
Problem I See in Dubai
Dubai’s boom is being driven by oil money, and an international gang of the
rich and famous who are seeking a Middle Eastern paradise on the Persian
None of this is being done by or for the common Arab, or the scores of
construction workers and service employees that mostly come from Asia (the
Philippines, in particular) looking for work.
In short, there’s a big divide between what’s happening in Dubai and the
needs and desires of the resident masses.
What I’m seeing in Dubai differs dramatically from the events taking place
in China, India or almost anywhere else in Asia. In those places, billions
of people are just emerging from poverty. Here in Dubai, most people,
including the working class, are already relatively well off.
That’s a huge distinction, and it’s recognized by almost everyone I spoke to
here. I asked three separate taxi cab drivers, a half-dozen shopkeepers, and
a few hotel employees what they thought of the situation in Dubai. They all
said pretty much the same things to me:
"There’s way too much construction going on."
"The big money here is in for a fall."
"The elite here are out-of-touch with reality. So are the wealthy
international business community, and the tourists."
As I said, most of the money building up Dubai is directly or indirectly oil
money. It’s as if the ruling party in Dubai (the Maktoum royal family), and
other wealthy groups within the UAE, have nothing better to do with their
money but spend, spend, spend.
They say they’re aiming to diversify their economy away from oil revenues
and into other forms of trade and tourism, but I have to wonder about their
decisions. To me, it looks like there’s a lot of ego going into the projects
here. I see wasteful spending, and big bets that a huge future is in the
Mind you, I’ve enjoyed my stay here in Dubai. The climate is spectacular,
the city breathtakingly clean, the people wonderful.
But there seems to be a big gulf between the rich and the not-so-rich in
Dubai, and that worries me. They’re not on the same page. Contrast that with
many parts of Asia, where the masses want to get rich, and the leaders are
providing the means to do so.
Of course, there’s one thing that both the ultra-wealthy and the masses seem
to agree on in Dubai …
Gold: Loads of It Being Bought
By Almost Everyone in Dubai
Dubai’s Gold Souk, an open-air market that contains some 500 gold shops, is
the largest retail gold market in the world. An estimated 500 metric tonnes
of gold, or nearly 18 million ounces, are bought and sold each year.
I got to the market at three in the afternoon, about an hour before the
Islamic afternoon prayer session was to end. It was really exciting to watch
the shopkeepers pour out of the local mosques and hustle back to their gold
shops for the afternoon and evening trading sessions.
As the shops opened, gold buyers started pouring in by the masses. An hour
after opening, almost all the shops I visited were packed with buyers.
Gold in Dubai is either 20k or 22k, and can be found in ingots ranging from
roughly 1/10th of an ounce all the way up to incredible hand-crafted pieces
of Islamic jewelry weighing a pound and costing tens of thousands of
But here’s the most important point: In the gold souks of Dubai, both the
ultra-rich and regular citizens are buying gold. I watched wealthy
businessmen, construction workers, and imams all snatching up the yellow
When I spoke with two Muslim women covered head-to-toe in
their blue burqas, one of them said, "Gold never goes out of style, whether
it’s jewelry or bars. It’s really money."
I couldn’t have said it better, nor could I have met a more gracious lady.
It’s rare for a devout Muslim woman to even acknowledge a strange man trying
to talk to her, but she even took that picture of me in front of the gold
shop when I asked her to.
I will visit Dubai again, perhaps next year. But if there’s one conclusion I
arrived at during my visit here, it’s that I wouldn’t make any big bets on
the area. There’s no doubt that it’s booming, but the funding is coming from
the richest of the rich, and the projects are mainly for the rich. They are
not backed by demand from billions of people.
I Wouldn’t Bet on Dubai,
But I Would Bet On Gold!
Gold’s recent performance has been terrific — it hit $673 last week, before
falling back to $665. Right now, I expect it to enter a new choppy trading
range between $645 and $670, lasting perhaps as long as another week.
But don’t let that bother you. In fact, consider buying on the dips! As long
as the price of the precious yellow metal holds $610 on a closing basis,
then gold’s next leg up is still forming. And I fully expect to see it back
above $732 an ounce, its highest level in 27 years.
All the ingredients are in place. Record demand for gold continues.
Meanwhile, available supplies are dwindling, as are new discoveries. On top
of that, central bankers around the world continue to print money freely,
depreciating their paper currencies in the process.
And then there’s the Iran situation. I’m sitting here in my hotel room,
looking at the Persian Gulf, the coastline of Iran just 100 miles away.
While I feel safe here in Dubai, I believe the Iran nuclear crisis is far
from over. In fact, I expect it to soon go full tilt, especially after the
recent Iranian detention of 15 British naval troops.
Bottom line: If you don’t own any gold, now looks like a good time to buy
Bright Lights, Boom City
The Daily Telegraph, London - 6 March 2007
This Manhattan-on-speed city state in the United Arab
Emirates is loved by many investors. Yet others regard it as a housing
market on the edge of a crash with an oversupply of flats, a creaking
infrastructure and worryingly-close to the Middle East's trouble-spots.
London sales manager Louise Jarvis has no such doubts. She
has been wooed by the high rental income and capital appreciation that
properties in Dubai have achieved since 2000. In August 2004, she bought a
£140,000, two-bedroom apartment off-plan in a new suburb, Dubai Marina, the
largest planned waterfront development in the world. With six weeks still to
go before the completion of her flat, Louise says it has appreciated by 30
per cent and she expects to make a killing by letting it to corporate
tenants. "I foresee a high demand, as it is near the new central business
district, " she says.
Louise is already sitting pretty. In October 2004 she
bought another flat near Dubai's Internet City, a suburb which is home to
the headquarters of many Middle Eastern IT firms. She rented it out within
three days and a year later sold it for a 25 per cent profit on the purchase
"The properties were of a very high specification and the
developers delivered on what they promised. As it's a Middle Eastern
culture, it's a safe place to invest your money," claims Louise, who says
her experience of business in the region, in property and other investments,
has been characterised by greater efficiency and honesty than in most other
parts of the world.
Despite its proximity to the world's least stable region,
and ongoing concerns about security in the Middle East, it is safety that is
billed as Dubai's main allure to investors. "The troubles in Iraq, Kuwait,
Lebanon, Iran - they all play into our hands. People displaced or worried in
those countries have left and moved here," explains Issam Galadari of
Dubai-based Emaar Properties, one of the world's largest residential
developers. "This is a safe haven," he claims, "and demand is rising for
property as a result." Dubai has 100,000 full-time British residents, a
figure rising by about 900 a month. Over 85 per cent of the population
consists of ex-pats from Pakistan, India and the Philippines in low-paid
construction and service jobs and from Europe and Iran in well-paid
executive posts. No one pays income tax.
The al-Maktoum ruling family holds all key government
positions and effectively runs the three main house-building firms. This
benevolent "dictatorship" seems popular and has transformed Dubai from an
oil-dependent desert town with 170,000 people in 1975 to a super-wealthy
city of 1·5million today, with 93 per cent of its income derived from
property, tourism and trade.
Now the family wants to boost the population to 3·5million
by 2010 and 5·5million by 2020. It markets Dubai's low corporation tax
regime worldwide to attract companies; 3,000 multi-nationals are already
there including Merrill Lynch, Microsoft and Credit Suisse.
All this is music to the ears of many British buy-to-let
investors, who in the past two years have been tiring of poor returns in the
UK and snapping up homes to let to Dubai's burgeoning population. As a
result the property boom is in full swing.
I counted construction cranes from my 14th-floor hotel
window in just one suburb of the city, and lost track at 120.
The latest schemes include the world's biggest shopping
mall, its biggest airport, its biggest waterfront development, biggest
amusement park and biggest reclaimed land project. All this is happening
simultaneously, along with countless lesser developments.
The daddy of all these projects is the Burj Dubai, a tower
and suburb being built in the Downtown area off Sheikh Zayed Road, the
city's main drag. The tower (the world's tallest, naturally) will have 166
floors of apartments, offices and the first-ever Armani boutique hotel. "The
tower will have 35,000 people at full capacity. The top will sway by 1·5
metres," explains Greg Sang, its project manager.
The project was conceived in 2003, work started in 2005
and it has already reached 109 storeys. Building is quick in Dubai, where
the desert sands and coastal waters are already marked for development.
Planning permission takes weeks, not years. But quality is
not compromised by speed. As with most schemes targeting foreign investors,
the Burj Dubai apartments (prices will range from £550,000 to £2·5 million)
will be expensively finished and offer good views.Surrounding it will be a
3·5 kilometre boulevard, fringed with hotels and 12,000 properties all now
Kelly Home, a public relations executive from Aberdeen who
has worked in Dubai for 11 years, is going to buy in the area. "It'll be the
new focus for Dubai, with the biggest cinema and clusters of bars and
restaurants. I've rented until now but it seems the right place to commit
to. It's a sign that Dubai has matured into a world city," she says.
"When I arrived in Dubai it was almost empty, with not
many ex-pats and no major buildings. Now it's change all day, every day.
It's a place constantly on the move." More conservative buyers head for the
small number of villas and mansion schemes that are being constructed on the
outskirts of Dubai city. Emirate Hills is a new, gated community near
Dubai's Media and Internet cities. The properties are three- to
seven-bedroom detached houses, starting at £450,000, and have private lawns
as well as a meticulously-maintained golf course.
"There's a shortage of these houses in Dubai," says James
Davies of Hamptons, the British estate agency now owned by Emaar. "They are
wanted by executives and ex-pat families who like the space, European-style
designs and the security of a gated community. These will give better
returns than flats in the long run," he predicts.
So with building continuing apace, a burgeoning population
needing places to rent, and plenty of evangelical locals, why would you
hesitate over investing in Dubai?
Well firstly, there is an absence of authoritative
statistics about the housing market. Despite a sophisticated mortgage
industry there is no equivalent to the Halifax or Nationwide price indices
to give neutral data on capital appreciation or rental yields.
"Data exists but no one's had time to correlate it," says
Robin Teh of Hamptons International. "As long as properties have sold and
rented, the industry hasn't seen the need to guide investors. Now the market
is maturing and this information will be available by mid-year." Secondly,
there is concern about infrastructure. At commuter times it takes an hour to
drive five miles because planners massively under-estimated car usage.
Families typically have gas-guzzling 4x4s; it costs only £15 to fill the
The Palms, three artificial islands bearing 10,000 homes,
have become synonymous with over-dense development and under-investment in
infrastructure. Roads there are clogged as most residents leave for work at
the same time each morning.
A two-line metro system opens in 2009. It is the first
significant public transport project in Dubai, but what impact the 900-seat
trains will make on the gridlock remains to be seen.
Thirdly, at a time when the world is going green, Dubai
appears distinctly unenthusiastic. Despite 320 days of sun each year and
grinding summers hitting 50°C (122°F) daily, the only solar panels are on
parking meters and speed cameras. Builders say panels would be damaged by
desert dust and in any case the sun could never supply enough energy to meet
electricity demand, some 60 per cent of which is for air-conditioning.
