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Dubai-bashing becomes an art form

Dubai-bashing becomes an art form

Despite all the criticism that Dubai is receiving from the international media, Linda Heard, a commentator for Arab News, insists that it will emerge from the crisis more victorious.

April 7, 2009 9:16 by

Why do foreign journalists love to hate Dubai? While it’s certainly true that like the rest of the planet Dubai is experiencing a downturn through no fault of its own, if you read some of the shrill headlines, the emirate is on the point of becoming a deserted wasteland. “Dubai is in danger of becoming a ruin-in-waiting” writes the Toronto Star, which describes the city as “some sheikh’s mad idea of what a metropolis should be”.

“Dubai-bashing is in fashion right now,” an official from the Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai told Time magazine. He’s right except that gleeful attacks on Dubai have been prevalent ever since the 1990s when its charms were no longer a best-kept secret.

Just look at the envy or inverted snobbery oozing out of these pre-downturn descriptions.

Dubai is like “Singapore on steroids”, wrote a staff writer with CNET News. Tim Hames writing in the Times compared Dubai to “Disney in the desert, though with a coastline”.

“Is this a new science-fiction novel from Margaret Atwood, the sequel to ‘Blade Runner’ or Donald Trump tripping on acid?” asked the author Mike Davis, who described Dubai as “an emerging dream-world of conspicuous consumption, which locals dub “supreme lifestyles”.

Hester Lacey, who wrote an article on falconry for The Independent said she went to Dubai imagining “endless gruesome shopping malls flogging designer rubbish” and was “prepared to dislike the place” but she does, rather grudgingly admit that she wished she had stayed longer to take advantage of everything there is to do.

Is there anywhere in the world that is so admired and so disliked at the same time, purely due to its aspirations to excellence? For me, Dubai will always be a miracle of innovation, foresightedness and entrepreneurship.

My very first glimpse of this incredible city was in 1975 when the newly opened Inter.Continental on the Creek was its only luxury hotel. Today, of course, there are over 300. At that time, there were very few schools and hospitals and not very many roads. It was very much an enigma then. Surrounded by sand was a Lebanese-run dress boutique that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the Avenue Montaigne, selling French fashion and sunglasses. I later wowed my friends at home wearing one of the shop’s evening gowns but when I told them I had bought it in Dubai they invariably responded with “Where? Never heard of it?”

When I finally moved to Dubai in 1983, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I ended up staying for 14 years, some of the best of my life. And no, this had nothing to do with shopping malls. It was more a permanent sense of endless possibility in a land that was – and is – cosmopolitan, calm, simple, yet sophisticated. Even then, overseas visitors who were bowled over with the place would usually tag their enthusiasm with, “Well, this isn’t real life”, as though “real life” somehow has to be hostile or an endless struggle against adversity. It was almost as though they were unable to conceive of “real life” being a joyful adventure.

I’m no psychic, but I won’t hesitate to predict that Dubai will emerge from this global crisis even stronger than before. Indeed, it experienced something similar during the 1990/91 Gulf War. Then, untold thousands of expatriate workers left for home, tourism dried up and companies tightened their belts. I recall my own asking us not to throw away unwanted photocopies as the backs could be used to jot down notes. In fact, things were so bad that I was asked to take two months unpaid leave. But, in those days, Dubai wasn’t a headliner so its economic struggles went relatively unnoticed.

Today’s media gloom and doom merchants of which there are many point to Dubai’s lack of oil and the fact that it is highly leveraged (which country isn’t?). They shine a spotlight on idle cranes, temporarily shelved construction projects and plunging property prices as a sign that Dubai is finished. When residents begin sleeping in their cars or under canvas as so many thousands are now doing in the US, I might believe it.

A place like Dubai that emerged from the sands to become a world-beater in just over 30 years is here to stay. Just wait until the economic tide turns when I’ll bet