Other sceptics concentrate on more traditional issues. The
greatest concern is whether there will be enough rental demand for the
160,000 new homes due to be built in 2007 alone.
"I would be cautious," warns Stuart Law of Assetz, a
property investment company. "I'm more optimistic about business areas where
there's upward pressure on rents, as opposed to holiday lets in tourist
areas where there is vast supply," he says.
"Investors should look at rental yields rather than
capital growth. If the potential yield is a high proportion of the property
price, this indicates the price is reasonable. If not, the property is
probably not a good investment." Local property experts remain confident.
They say, justifiably, that critics have written off Dubai's housing market
as a bursting bubble for five years, yet investors have still enjoyed high
returns. Whatever happens this year, there is little doubt that Dubai's love
affair with property has already influenced markets in other parts of the
In Ras-al Khaimah, one of the six other United Arab
Emirates, along with Dubai, is Al Hamra Village, a marina scheme where
Louise Jarvis has now bought yet another apartment.
"This is a hidden gem, an area that shows signs of
stirring. At the moment the price is a lot lower per square foot than in
Dubai," she says.
Nearby countries like Oman and Bahrain are also selling to
foreigners, and schemes in Syria and even Libya could soon be available to
Love it or loathe it Dubai is leading the way in opening
up the Middle Eastern property market - and for investors it might just pay
Foreigners can now buy freehold in many designated
New-build buyers pay a 10 per cent deposit and the
rest in phased sums. Land registration fees cost two per cent and you pay
service charges a year in advance.
When buying a resale property you pay a two per
cent land registry fee plus a two per cent transfer fee.
Estate agents' fees to sellers are two to five per
cent. New laws mean agents must be licensed and undergo regular legal and
Although Dubai is tax free, UK residents may have
to pay tax on rental income.
UAE average prices per sq ft: Ras-al Khaima: £95;
Abu Dhabi: £160; Dubai £170
Fantasy land in Dubai
From The Christian Science Monitor
20 February 2007
The tourist maps here can be confusing. Probably because about three
quarters of the landmarks shown on them are nowhere to be found on the
actual ground. "Dubailand (u/c)" and "The World (u/c)" are simply not there.
"Dubai Waterfront (u/c)"? Nope. "iPod towers (u/c)"? Huh? "Falcon City
(u/c)"? Not a trace.
And while on the subject of confusion, what does that (u/c) stand for,
anyway, a visitor may start asking herself?
Welcome to Dubai, where many of its landmarks are "under construction."
"This place is unreal," says Irishman David Hackett, who, years ago, did a
stint as a construction worker in Las Vegas, building a 540-foot Eiffel
Tower replica at the Paris Hotel.
"A tower like that, 60 per cent life-size" he shakes his head, "would
just not be enough here."
On this recent weekday afternoon, Hackett, a production manager for a
multinational construction company, is at the mega Mall of the Emirates,
home to the only indoor ski slope in the Middle East. He's not slaloming
down the quarter-mile ski run toward T.G.I. Fridays on this 73-degree F
(23C) day, but rather standing in line waiting to get his George Foreman
Next Generation Interchangeable Plates Grill.
The two-time world heavyweight boxing champion is in town for the weekend
to shake customers' hands at the mega hardware store.
"The thing about Dubai," explains Hackett, is "they do it big, big ...
bigger than anywhere else."
The Eiffel Tower at the planned Dubailand theme park‚ a $20 billion
project that will be three times the size of Manhattan‚ is, for example,
going to be life-size. So are the planned replicas of the Leaning Tower of
Pisa, the Pyramids, and the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal, too? Is that even possible? "Absolutely," says Hackett,
inching closer to Big George. "It's on the maps." And this, as they say, was
all desert just a few decades ago.
The late Shaikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, who ruled Dubai from its
independence in 1971 until his death in 1990, and his sons the late Shaikh
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid
Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, get
much of the credit for the transformation.
They realised early on that oil riches were ephemeral and would one day
run dry, and they started liberalising and broadening the economy to attract
Almost as fast as you could say, "outrageously bling-bling-tourism is our
future," this little fishing port on a creek had been turned into a
wonderland of artificial attractions.
Soon they had a growth rate bigger than that of China, more tourists than
India, and‚ people here like to quip‚ more than half of the world's building
In the meantime, Dubai has been addressing the problems that come with
rapid development such as labour abuse charges, taken up by the Human Rights
There has been also blame for looming environmental disasters (man-made
islands upset the entire ecology of the western Arabian Gulf).
Tourism now accounts for almost 20 per cent of Dubai's $30 billion GDP‚
compared with less than 5 per cent for oil revenue.
Last year, close to six million visitors came here‚ a figure Dubai hopes
will rise to 15 million by 2010. Where do they all stay?
Well, there is the Burj Al Arab option. The world's first seven-star
hotel, in the shape of a giant billowing sail and covered in Teflon, the
Burj features in-room marble staircases, an underwater restaurant reachable
by submarine, and white Rolls Royce taxi service to the airport. If you book
on TripAdvisor.com, you might get a steal at $2,156 for a simple room.
Or, you can go for the rack rate of $13,900 for a suite. Either way, you
get to keep the Hermes goodie bag. Andre Agassi and Roger Federer played an
exhibition match on the hotel's helipad rooftop a couple of years ago.
Apparently it was very nice.
For those hankering to own a pied-a -terre, you could go the David
Beckham route and purchase a second home on a fake island in the shape of a
The Palm Jumeirah was created by dredging out sand and repositioning it
in the shape of a date palm tree‚ complete with a trunk and 17 fronds‚ on
It is almost finished‚ and filling up with luxury hotels, residential
villas and apartments, water theme parks, health spas, and cinemas‚ and, at
$1.2 million a villa, almost sold out.
And what to do while in town? Shopping, maybe?
Shopping just happens to be Dubai's forte, with everyone from veiled
local women to tank-topped Germans joining the mad rush‚ to the strains of
Muzak‚ to get into the Victoria's Secret sales or get a new MP3 player in
one of the mega-malls.
The recent Dubai Shopping Festival featured late-night shopping specials,
carnival performances, Foreman-esque special appearances, a private island
lottery (second prize: a private jet), and a whole range of Guinness World
In fact, breaking records is a national pursuit here. Among those
contested in Dubai this year were the world's largest gathering of people
reading at one time, longest line of footprints, and largest buffet; also
the world''s biggest wallet, pillow, inflatable balloon, and spoon.
Results were not yet in, but Hisham Nammour, owner of the feng shui stall
at the Emirates Mall was hopeful.
"We always win," he said over a mug of hot chocolate at the aprÃ¨s-ski
bar. "We excel at breaking records."
And indeed, last year, Dubai broke the record for the largest gathering
of people sharing a name (2,500 Mohammads showed up)Â‚ leaving previous
record-holder Spain (375 Marias) in the dust.
Also Dubai put together the largest display of rice dumplings: 23,000,
trouncing dumpling doyen Singapore (13,192 in 1992).
And, let's not forget to mention the "Burj Dubai (u/c)" which aims to be
the tallest skyscraper in the world.
They had a little celebration here last month when the building hit the
100-floor mark‚ 67 more are apparently on the way.
Meanwhile, in the realm of faux islands, there is a lot happening as
First of all, there is "The World (u/c)"‚ a "blank canvas in the azure
waters of the Arabian Gulf with endless possibilities," as the website puts
In normal-speak, this translates into an archipelago of 300 man-made
islands, each the size of several city blocks, which, when taken together,
make up a map of the world. Fancy owning Italy? It's still up for grabs.
Developers aren't purists when it comes to exact world proportions, and
island owners, it is promised, can re-shape the planet by "merely moving the
sand," to create unique features such as coves and marinas.
And there is also the new palm tree project, known as "Palm Jebel Ali
(u/c)," which is going to be 1-1/2 times bigger than Palm Jumeirah and is to
be surrounded by houses on stilts that will take the shape of Arabic letters
and spell out a poem by Shaikh Mohammad:
Take wisdom from the wise
Not everyone who rides a horse is a great jockey
It takes a man of great vision to write on water
Great men rise to great challenges.
All of this will be written there, they say, and be visible from space.
Sabir Ali Rehmani owns a small retail business selling simple cloth from
Indonesia for the long dishdashs. He has been watching Dubai sprout around
him for the past 20 years from his one-room office in the old souq on the
"This is a fantasy land," says Rehmani, sitting down to a quiet morning
cup of sweet Arabic tea. "You forget what is real."
Dubai: The Arab city of the future
BY MATEIN KHALID Opininion from the Khaleej Times
19 January 2007
THE skyline of Dubai is a tangible testament
to the most spectacular economic transformation in modern Arabia, an emirate
whose unique milieu defines the heartbeat of the globalist ethos.
Of course, the Dubai Creek
was a hub of trade and finance for centuries, with the silhouette of its
moored dhows a symbol of the Arab pearl diving fleets and merchant princes
whose networks once extended to Bombay, Kerala’s Malabar, Basra, East
Africa’s Swahili coast, Zanzibar, Aden, Kuwait, Iran’s Gulf ports and even
the Indonesian archipelago.
Dubai embraced the logic of
tree trade, laissez faire capitalism, an absence of xenophobia, an obsessive
commitment to infrastructure roll out, a liberal social ethos a generation
before it was fashionable. Dubai’s entrepreneurial spirit suffuses its
traders to move goods, money and cargo in some of the most high risk
emerging markets of West, South and East Asia. The gold, electronics, and
textile trades, Jebel Ali Free Zone, Port Rashid, the dry docks, DXB, the
establishment of Emirates Airlines, the freehold property revolution, DSF,
the Monaco/Singapore style branding as a tourism and services hub, the DIFC,
DIC and Media City have created a city–state that, like Venice of the
Serenessima or Rembrandt’s Amsterdam, has become an East–West entrepot of
ideas, population exchanges and finance.
Dubai’s government is unique
in the Arab world, with a ruler whose leadership model is the CEO and whose
template for Arab socio economic renaissance is Cordoba, the medieval
kingdom in Moorish Spain where Arabs, Jews and Christians created a unique
mélange of cultures before the religious fanatics of the Reconquista engaged
in one of history’s most ruthless examples of ethnic cleansing. In fact,
even now, the Spanish word “convivencia” denotes more than tolerance, even
pleasure in cross cultural exchanges, a recognition that the human family is
a kaleidoscope, that values are relative and bigotry is abhorrent, that
celebration of our common humanity is the essence of civilised existence. As
the only global metropolis in the Islamic world, Dubai has resurrected the
spirit of Cordoba, staked its claim as the Arabian city of the future. In
fact, the Dubai model has become the DNA of iconic property projects and
economic reinvention policies from Morocco to Oman at opposite ends of the
The post 9/11 world of
soaring oil prices, regional petrodollar flows, brand new financial markets,
exponential wealth creation and capital flows in the emerging markets,
cross–border mergers and acquisitions, the bidding war for overseas
infrastructure assets, even war in Iraq and Lebanon, repatriation of Arab
private wealth from the US and, above all, the real estate El Dorado has
transformed the economic landscape of Dubai. Without the huge oil reserves
of Abu Dhabi or Qatar, without the population of Saudi Arabia, without the
military power of Egypt or Iran, Dubai has carved out a unique role in the
global village, become Arabia’s daring incubator of the social, urban, even
financial avante–garde. Bahrain was the offshore capital market of the Gulf
ever since Beirut’s descent into the Stone Age in Lebanon’s civil war in the
1970’s but Dubai’s DIFC has positioned its financial free zone as the hot
new destination of international banking and fund management in a mere four
years. Economic change that was measured in decades in conventional Arab
economies is now telescoped by the decision makers of Dubai Inc in virtually
Internet time. The bureaucratic inertia that defines societies East of Suez
has simply been leapfrogged into oblivion in Dubai.
Unlike Abu Dhabi and Kuwait,
Dubai was not a major player in the international financial markets. No
longer. Dubai Holding’s DIC, in takeover mode with Liverpool FC, was
established as recently as 2004 as a conduit for the investment of surplus
state funds into trophy franchises all over the world. DIC, whose portfolio
includes Daimler Chrysler and Doncaster, is only the latest example of
Dubai’s diversification and global brand strategy. With a mere seven per
cent GDP in oil and gas, Dubai is not the traditional Arabian Gulf
petrocurrency emirate but nothing less than the cosmopolitan portal to the
Middle East whose existence in mission critical in a region where the
collision between global capitalism and East–West geopolitics has been
When Israel bombed Hezbollah
last summer, the best and brightest of Lebanon considered Dubai in the same
league as a haven destination as London and Paris. When Iranian political
risk escalated after the election of President Ahmedinijad and the uranium
enrichment dispute with the West, Tehran’s merchant elite often bought
properties in New Dubai, an alternative to squirreling funds in Swiss banks,
the traditional mode of Persian capital flight since the reign of the Shah.
Dubai hosts the Gulf’s
benchmark conferences for hedge find managers, Islamic financiers, even for
travel agents and software engineers. From Australian pilots at Emirates to
Gujarati gold traders, Sindhi textile millionaires, Lebanese advertising
yuppies and Bohra hardware merchants, Dubai has its own ethnic clusters and
professional networks that create value for the entire society and
contribute to its role as the magnet for the young, the rich, the restless
in societies elsewhere in the region wounded by war, terror and economic
sclerosis. In an age of hyperkinetic offshore capital, a mass communications
revolution and digital culture, Dubai is a compelling model and catalyst for
change in Arabia, the ideal place to live for those of us who define our
identify not by our passport, tribe or ancestry but our determination to
live lives of excitement and intellectual self discovery, to evolve into
quintessential citizens of the world in the new millennium.
Matein Khalid is a Dubai based investment banker
Dubai skyscraper climbing 1 story every 3 days
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Burj Dubai skyscraper under
construction here reached its 100th story on Tuesday, nearly two-thirds of
the way in its relentless climb to become the world's tallest building.
With 3,000 laborers adding a new floor nearly every three days, the $1
billion spire is days away from surpassing a neighboring skyscraper that is
currently the tallest in the Middle East, Dubai-based developer Emaar
"The tower is a symbol of the city's pride and a statement of our arrival
on the global scene as one of the world-class cities," Emaar chairman
Mohammed Ali Alabbar said.
When finished in two years, the silvery steel-and-glass building is
expected to rise beyond 2,300 feet and more than 160 floors — dozens of
stories taller than the world's current tallest building, the Taipei 101
tower in Taiwan, which measures 1,671 feet and 101 floors.
It will also top the world's tallest freestanding structure, Toronto's CN
Tower, which stands 1,815 feet.
The tallest building in the United States, the Sears Tower in Chicago,
comes in at 1,451 feet, while the Empire State Building measures 1,250 feet.
Before they were destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks, the World Trade Center
towers both topped 1,360 feet. The Freedom Tower being planned for the site
will measure 1,776 feet when it's completed in 2011.
Emaar isn't releasing its plans for the final height of the Burj Dubai so
it can add more stories if a competing developer mounts a challenge.
Predictions on skyscraper Web sites say the cylindrical Burj, which was
designed by American architect Adrian Smith, will eventually loom over the
city from a height of 2,600 feet or more.
Until the 1960s, the United Arab Emirates was an impoverished desert
country whose residents survived through subsistence fishing, farming and
After it became rich from oil, Dubai began building skyscrapers to gain
international prestige, not, like Hong Kong and New York, because of a
shortage of land. But Dubai's skyscraper binge has jacked up land prices so
much that tall buildings are now the only feasible use of coveted building
lots in the city's central district.
Dubai has staked its fame on bold engineering, building
attention-grabbing projects including manmade resort islands shaped like
palm trees, a mall with indoor skiing, and a vast Disney World-style
amusement complex that includes plans for an apartment building that rotates
on its axis.
Exhibiting a flair for the luxurious that is typical of Dubai, one of the
skyscraper's high-profile tenants will be the Armani Hotel, developed in
conjunction with Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani. The spire will
also contain private apartments and offices.
Surrounding the dramatic concrete and steel tower is a $20 billion
development project that includes several smaller towers set amid winding
canals and a gargantuan shopping mall.
All of this development has angered many environmentalists, who say the
Emirates is one of the biggest energy consumers and carbon dioxide emitters
per capita on the planet. The World Wildlife Fund has asked the country to
move toward renewable energy, especially solar power viable in one of the
world's sunniest climates.
Although the government says it is making improvements, construction
hasn't slowed on projects like the Burj Dubai. Motorists on the adjacent
highway get dramatic daily views of the tower's progress, with 10 cranes and
the world's fastest construction hoists zipping concrete slabs and giant
bundles of steel rods to dizzying heights.
The construction division of South Korean conglomerate Samsung is
building the tower, using a three-day-per-story construction technique
pioneered on skyscrapers in South Korea.
"We're not breaking any speed records, just the height record," said
Beejay Kim, Samsung's Dubai-based business manager.
Only one building in the Middle East currently remains taller: the nearby
Emirates Office Tower, a skyscraper resembling a razor blade that rises to
1,165 feet. The Burj Dubai is approaching that height now — it stands at
1,140 feet — and should surpass it within days.
Asked how long the Burj Dubai would hold the world record when it's
finished, Kim said he was unsure. "If anyone is looking for an even taller
building, we are happy to build it," he said.
The Middle East previously held the record of the earth's tallest
structure for about 43 centuries. Built around 2500 B.C., Egypt's Great
Pyramid of Giza dwarfed the competition at about 481 feet until 1889 when
the Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris at a height of 1,023 feet, including
the flag pole.
Is Dubai still a good deal?
14 January 2006
From 7 Days
For those of you who think that Dubai’s property market has turned into a
bubble waiting to burst, here’s a thought: it might not. Certainly, property
prices have soared in recent years and many people think it is time for the
market to fall - sharply. But increasingly, more experts are starting to
believe that there isn’t enough evidence to elevate property prices in the
emirate to bubble status just yet. So is buying property in Dubai still a
The answer is yes, if you go by what the ‘sunny-side’ market experts have
to say. “Ten years from now, in 2017, property in Dubai will be much more
expensive that it is now,” is the prediction from Danial Husain,
vice-president, Dubai Lagoon. “Conservatively speaking, I believe property
prices in 2017 should be at least 50 per cent higher from where they are
today.” Dubai Lagoon is one of the emirate’s largest private sector
real-estate projects under development. Located in Dubai Investment Park,
the three-billion-dirham project comprises 53 residential buildings spread
across 40 acres - equivalent to the size of about 40 football fields.
Divided into two phases, the whole project is set to be completed by June
2008. With such a large project on his hands, it is possible to dismiss
Husain’s optimism simply as a way of talking up the market. But he’s quick
to reject the idea, pointing to the buyer response to the Lagoon project as
proof that developers are not in chase of a dwindling catch: “We’ve already
sold about 80 per cent of our project,” he says.
However, he does admit that the developers have had some moments of
doubt. When the project w as first launched, industry consultants warned
Husain not to expect to sell more than three apartments a day. As it turned
out, the project sold all its Phase I apartments - 1,752 of them - in 52
days - making it an average of 31 apartments sold every day. That experience
seems to have convinced Husain that Dubai’s property market is not bursting
at the seams - not yet anyway. “This market still has a real need for
affordable housing,” he argues. “About 80 per cent of projects currently
under development are intended for upmarket buyers and investors looking to
park their money.” But with the average salary of the Dubai income-earner
ranging between dhs8,000 and dhs10,000, there is still strong demand for
‘real homes for real people’, says Husain, adding that that will keep prices
buoyant. “Going ahead, I see property prices increasing by ten to 15 per
cent a year.” Not s urprisingly, he’s also upbeat about Dubai Lagoon’s
prospects: “I believe, on a conservative estimate, that on completion, its
prices will go 30-35 per cent higher from where they are today.”
The prospect of easing mortgage rates is another reason why Husain
believes demand is not in danger of collapsing any time soon. “Mortgage
rates are extremely high,” says Husain. “As more competition comes into the
market and the mortgage market matures, these rates will drop substantially
and it will be easier to get mortgages. This will increase demand and
prices.” Nevertheless, rising prices bring their own set of problems to
developers, acknowledges Husain. “Contractors in Dubai are facing huge
demand from all ends. Resources are extremely tied up.” According to a
report by industry consultants EC Harris, constructions costs in Dubai
jumped by 28 per cent in the first eight months of 2006. Copper prices rose
by a hefty 66 per cent during the same period while cement prices gained ten
per cent. Labour costs also experienced a 20 per cent leap. Indeed, Dubai
Lagoon opted to bring in construction experts from Thailand and Myanmar to
ease the financial pressures of constructing. “Because of the huge demand in
Dubai, using foreign contractors ends up being more financially viable,”
explains Husain. “They also have more experience than local contractors.
They even source their supplies of steel, cement and other materials from
the global market and that allows better rates and quality.”
Yet the pain of rising prices - for developers and buyers - is unlikely
to curb the passion for investing in Dubai’s property market, says Husain,
who continues to be optimistic about the city. There really is no mystery to
Dubai’s appeal, he says: the emirate offers tax-free status for companies
and individuals; good investment returns; is relatively crime-free; and
promises a good standard of living. All this will continue to attract
foreign workers to come and live here. “Over the next two years, 180,000 to
200,000 new housing units will come into the market. Still, demand will stay
extremely strong due to an influx of new expatriates,” adds Husain. Besides,
obsessing about high prices misses half the story. “In any real estate
market in the world, the key criteria for investing is the rental yield. And
Dubai still offers very good rental yields,” says Husain. Rental yields
refer to what a landlord can expect to receive in rent, usually in a year,
expressed as a percentage of the purchase price of the property.
“Dubai still offers rental yields of eight to 15 per cent, tax-free. This
is much higher than anywhere in the world. In developed countries, average
rental yields range between two and three per cent, after tax,” points out
Husain. “Dubai is still a great place to invest in.” And that’s why Dubai
still remains the ‘happening’ city for real-estate investors and second-home
buyers. It’s crazy, yes, but it’s the kind of crazy we may have to live
with, it seems.
Dubai's Skyline to get an Arab Man
12 January 2006
Passengers flying into Dubai's planned Jebel Ali airport should not be
alarmed when greeted by the imposing figure of a 140-metre tall human
The structure will in fact be a 35-storey tower designed to resemble a
man dressed in traditional Gulf Arab dress. The Dh500 million Burj Al Arabi
development will be built in Jumeirah Village and is set for hand over in
2009. When complete it is expected to be featured in the Guinness Book World
of Records as the biggest concrete and glass human-shaped building in the
The building will join an iPOd, world-shaped islands, the elusive underwater
Hydropolis hotel and the world’s next tallest building - the Burj Dubai - on
the emirate’s rapidly expanding and occasionally bizarre skyline.
The latest design concept has left many wondering, ‘What next?’ for a
city where anything seems possible. Speaking about the endless possibilities
open to architects in Dubai, James Turford, assistant architect at Aedas,
said : “There is the potential to create a truly incredible city, with the
vast amount of money and space available here. “It’s really a playground of
ideas, where anything - within reason - goes.”
The Burj Al Arabi building is the brainchild of AAA Group chairman
Mohammed Al Syoufi, who wanted to create a concept representing national
culture and identity.
The kandura will be made from a special fabric that allows light to
permeate through and at the very top will be a boardroom for meetings - in
the ‘brain’ of the building. Construction is expected to start in the first
quarter of this year but it has not been launched for sale yet. Burj Al
Arabi is not intended to be the statute of a person, but to symbolise a
particular style of dress. It intends to honour the religion, culture and
language of the Arab people from a real estate perspective.
Imagine a building in London dressed as a London policeman or a Toronto
building in the form of a Mountie, or a Brazilian building designed as a
footballer and you get the idea!
Dubai Sports City showcased in London
3 January 2007
Dubai Sports City in the United Arab Emirates is set to
showcase the world’s first ever fully-integrated purpose built sports city
at the Dubai Property Show at the Novotel London West, Hammersmith on the
20th and 21st January 2007.
The gigantic 50 million square foot City will be approximately twice the
size of the City of London (Europe’s largest business district)! This
mind-blowing concept will offer homebuyers an entirely new lifestyle model,
specifically designed to support an outstanding quality of life.
The mouth-watering scheme will incorporate world class sports facilities,
four magnificent stadiums, global brand sports academies, leisure
facilities, hotels, cinemas, entertainment outlets, internationally renowned
schools, healthcare and a sports themed shopping mall to name a few.
As part of this staggering project, Dubai Sports City will be showcasing one
of many magnificent residential elements called Canal Residence West, an
elegant collection of five buildings comprising studio, one, two and three
bedroom penthouse apartments.
These, the schemes only waterfront homes, will boast unrivalled access to
the worlds top sporting events and facilities all incorporated within the
scheme. The 18-hole Ernie Els signature golf course, world class academies
such as Manchester United Soccer School, the David Lloyd Tennis Academy, the
International Cricket Council’s first ever ICC Global Cricket Academy, the
worlds first ‘WorldHockey’ Academy, a Butch Harmon School of Golf and a
world renowned health club will all be on the door step.
As for those other great passions; food, drink and other day-to-day social
therapy – Canal Residence West will feature a vibrant waterside promenade
where residents will find an exciting and eclectic mix of stylish
restaurants and chic cafes to satisfy even the most demanding devotee of
cosmopolitan urban living.
U.Balasubramaniam, CEO of Dubai Sports City comments: “Our vision and
masterplan for Dubai Sports City will set new lifestyle standards across the
world. Sports and leisure facilities will enable people to live life to the
full by exercising every positive human emotion. Based on the scientific
principle that a healthy life is a happier life, the scheme will cater for
every aspect of well-being: physical, mental and emotional.”
Private resident facilities will include a state-of-the-art health club,
beauty salons, elevated swimming pools and sundecks, children’s play areas,
communal gardens and barbeque areas, 24 hour security and concierge and
dedicated and secure private parking facilities.
Other essential amenities within a stones throw from the front door will
include community centres, supermarkets, parks and open spaces.
Every element of human requirement is located either within Canal Residence
West or is a short walk away making this a truly sustainable, self-contained
development. What’s more, if you’re not in the mood to walk, or drive for
that matter, an Arabian style pleasure boat will transport you down the
canal to more sports or leisure venues, further accentuating the therapeutic
nature of Canal Residence West.
The buildings at Canal Residence West will be designed in Arabic,
Mediterranean, Classic European, Venetian and Spanish Andalusia
architectural styles. Each apartment will benefit from balconies and
terraces bringing natural light and space into the home and making the most
of stunning views across Dubai Sports City.
Dubai Sports City has released apartments in three of the five buildings for
sale – the Mediterranean, the Classic European and the Venetian buildings
with apartments ranging from 488 sq ft to a sizeable 3,227 sq ft. Prices
will start from approx. £55,000 for a studio apartment.
Put a Tiger in your oil tank
5 December 2006
Not content with being the greatest golfer to ever draw
breath Tiger Woods popped into Dubai yesterday to set himself yet another
The World No.1 dropped in to announce plans for ‘The Tiger
Woods – Dubai’ – which, in typical marketing speak, will be an “exclusive
golf community that will include ‘Al Ruwaya’, a Tiger Woods designed golf
course, professionally-staffed golf academy; a 60,000-square-foot clubhouse
with the latest amenities and comforts; an 80-suite boutique hotel for VIP
guests; 300 luxury villas; 20 mansions and a community retail area.”
All sounds rather impressive doesn’t it? But I cannot help
feeling that maybe he has bitten off more than he can chew. Don’t get me
wrong, the idea of being able to play on a Tiger Woods’ designed course here
in Dubai is an exciting one. When he says: “I am excited about the challenge
of transforming a desert terrain into a world-class golf course,” and “I
have a vision of creating something that is uniquely mine”, which golfer, be
they hacker like me or low-handicapper wouldn’t get a buzz standing on the
first tee in Tiger’s vision of a perfect golf course?
And aren’t we privileged that the current Dubai Desert
Classic champion has chosen to begin his designing here?
But, Tiger, not averse to a challenge, really has set
himself a tough one here. While the 7,700 yards, par 72 ‘Al Ruwaya’ course
with its dramatic elevation changes, lush landscaping, stunning water
features, sounds impressive there is no getting away from the fact that in
Dubai alone the competition for the ‘best course tag’ is stiff. And, with a
host of new developments, such as Ernie Els’ ‘The Dunes’ and the earth,
fire, water and wind courses due to be located just off the Emirates Road,
coming up, it is only going to get stiffer.
Mr Woods won’t settle for being second-best though.
But does he really need the hassle? Surely he can settle
for just being the best golfer, leaving the locker room chinwag over who’s
designed the best course (not the most interesting chat I admit) to the
likes of Greg Norman, Vijay Singh and Nick Faldo.
While those boys need course designs in order keep them in
their learjets and marriage payoffs Tiger has already made enough cash to
live the life of a legend forever. Why put himself through the extra
Well, the answer to that little conundrum is illuminating
and may well depress the likes of Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson.
I know a plethora of people who like nothing more than
escaping the daily grind of their jobs by doing something completely
Some lawyer chums escape days of pouring over dull
documents by playing rugby or going sailing.
That Tiger has decided to get away from the golf course
by, err, designing one, highlights the focus of the man and suggests his
stay at the top could be an extremely long one. If I was being harsh I would
say it shows him to be rather dull. But if being dull means you are head and
shoulders above anyone in your field then good luck to him. What is not in
doubt is that Tiger rarely prowls far away from the game he has
Even The Tiger Woods Foundation, the charity he and his
father set up, has a strong focus on golf - getting under-privileged kids
off the streets and on to a fairway. There is little doubt that Furyk et al
would prefer him to escape the rigours of play by taking up something like
bungee jumping or shark-diving - anything to take his mind off the game,
winning yet more Majors, and showing he is more than a fairway ahead of the
rest in world golf.
RACE IS ON TO BE THE
MAIN COURSE IN DUBAI
With Tiger Woods announcing that his first course is to be
built in Dubai the question as to which player will have designed the
Emirate’s best course will be a tough one.
Here 7DAYS gives Tiger an insight into what he has to beat.
The Montgomerie - Unsurprisingly, given its name, designed
by Ryder Cup star Colin ‘Monty’ Montgomerie, this course, with the ‘largest
green in the world’, has already established itself as one of the best here.
The Wadi by Faldo - Located at Emirates Golf Club, this
course has just recently opened for play having been redesigned by British
golfing legend Nick Faldo. He has challenged the Dubai golfer by creating
many well-protected greens.
Arabian Ranches – Designed by former British Open winner
Ian Baker Finch, the concept for this course was to build a true desert
style course similar to those found in Palm Springs, California and
Scottsdale, Arizona. It has its own unique character.
And there are more on the way over the next few years.
Ernie Els’ The Dunes course will be in Dubai Sports City, while Greg Norman
and Vijay Singh are adding their visions for
Nakheel’s Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Bursting the property bubble
3 December 2006
Those that bought early in the Dubai property
market made a very good investment, and the doom merchants missed the
opportunity of a lifetime. But that does not mean that later comers will
enjoy the same success, or that early winners who are now loading up on
property again will be a winner for a second time.
For property moves in cycles and anyone who ignores this
fact of life is going to get burned as truly as if they stuck their hand
into a fire. Some people say it never rains in the
UAE but it did so yesterday.
Readers of this column will recall its bullish comment which lasted until a
couple of months ago. Those who took this advice and bought property have
generally had a good experience. But nothing lasts forever, and more and
more players have entered the Dubai property market creating what can only
be described as an investment bubble.
In such circumstances there are two choices for individual investors: sell
out before others decide to do so; or take a long term view of the cost of
renting as an alternative to owning and stick it out.
Error of optimism
What you should not be doing at or near the top of a real
estate cycle is borrowing a lot of money and buying more property,
especially if you are doing so by putting down a small deposit thinking that
you will always be able to sell out at a profit.
The investors who are going to get really caught out by a reversal of this
market - and all history suggests that what goes up just has to come down -
are those buying off-plan units on a five per cent or even zero deposit
basis from a developer without a good track record.
For in a downturn they will find themselves liable for 100 per cent of a
property and at best owning units bought at the highest prices with few
potential buyers; and at worse without property at all because the developer
has vanished, or has announced an indefinite construction delay.
So any real estate buyer should now be very cautious about how far they
stretch their finances, as well as being exceedingly careful with whom they
are doing business. Beware of novel ideas from new developers and projects
that are self-financing because no bank will touch them.
Bubble, what bubble?
Last week at the 'Leaders in Dubai' the world-respected
forecaster Harry S. Dent thought the Dubai property bubble was obvious from
even a casual inspection of the skyline.
But such is the enthusiasm of the moment that few people care to acknowledge
this simple reflection. They find comfort in the rush of money into this
sector, and think that so many investors can not be wrong.
In the real world those that have done well should concentrate on paying
down debts and consolidating their holdings into a long term portfolio
strategy. And those considering entering the market should recall the recent
losses experienced by local stock market investors, also a bullish crowd who
argued that this time was different.
Dubai's coastal expansion and a retirement gift for Schumacher
25 October 2006
NASA has released new images showing artificial islands being constructed in
Dubai, a city-state in the United Arab Emirates.
sand islands, which are the largest human-made islands in the world, are
being built at an incredible cost in both monetary -- "The World" alone will
cost more than $14 billion -- and environmental terms.
of the islands -- Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Jumeirah -- resemble encircled
palm trees, while "The World" island will resemble a world map once
completed, though this will only be apparent from aerial photos.
Palm Jumeirah when complete will have 17 huge fronds
framed by a 12-kilometer protective barrier. When completed, the resort will
sport 2,000 villas, 40 luxury hotels, shopping centers, cinemas, and other
facilities. When completed, the resort is expected to support a population
of approximately 500,000 people.
Dubai's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al
Maktoum, has given Michael Schumacher a piece of the man-made island
paradise The World. located off the coast of the United Arab
Emirates, as a parting gift after his last grand prix in Brazil.
Schumacher's island, apparently part of "Antarctica" on the artificial
globe, is worth about $7 million.
From south to
north the artificial island sites in this image are Palm Jebel Ali, Palm
Jumeirah, The World, and Palm Deira. Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Jumeirah appear
largely complete in this image, looking like giant palm trees enclosed in
huge arcs. Palm Deira, intended to be an even bigger palm tree when
complete, is in the earliest stages of construction. In between Palm
Jumeirah and the site for Palm Deira is the site for The World, which, when
complete, will resemble a world map. NASA images courtesy of the NASA/GSFC/MITI/ERSDAC/JAROS,
and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.
More pictures of Dubai from the sky can be
Trying to balance growth and identity in Dubai
20 October 2006 From the New York
United Arab Emirates South Asians call it
"the best-run Indian city," Arabs celebrate it as a model of Arab
accomplishment, and Westerners have embraced it for its endless sunshine and
With more than 150
nationalities and almost as many expressions of culture, Dubai is one of the
most diverse cities in the Middle East. But after decades of selling dreams
to foreigners, this Gulf emirate has begun debating the limits of
into the open in early October when an English-language newspaper published
an article decrying the growing disrespect for Muslim customs here during
the holy month of Ramadan, setting off a rare public debate about Dubai's
"Too much flesh on
show is wrong in a Muslim country at any time - but offense is being felt
especially during Ramadan," said the front-page editorial in 7Days, a free
included photographs of women walking in sleeveless tops and shorts at a
shopping mall under the headline "Show Some Respect." 7Days, which is run
and edited largely by Westerners, advised its readers to "please remember
that this is a Muslim country and many of us are guests here."
Within hours, the
newspaper was flooded with e-mails and phone calls, many praising the paper
for acknowledging the sensitivities of Muslims but many others lambasting it
for seeming to toe an official line.
Soon the entire
emirate was talking.
"We fear that the
expatriate is going to impose his culture on us," said Maya Rashid Ghadeer,
a columnist with the daily Al Bayan in Dubai, who writes about the local
community. "Most locals are afraid that they are losing their basic identity
For decades the
emirate, part of the federation of seven principalities that make up the
United Arab Emirates, sought to broaden its economy by welcoming foreigners
and their investment dollars, turning itself into a shipping hub, a regional
business hub and, more recently, a tourist hub with luxury hotels and
openness has helped produce dramatic economic growth and development, with
wide swaths under construction and more projects in the works. The boom has
brought big-city problems like inflation, rising crime, higher divorce rates
But beyond that,
it has taken a toll on local culture as many young Emaratis have begun
looking abroad, abandoning many traditions and even marrying foreigners.
With only about 200,000 local citizens, the demographics are daunting, said
Abdulkhaliq Abdallah, a professor of political science at United Arab
minorities assimilate into the majority," Abdallah said. "But we don't want
to assimilate into the majority. We want to preserve the localness, the
Emaratiness of this city."
At the same time,
Dubai is famous for offering a kind of Disneyland fantasy to its tourists.
In December, luxury resort hotels have large Christmas trees, and it can be
hard to orient oneself. Many outsiders say that is what makes Dubai stand
out in the region, and that the reaction to the article on Muslim modesty
involved some pushing back.
"Hello, this is
2006, not 1666," wrote one critical reader, who demanded to know what was
wrong with the clothing styles. "Does Dubai want to move forward in time
where women are no longer regarded as second-class citizens?"
implemented strict rules about public behavior - a man and woman kissing in
public can be arrested; it is an offense to dress inappropriately during
Ramadan; and altercations with locals can land expatriates in detention.
But with millions
of tourists passing through here, few of the laws are actually implemented.
Ramadan, which ends this weekend, is a month when Muslims fast during
daylight as part of what is supposed to be an intense focus on spirituality,
then eat at night. This Ramadan, however, stores stayed open throughout the
day, rather than closing during the afternoon, and many restaurants
continued to serve during fasting hours. Locals and expatriate Muslims have
continued to complain of a lack of Ramadan spirit compared with previous
"This is still a
salad platter with a tomato and cucumber that don't mix," Abdallah said,
stressing that Dubai could never be a melting pot because foreigners are
ineligible for citizenship. "It is a massive experiment in social tolerance,
and it should be promoted as such. But being tolerant should not come at the
expense of the local and national identity."
At least part of
the tensions stem from the deep cultural divide here. For the most part,
locals tend to live apart from expatriates and rarely interact socially with
As in many Gulf
states, Dubai's ethnic groups also exist in clearly defined socioeconomic
stratifications - locals are typically owners, Westerners earn the top
salaries, and south Asians generally do the menial labor.
"Here you don't
taste the cultural food and you don't have a chance to wear the clothes,
because there is no mandate to do so," said Rima Sabban, a sociologist at
Emirates University. "There is nothing for you to do; there is no one
culture for you to learn. The model that nationals have provided is that
it's OK to stay close to your community."
Seizing on that
division, the Sheikh Muhammed Center for Cultural Understanding, financed by
Dubai's ruler, Sheik Muhammed Al Maktoum, has invited expatriates to locals'
homes for dinner and organized tours and meals throughout the city. Inside a
local shopping mall this month, Khulood al Atiyat and several other college
students have manned a booth inviting shoppers to meet and speak with an
"This is a place
where they can come and talk to us and ask questions," Atiyat said.
"We are proud of
who we are, and we intend to stick to who we are."
FEAR AND MONEY IN DUBAI
On the rim of the war zone, a new Mecca
of conspicuous consumption and economic crime, under the iron rule of
Sheikh al-Maktoum. Skyscrapers half a mile high, artificial archipelagoes,
fantasy theme parks—and the indentured Asian labour force that sustains
‘As your jet starts its descent, you are
glued to your window. The scene below is astonishing: a 24-square-mile
archipelago of coral-coloured islands in the shape of an almost-finished
puzzle of the world. In the shallow green waters between continents, the
sunken shapes of the Pyramids of Giza and the Roman Colosseum are clearly
visible. In the distance, three other large island groups are configured as
palms within crescents and planted with high-rise resorts, amusement parks
and a thousand mansions built on stilts over the water. The ‘Palms’ are
connected by causeways to a Miami-like beachfront crammed with mega-hotels,
apartment skyscrapers and yachting marinas.
‘As the plane slowly banks toward the
desert mainland, you gasp at the even more improbable vision ahead. Out of a
chrome forest of skyscrapers soars a new Tower of Babel. It is an impossible
half-mile high: taller than the Empire State Building stacked on top of
itself. You are still rubbing your eyes with wonderment as the plane lands
and you are welcomed into an airport shopping emporium where seductive goods
entice: Gucci bags, Cartier watches and one-kilogram bars of solid gold. The
hotel driver is waiting for you in a Rolls Royce Silver Seraph. Friends had
recommended the Armani Inn in the 170-storey tower, or the 7-star hotel with
an atrium so huge that the Statue of Liberty would fit inside it, and
service so exclusive that the rooms come with personal butlers; but instead
you have opted to fulfill a childhood fantasy. You always have wanted to
play Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
‘Your jellyfish-shaped hotel, the
Hydropolis, is, in fact, exactly 66 feet below the surface of the sea. Each
of its 220 luxury suites has clear plexiglass walls that provide spectacular
views of passing mermaids and of the famed ‘underwater fireworks’: a
hallucinatory exhibition of ‘water bubbles, swirled sand and carefully
deployed lighting’. Any initial anxiety about the safety of your sea-bottom
resort is dispelled by the smiling concierge. The structure has a
multi-level fail-safe security system which includes protection against
terrorist submarines as well as missiles and aircraft.
‘Although you have an important business
meeting at Internet City with clients from Hyderabad and Taipei, you have
arrived a day early to treat yourself to one of the famed adventures at the
‘Restless Planet’ themepark. After a soothing night’s sleep under the sea,
you board a monorail for this Jurassic jungle. Your first encounter is with
some peacefully grazing brontosaurs. Next you are attacked by a flock of
velociraptors, the animatronic beasts—designed by experts from the British
Natural History Museum—so flawlessly lifelike that you shriek in fear and
delight. With your adrenaline pumped up by this close call, you round off
the afternoon with some snowboarding on the local indoor snow mountain
(outdoors, the temperature is 105°). Nearby is the world’s largest mall—the
altar of the city’s famed Shopping Festival, which attracts millions of
frenetic consumers each January—but you postpone the temptation. Instead,
you indulge in some expensive Thai fusion cuisine. The gorgeous Russian
blonde at the restaurant bar stares at you with vampirish hunger, and you
wonder whether the local sin is as extravagant as the shopping . . . ’
Welcome to a strange paradise. But where
are you? Is this a new Margaret Atwood novel, Philip K. Dick’s unpublished
sequel to Blade Runner or Donald Trump on acid? No. It is the Persian
Gulf city-state of Dubai in 2010. After Shanghai (current population 15
million), Dubai (current population 1.5 million) is the planet’s biggest
building site: an emerging dreamworld of conspicuous consumption and what
the locals boast as ‘supreme lifestyles’. Despite its blast-furnace climate
(on typical 120° summer days, the swankier hotels refrigerate their swimming
pools) and edge-of-the-war-zone location, Dubai confidently predicts that
its enchanted forest of 600 skyscrapers and malls will attract 15 million
overseas visitors a year by 2010, three times as many as New York City.
Emirates Airlines has placed a staggering $37-billion order for new Boeings
and Airbuses to fly these tourists in and out of Dubai’s new global air hub,
the vast Jebel Ali airport. Indeed, thanks to a dying planet’s terminal
addiction to Arabian oil, this former fishing village and smugglers’ cove
proposes to become one of the world capitals of the 21st century. Favouring
diamonds over rhinestones, Dubai has already surpassed that other desert
arcade of capitalist desire, Las Vegas, both in sheer scale of spectacle and
the profligate consumption of water and power.
Dozens of outlandish
mega-projects—including the artificial ‘island world’ (where Rod Stewart has
reportedly spent $33 million to buy ‘Britain’), the earth’s tallest building
(Burj Dubai, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill), the underwater luxury
hotel, the carnivorous dinosaurs, the domed ski resort and the
hyper-mall—are already under construction or about to leave the drawing
board. The 7-star hotel, the spinnaker-shaped Burj Al-Arab—looking much like
the set of a James Bond film—is already world-famous for its $5,000
per-night rooms with 100-mile views and an exclusive clientele of Arab
royalty, English rock stars and Russian billionaires. And the dinosaurs,
according to the finance director of the Natural History Museum, ‘will have
the full stamp of authority of the Museum in London, and will demonstrate
that education and science can be fun’; and profitable, since the ‘only way
into the dinosaur park will be through the shopping mall’.
The biggest project, Dubailand, represents
a vertiginous new stage in fantasy environments. Literally a ‘themepark of
themeparks’, it will be more than twice the size of Disney World and employ
300,000 workers who, in turn, will entertain 15 million visitors per year
(each spending a minimum of $100 per day, not including accommodation). Like
a surrealist encyclopaedia, its 45 major ‘world class’ projects include
replicas of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids,
as well as a snow mountain with ski lifts and polar bears, a centre for
‘extreme sports’, a Nubian village, ‘Eco-Tourism World’, a vast Andalusian
spa and wellness complex, golf courses, autodromes, race tracks, ‘Giants’
World’, ‘Fantasia’, the largest zoo in the Middle East, several new 5-star
hotels, a modern art gallery and the Mall of Arabia.
Under the enlightened despotism of its
Emir and ceo, 58-year-old Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum,
Dubai has become the new global icon of imagineered urbanism.
Multi-billionaire Sheikh Mo—as he is known to Dubai’s expats—has a
straightforward if immodest goal: ‘I want to be Number One in the world’.
Although he is an ardent collector of thoroughbreds (the world’s largest
stable) and super-yachts (the 525-foot-long ‘Project Platinum’, which has
its own submarine and flight deck), his consuming passion is over-the-top,
monumental architecture. Indeed, he seems to have imprinted Scott and
Venturi’s bible of hyper-reality, Learning From Las Vegas, in the
same way that pious Muslims memorize the Qur’an. One of his proudest
achievements, he often tells visitors, is to have introduced gated
communities to Arabia, the land of nomads and tents.
Thanks to his boundless enthusiasm for
concrete and steel, the coastal desert has become a huge circuit board upon
which the elite of transnational engineering firms and retail developers are
invited to plug in high-tech clusters, entertainment zones, artificial
islands, glass-domed ‘snow mountains’, Truman Show suburbs, cities
within cities—whatever is big enough to be seen from space and bursting with
architectural steroids. The result is not a hybrid but an eerie chimera: a
promiscuous coupling of all the cyclopean fantasies of Barnum, Eiffel,
Disney, Spielberg, Jon Jerde, Steve Wynn and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
Although compared variously to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Orlando, Monaco and
Singapore, the sheikhdom is more like their collective summation and
mythologization: a hallucinatory pastiche of the big, the bad and the ugly.
The same phantasmagoric but generic Lego
blocks, of course, can be found in dozens of aspiring cities these days
(including Dubai’s envious neighbours, the wealthy oil oases of Doha and
Bahrain), but al-Maktoum has a distinctive and inviolable criterion:
everything must be ‘world class’, by which he means Number One in the
Guinness Book of Records. Thus Dubai is building the world’s largest theme
park, the biggest mall (and within it, the largest aquarium), the tallest
building, the largest international airport, the biggest artificial island,
the first sunken hotel and so on (see below). Although such architectural
megalomania is eerily reminiscent of Albert Speer and his patron’s vision of
imperial Berlin, it is not irrational. Having ‘learned from Las Vegas’, al-Maktoum
understands that if Dubai wants to become the luxury-consumer paradise of
the Middle East and South Asia (its officially defined ‘home market’ of 1.6
billion), it must ceaselessly strive for visual and environmental excess.
If, as Rowan Moore has suggested, immense, psychotic assemblages of fantasy
kitsch inspire vertigo, then al-Maktoum wants us to swoon.
From a booster’s viewpoint, the city’s monstrous caricature
of futurism is simply shrewd branding for the world market. As one developer
told the Financial Times, ‘If there was no Burj Dubai, no Palm, no
World, would anyone be speaking of Dubai today? You shouldn’t look at
projects as crazy stand-alones. It’s part of building the brand’. And its
owners love it when architects and urbanists, like George Katodrytis, anoint
it as the cutting edge:
Dubai is a prototype of the new post-global city, which
creates appetites rather than solves problems . . . If Rome was the
‘Eternal City’ and New York’s Manhattan the apotheosis of
twentieth-century congested urbanism, then Dubai may be considered the
emerging prototype for the 21st century: prosthetic and nomadic oases
presented as isolated cities that extend out over the land and sea.
In its exponential quest to conquer the
architectural record-books, moreover, Dubai has only one real rival: China—a
country that now has 300,000 millionaires and is predicted to become the
world’s largest market for luxury goods (from Gucci to Mercedes) in a few
years. Starting from feudalism and peasant Maoism, respectively, both have
arrived at the stage of hyper-capitalism through what Trotsky called the
‘dialectic of uneven and combined development’. As Baruch Knei-Paz writes in
his admirable précis of Trotsky’s thought:
In appending new forms the backward society takes not
their beginnings, nor the stages of their evolution, but the finished
product itself. In fact it goes even further; it copies not the product as
it exists in its countries of origin but its ‘ideal type’, and it is able
to do so for the very reason that it is in a position to append instead of
going through the process of development. This explains why the new forms,
in a backward society, appear more perfected than in an advanced society
where they are approximations only to the ‘ideal’ for having been arrived
at piecemeal and with the framework of historical possibilities.
In the cases of Dubai and China, all the
arduous intermediate stages of commercial evolution have been telescoped or
short-circuited to embrace the ‘perfected’ synthesis of shopping,
entertainment and architectural spectacle, on the most pharaonic scale.
As a sweepstake in national pride—Arabs
versus Chinese—this frantic quest for hyperbole is not of course,
unprecedented; recall the famed competition between Britain and imperial
Germany to build dreadnoughts in the early 1900s. But is it an economically
sustainable strategy of development? The textbook answer is probably not.
Architectural gigantism has always been a perverse symptom of economies in
speculative overdrive, and each modern boom has left behind overweening
skyscrapers, the Empire State Building or the former World Trade Center, as
its tombstones. Cynics rightly point out that the hypertrophic real-estate
markets in Dubai and urban China are the sinks for global excess profits—of
oil and manufacturing exports, respectively—currently being pyramided by
rich countries’ inability to reduce oil consumption and, in the case of the
United States, to balance current accounts. If past business cycles are any
guide, the end could be nigh and very messy. Yet, like the king of the
enigmatic floating island of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels, al-Maktoum
believes that he has discovered the secret of eternal levitation.
The lodestone of Dubai, of course, is
‘peak oil’ and each time you spend $50 to fill your tank, you are helping to
irrigate al-Maktoum’s oasis. Fuel prices are currently inflated by
industrial China’s soaring demand as well as growing fears of war and
terrorism in the global oil patch. According to the
Wall Street Journal, ‘consumers
will [have paid] $1.2 trillion more in 2004 and 2005 together for oil
products than they did in 2003’ As in the 1970s, a huge and disruptive
transfer of wealth is taking place between oil-consuming and oil-producing
nations. Already visible on the horizon, moreover, is Hubbert’s Peak, the
tipping point when new petroleum reserves will no longer offset global
demand, and thereafter oil prices will become truly stratospheric. In some
utopian economic model, perhaps, this windfall would become an investment
fund for shifting the global economy to renewable energy while reducing
greenhouse gas output and raising the environmental efficiency of urban
systems. In the real world of capitalism, however, it has become a subsidy
for the apocalyptic luxuries that Dubai is coming to epitomize.
Miami of the Persian Gulf
According to his hagiographers, Dubai has
arrived at its blessed state thanks largely to the entrepreneurial vision
that al-Maktoum inherited from his father, Sheikh Rashid, who ‘committed
himself and his resources to turning his emirate into a modern world-class
entrepôt where free enterprise flourished’. In fact, Dubai’s irresistible
rise, like that of its parent, the United Arab Emirates, owes as much to a
sequence of fortuitous geopolitical accidents. Dubai’s chief regional
advantage, paradoxically, has been its modest endowment, now rapidly being
exhausted, of offshore oil. With a tiny hinterland lacking the geological
wealth of Kuwait or Abu Dhabi, Dubai has escaped poverty by a Singaporean
strategy of becoming the key commercial, financial and recreational hub of
the Gulf. It is a postmodern ‘city of nets’—as Brecht called
‘Mahagonny’—where the super-profits of the international oil trade are
intercepted and then reinvested in Arabia’s one truly inexhaustible natural
resource: sand. (Indeed, mega-projects in Dubai are typically measured by
volumes of sand moved: one billion cubic feet in the case of the
‘island world’.) If the current mega-project blitzkrieg, exemplified by
Dubailand, succeeds as planned, Dubai will derive all of its
gdp from non-oil activities like tourism and
finance by 2010.
The platform for Dubai’s extraordinary
ambitions has been its long history as a haven for smugglers, gold dealers
and pirates. A late-Victorian treaty gave London control over Dubai’s
foreign affairs, keeping the Ottomans and their tax collectors out of the
region, but otherwise allowing the al-Maktoum dynasty to exploit their
ownership of the only natural deepwater port along 400 miles of what was
then known as the ‘Pirates’ Coast’. Pearl fishing and smuggling were the
mainstays until oil wealth began to generate increased demand for Dubai’s
commercial savvy and port services. Up to 1956, when the first concrete
building was constructed, the entire population lived in traditional
‘barastri’ homes made from palm fronds, drawing water from communal wells
and tethering their goats in the narrow streets.
After the British withdrawal from East of
Suez in 1968, Sheikh Rashid joined with the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed,
to create the United Arab Emirates in 1971, a feudal federation bound
together by the common threat of the Marxists in Oman and, later, the
Islamists in Iran. Abu Dhabi possessed the greater share of the
uae’s oil wealth (almost one-twelfth of the
world’s proven hydrocarbon reserves) but Dubai was the more logical port and
commercial centre. When the city’s original deep-water ‘creek’ proved too
small to handle burgeoning trade, the uae’s
leadership used some of their earnings from the first ‘oil shock’ to help
Dubai finance construction of the world’s largest man-made port, completed
Following Khomeini’s revolution in 1979,
it also became the Persian Gulf’s Miami, providing refuge to a large
community of Iranian exiles, many of whom specialized in smuggling gold,
untaxed cigarettes and liquor to their puritanical homeland, and to India.
More recently, Dubai under the tolerant gaze of Tehran has attracted large
numbers of wealthy Iranians who use the city—more like Hong Kong than Miami
—as a base for trade and bi-national life-styles. They are estimated to
control as much as 30 per cent of Dubai’s current real-estate development.
Building on such clandestine connections, Dubai in the 1980s and early 1990s
became the Gulf’s principal dirty-money laundry as well as a bolthole for
some of the region’s most notorious gangsters and terrorists. As the
Wall Street Journal recently
described the city’s underside:
Its gold and diamond souks, houses of barter and
informal cash-transfer storefronts have long formed an opaque business
world based on connections and clan allegiances. Black-market operators,
arms dealers, terrorist financiers and money launderers have taken
advantage of the freewheeling environment, even if the vast bulk of
business is legitimate.
In early 2006 the
us Congress erupted in a furore over Dubai Port World’s imminent
takeover of the London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation
Company, which operates docks from New York to Miami. Despite support from
the Bush Administration, Dubai was forced to withdraw from the deal after a
firestorm of accusations on cable news programmes and radio talk-shows about
the supposed dangers of ceding control of American commercial ports to a
Middle Eastern government. Much of the controversy was unquestionably
fuelled by anti-Arab bigotry pure and simple (us
port operations are already largely under management of foreign-owned
firms), but Dubai’s ‘terrorist connection’, an outgrowth of its role as the
Switzerland of the Gulf, has been well documented.
Indeed, since 9/11 a huge investigative
literature has explored Dubai’s role as ‘the financial hub for Islamic
militant groups’, especially al-Qaeda and the Taliban: ‘all roads lead to
Dubai when it comes to [terrorist] money’, claims a former high-ranking
us Treasury official. Bin Laden reportedly
transferred large sums through the government-owned Dubai Islamic Bank,
while the Taliban used the city’s unregulated gold markets to transform
their opium taxes, paid in gold bullion, into laundered dollars.In his
best-selling Ghost Wars, Steve Coll claims that after the
catastrophic al-Qaeda bombings of the us
embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, a cia
scheme to target bin Laden with cruise missiles while he was falcon hunting
in southern Afghanistan had to be aborted because he was in the company of
unnamed Emirati royalty. Coll adds that the cia
‘also suspected that C-130s flying out of Dubai carried weapons to the
In addition, al-Maktoum for almost a
decade provided luxurious sanctuary for Bombay’s Al Capone, the legendary
gangster Dawood Ibrahim. His presence in the sheikhdom in the late 1980s was
hardly low-key. ‘Dubai’, writes Suketu Mehta, ‘suited Dawood; he re-created
Bombay in lavish parties, flying in scores of the city’s top film stars and
cricketers as guests, and took a film starlet, Mandakini, as his mistress’.
In early 1993, according to the Indian government, Dawood, working with
Pakistani intelligence officials, used Dubai as a base for organizing the
infamous ‘Black Friday’ bombings in Bombay that killed 257 people. Although
India immediately requested Dubai to arrest Dawood, he was allowed to flee
to Karachi, where he is still sheltered by the Pakistani government; his
criminal organization, ‘D-Company’, meanwhile, has reportedly continued to
be active in the sheikhdom.
Dubai now enjoys high marks from
Washington as a partner in the War on Terror and, in particular, as a base
for spying on Iran; but it is probable that al-Maktoum, like the other
Emirati rulers, still keeps a channel open to radical Islamists. If al-Qaeda
so desired, for example, it could presumably turn the Burj Al-Arab and
Dubai’s other soaring landmarks into so many towering infernos. Yet so far
Dubai is one of the few cities in the region to have entirely avoided
car-bombings and attacks on Western tourists: eloquent testament, one might
suppose, to the city-state’s continuing role as a money laundry and upscale
hideout, like Tangiers in the 1940s or Macao in the 1960s. Dubai’s
burgeoning black economy is its insurance policy against the car-bombers and
In many complex and surprising ways, Dubai
actually earns its living from fear. Its huge port complex at Jebel Ali, for
example, has profited immeasurably from the trade generated by the
us invasion of Iraq, while Terminal Two at
the Dubai airport, always crowded with Halliburton employees, private
mercenaries and American soldiers en route to Baghdad or Kabul, has been
described as ‘the busiest commercial terminal in the world’ for America’s
Middle East wars. Post-9/11 developments have also shifted global investment
patterns to Dubai’s benefit. Thus after al-Qaeda’s attacks on America, the
Muslim oil states, traumatized by the angry Christians in Washington and
lawsuits by wtc survivors, no longer
considered the United States the safest harbour for their petrodollars.
Panicky Saudis alone are estimated to have repatriated at least one-third of
their trillion-dollar overseas portfolio. Although nerves are now
calmer, Dubai has benefited enormously from the continuing inclination of
the oil sheikhs to invest within, rather than outside, the region. As Edward
Chancellor has emphasized, ‘unlike the last oil boom of the late 1970s,
relatively little of the current Arab oil surplus has been directly invested
in us assets or even deposited in the
international banking system. This time much of the oil money has remained
at home where a classic speculative mania is now being played out.’
In 2004, the Saudis (500,000 of whom are
estimated to visit Dubai at least once a year) were believed to have
ploughed at least $7 billion into al-Maktoum’s major properties. Saudis,
together with investors from Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Iran and even emulous Qatar,
bankroll the hubris of Dubailand (officially developed by Dubai’s
billionaire Galadari brothers) and other colossal fantasy projects. Although
economists stress the driving role of equity investment in the current Gulf
boom, the region is also awash with cheap bank credit thanks to a 60 per
cent increase in the local deposit base and the slipstreaming of the
us Federal Reserve’s easy money policies (the
currencies of the Gulf emirates are all linked to the dollar).
Much of this money, of course, dances to
an old tune. ‘A majority of new Dubai properties’, explains
Business Week, ‘are being
acquired for speculative purposes, with only small deposits put down. They
are being flipped in the contemporary Miami manner.’ But what is too often
‘flipped’, some economists predict, may ultimately flop. Will Dubai someday
fall from the sky when this real-estate balloon bursts, or will peak oil
keep this desert Laputa floating above the contradictions of the world
economy? Al-Maktoum remains a mountain of self-confidence: ‘I would like to
tell capitalists that Dubai does not need investors; investors need Dubai.
And I tell you that the risk lies not in using your money, but in letting it
Dubai’s philosopher-king (one of the huge
offshore island projects will actually spell out an epigram of his in Arabic
script) is well aware that fear is also the most dynamic component of the
oil revenues that turn his sand dunes into malls and skyscrapers. Every time
insurgents blow up a pipeline in the Niger Delta, a martyr drives his truck
bomb into a Riyadh housing complex, or Washington and Tel Aviv rattle their
sabres at Tehran, the price of oil (and thus Dubai’s ultimate income)
increases by some increment of anxiety in the all-important futures market.
The Gulf economies, in other words, are now capitalized not just on oil
production, but also on the fear of its disruption. According to a recent
survey of experts by Business Week,
‘the world paid the Persian Gulf oil states an extra $120 billion or so last
year because of the premium in prices due to fear of unexpected supply
disruptions. Some cynics argue that oil producers welcome the fear of
disruption because it boosts their revenues’. ‘Fear’, according to one of
the senior energy analysts that the magazine consulted, ‘is a gift to oil
But it is a gift that the oil rich would
rather spend in a tranquil oasis surrounded by very high walls. With its
sovereignty ultimately guaranteed by the American nuclear super-carriers
usually berthed at Jebel Ali, as well as by whatever secret protocols
(negotiated during falcon hunting trips in Afghanistan?) govern the Emiratis’
relationship to Islamic terrorism, Dubai is a paradise of personal security,
from the Swiss-style laws governing financial secrecy to the armies of
concierges, watchmen and bodyguards who protect its sanctums of luxury.
Tourists are customarily ordered away by the security guards if they attempt
to sneak a peek at Burj Al-Arab on its private island. Hotel guests, of
course, arrive in Rolls Royces.
Milton Friedman’s beach club
Dubai, in other words, is a vast gated
community, the ultimate Green Zone. But even more than Singapore or Texas,
it is also the apotheosis of the neo-liberal values of contemporary
capitalism: a society that might have been designed by the Economics
Department of the University of Chicago. Dubai, indeed, has achieved what
American reactionaries only dream of—an oasis of free enterprise without
income taxes, trade unions or opposition parties (there are no elections).
As befits a paradise of consumption, its unofficial national holiday, as
well as its global logo, is the celebrated Shopping Festival, a month-long
extravaganza sponsored by the city’s 25 malls that begins on 12 January and
attracts 4 million upscale shoppers, primarily from the Middle East and
Feudal absolutism—the Maktoum dynasty owns
the land area of Dubai —meanwhile has been spruced up as the last word in
enlightened corporate administration, and the political sphere has been
officially collapsed into the managerial. ‘People refer to our crown prince
as the chief executive officer of Dubai. It’s because, genuinely, he runs
government as a private business for the sake of the private sector, not for
the sake of the state’, says Saeed al-Muntafiq, head of the Dubai
Development and Investment Authority. Moreover, if the country is a single
business, as al-Maktoum maintains, then ‘representative government’ is
besides the point: after all, General Electric and Exxon are not democracies
and no one—except for raving socialists—expects either to be so.
The state, accordingly, is almost
indistinguishable from private enterprise. Dubai’s top managers—all
commoners, hired meritocratically—simultaneously hold strategic government
portfolios and manage a major Maktoum-controlled real-estate development
company. ‘Government’, indeed, is really an equities management team led by
three top players who compete with one another to earn the highest returns
for al-Maktoum (see Table 2). ‘In such a system’, writes William Wallis,
‘the concept of a conflict of interest is barely recognized’. Because the
country has one ultimate landlord, and myriad streams of rent and lease
payments all flow to a single beneficiary, Dubai is able to dispense with
most of the sales, customs and income taxes essential to governments
elsewhere. The minimal tax burden, in turn, leverages the sale or lease of
Dubai’s golden sands. Oil-rich Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, subsidizes the residual
state functions, including foreign relations and defence, entrusted to the
Emirates’ federal administration—itself a condominium of the interests of
the ruling sheikhs and their relatives.
In a similar spirit, personal liberty in
Dubai derives strictly from the business plan, not from a constitution, much
less ‘inalienable rights’. Al-Maktoum and his executives have to arbitrate
between lineage-based power and Islamic law, on the one hand, and Western
business culture and recreational decadence on the other. Their ingenious
solution is a regime of what might be called ‘modular liberties’ based on
the rigorous spatial segregation of economic functions and ethnically
circumscribed social classes. To understand how this works in practice, it
is necessary briefly to survey Dubai’s overall development strategy.
Although tourist development and its
excesses generate most of the ‘buzz’ about Dubai, the city-state has
extraordinary ambitions to capture as much value-added as possible through a
series of specialized free-trade zones and high-tech clusters. ‘One of the
ways that this trading town along a creek has reformulated itself into a
megalopolis’, writes an abc News commentator,
‘is by throwing in everything and the kitchen sink as incentives for
companies to invest in and relocate to Dubai. There are free-trade zones
where 100 per cent foreign ownership is allowed, with no individual or
corporate taxes or import/export duties whatsoever.’ The original free-trade
zone in the port district of Jebel Ali now has several thousand resident
trading and industrial firms, and is the major base for American
corporations selling to the Saudi and Gulf markets.
Most future growth, however, is expected
to be generated within an archipelago of specialized ‘clusters’. The largest
of these cities-within-the-city are Internet City, already the Arab world’s
principal information technology hub, with local subsidiaries of Dell,
Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and others; Media City, home to the Al Arabiya
satellite network and various international news organizations; and the
Dubai International Financial Centre, whose dfix
al-Maktoum hopes will grow into the largest stock exchange between Europe
and East Asia as foreign investors rush to tap the Gulf’s vast reservoir of
oil earnings. In addition to these mega-enclaves, each with tens of
thousands of employees, Dubai also hosts or is planning to build a
Humanitarian Aid City, as a base for disaster relief; a free-trade zone
dedicated to the sale of used cars; a Dubai Metals and Commodities Centre; a
‘Chess City’ headquartering the International Chess Association and designed
as a vast chess board with two ‘King’ towers, each 64 storeys high; and a $6
billion Healthcare Village, in collaboration with the Harvard Medical
School, that will offer the wealthy classes of the Gulf region
state-of-the-art American medical technology.
Other cities in the region, of course,
have free-trade zones and high-tech clusters, but only Dubai has allowed
each enclave to operate under regulatory and legal bubble-domes tailored to
the specific needs of foreign capital and expat professionals. ‘Carving out
lucrative niches with their own special rules’, claims the
Financial Times, ‘has been at the
heart of Dubai’s development strategy’.Thus press censorship (flagrant in
the rest of Dubai) is largely suspended inside Media City, while internet
access (regulated for content elsewhere) is absolutely unfettered inside
Internet City. The uae has permitted Dubai to
set up ‘an entirely separate, Western-based commercial system for its
financial district that would do business in dollars, and in English’.
Although not without ensuing controversy, Dubai even imported British
financial regulators and retired judges to bolster confidence that
dfix plays by the same rules as Zurich,
London and New York. Meanwhile, to promote the sell-off of Palm Jumeirah
mansions and the private islands that make up the ‘island world’, al-Maktoum
in May 2002 announced a ‘freehold revolution’, unique in the region, that
allows foreigners to buy luxury property outright and not just as a 99-year
In addition to these enclaved regimes of
greater media and business freedom, Dubai is also famously tolerant of
Western vices, with the exception of recreational drugs. In contrast to
Saudi Arabia or even Kuwait City, booze flows freely in the city’s hotels
and expat bars, and no one looks askance at halter tops or even string
bikinis on the beach. Dubai—any of the hipper guidebooks will advise—is also
the ‘Bangkok of the Middle East’, with thousands of Russian, Armenian,
Indian and Iranian prostitutes controlled by various transnational gangs and
mafias. The Russian girls at the bar are the glamorous façade of a sinister
sex trade built on kidnapping, slavery and sadistic violence. Al-Maktoum and
his thoroughly modern regime, of course, disavow any collusion with this
burgeoning red-light industry, although insiders know that the whores are
essential to keeping the 5-star hotels full of European and Arab
businessmen. When expats extol Dubai’s unique ‘openness’, it is this freedom
to carouse and debauch—not to organize unions or publish critical
opinions—that they are usually praising.
An indentured, invisible majority
Dubai, together with its emirate
neighbors, has achieved the state of the art in the disenfranchisement of
labour. In a country that only abolished slavery in 1963, trade unions, most
strikes and all agitators are illegal, and 99 per cent of the private-sector
workforce are immediately deportable non-citizens. Indeed, the deep thinkers
at the American Enterprise and Cato Institutes must salivate when they
contemplate the system of classes and entitlements in Dubai.
At the top of the social pyramid, of
course, are the al-Maktoums and their cousins who own every lucrative grain
of sand in the sheikhdom. Next, the native 15 per cent of the population
(many of them originally Arab-speakers from southern Iran) constitutes a
leisure class whose uniform of privilege is the traditional white
dishdash. Their obedience to the dynasty is rewarded by income
transfers, free education, subsidized homes and government jobs. A step
below are the pampered mercenaries: more than 100,000 British expatriates
(another 100,000 uk citizens own second homes
or condos in Dubai), along with other European, Lebanese, Iranian and Indian
managers and professionals, who take full advantage of their air-conditioned
affluence and two months of overseas leave every summer. The Brits, led by
David Beckham (who owns a beach) and Rod Stewart (who owns an island), are
probably the biggest cheerleaders for al-Maktoum’s paradise, and many of
them luxuriate in a social world that recalls the lost splendour of
gin-and-tonics at Raffles and white mischief in Simla’s bungalows. Dubai is
expert at catering to colonial nostalgia.
The city-state is also a miniature Raj in
a more important and notorious aspect. The great mass of the population are
South Asian contract labourers, legally bound to a single employer and
subject to totalitarian social controls. Dubai’s luxury lifestyles are
attended by vast numbers of Filipina, Sri Lankan and Indian maids, while the
building boom (which employs fully one-quarter of the workforce) is carried
on the shoulders of an army of poorly paid Pakistanis and Indians, the
largest contingent from Kerala, working twelve-hour shifts, six and a half
days a week, in the asphalt-melting desert heat.
Dubai, like its neighbours, flouts
ilo labour regulations and refuses to adopt
the international Migrant Workers Convention. Human Rights Watch in 2003
accused the Emirates of building prosperity on ‘forced labour’. Indeed, as
the Independent recently
emphasized, ‘the labour market closely resembles the old indentured labour
system brought to Dubai by its former colonial master, the British.’ ‘Like
their impoverished forefathers’, the London paper continued, ‘today’s Asian
workers are forced to sign themselves into virtual slavery for years when
they arrive in the United Arab Emirates. Their rights disappear at the
airport where recruitment agents confiscate their passports and visas to
In addition to being super-exploited,
Dubai’s helots—like the proletariat in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis—are
also expected to be generally invisible. The local press (the
uae ranks a dismal 137th on the global Press
Freedom Index) is restrained from reporting on migrant workers, exploitative
working conditions, and prostitution. Likewise, ‘Asian labourers are banned
from the glitzy shopping malls, new golf courses and smart restaurants.’ Nor
are the bleak work camps on the city’s outskirts—where labourers are crowded
six, eight, even twelve to a room, often without air-conditioning or
functioning toilets—part of the official tourist image of a city of luxury,
without poverty or slums.In a recent visit, even the
uae Minister of Labour was reported to be shocked by the squalid,
almost unbearable conditions in a remote work camp maintained by a large
construction contractor. Yet when the labourers attempted to form a union to
win back pay and improve living conditions, they were promptly arrested.
Dubai’s police may turn a blind eye to
illicit diamond and gold imports, prostitution rings, and shady characters
who buy 25 villas at a time in cash, but they are diligent in deporting
Pakistani workers who complain about being cheated out of their wages by
unscrupulous contractors, or jailing Filipina maids for ‘adultery’ when they
report being raped by their employers.
To avoid the simmering volcano of Shiite unrest that so worries
Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Dubai and its uae
neighbours have favoured a non-Arab workforce drawn from western India,
Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines. But as Asian
workers have become an increasingly restive majority, the
uae has reversed course and adopted a
‘cultural diversity policy’—‘we have been asked not to recruit any more
Asians’, explained one contractor—to reinforce control over the workforce by
diluting the existing national concentrations with more Arab workers.
Discrimination against Asians, however,
has failed to recruit enough Arabs willing to work at the lowly wages ($100
to $150 per month) paid to construction labourers to meet the insatiable
demands of the exploding skyline and half-built mega-projects.
Indeed the building boom, with its appalling safety record and
negligence of workers’ most basic needs, has incubated Dubai’s first labour
rebellion. In 2004 alone, Human Rights Watch estimated that as many as 880
construction workers were killed on the job, with most of the fatal
accidents unreported by employers or covered up by the government.
At the same time, the giant construction companies and their subcontractors
have failed to guarantee minimum facilities for sanitation or adequate
supplies of potable water at remote desert labour camps. Workers also have
been exasperated by longer commutes to worksites, the petty tyranny (often
with a racial or religious bias) of their supervisors, the spies and company
guards in their camps, the debt-bondage of their labour contracts, and the
government’s failure to prosecute fly-by-night contractors who leave Dubai
or declare bankruptcy without paying back wages. As one embittered labourer
from Kerala told the New York Times,
‘I wish the rich people would realize who is building these towers. I wish
they could come and see how sad this life is.’
The first tremor of unrest came in fall
2004 when several thousand Asian workers courageously marched down the
eight-lane Sheikh Zayed Highway toward the Ministry of Labour, only to be
met by riot police and officials threatening mass deportations.
Smaller demonstrations and strikes, protesting unpaid wages or
unsafe working conditions, continued through 2005, drawing inspiration from
a large uprising of Bangladeshi workers in Kuwait during the spring. In
September, an estimated 7,000 workers demonstrated for three hours, the
largest protest in Dubai history. Then, on 22 March 2006, bullying security
men ignited a riot at the vast Burj Dubai tower site.
Some 2,500 exhausted workers were waiting
after the end of their shift for long overdue buses to take them back to
their dormitories in the desert, when the guards began to harass them. The
enraged labourers, many of them Indian Muslims, overwhelmed and beat the
guards, then attacked the construction headquarters: burning company cars,
ransacking offices, destroying computers and smashing files. The following
morning, the army of labourers defied police to return to the site, where
they refused to work until Dubai-based Al Naboodah Laing O’Rourke raised
wages and improved working conditions. Thousands of construction workers at
a new airport terminal also joined the wildcat strike. Although some minor
concessions along with draconian threats forced most of the labourers back
to work at the Burj Dubai and the airport, the underlying grievances
continue to fester. In July, hundreds of labourers at the Arabian Ranches
project on Emirates Road rioted to protest the chronic shortage of water for
cooking and bathing at their camp. Other workers have held clandestine union
meetings and reportedly threatened to picket hotels and malls.
The unruly voice of labour echoes louder
in the deserts of the uae than it might
elsewhere. At the end of the day, Dubai is capitalized just as much on cheap
labour as it is on expensive oil, and the Maktoums, like their cousins in
the other emirates, are exquisitely aware that they reign over a kingdom
built on the backs of a South Asian workforce. So much has been invested in
Dubai’s image as an imperturbable paradise of capital that even small
disturbances can have exaggerated impacts on investors’ confidence. Dubai
Inc. is thus currently considering a variety of responses to worker unrest,
ranging from expulsions and mass arrests to some limited franchising of
collective bargaining. But any tolerance of protest risks future demands not
just for unions, but for citizenship, and thereby threatens the absolutist
foundations of Maktoum rule. None of the shareholders in Dubai—whether the
American Navy, the Saudi billionaires, or the frolicking expats—want to see
the emergence of a Solidarnosc in the desert.
Al-Maktoum, who fancies himself the Gulf’s
prophet of modernization, likes to impress visitors with clever proverbs and
heavy aphorisms. A favourite: ‘Anyone who does not attempt to change the
future will stay a captive of the past.’ Yet the future that he is building
in Dubai—to the applause of billionaires and transnational corporations
everywhere—looks like nothing so much as a nightmare of the past: Speer
meets Disney on the shores of Araby.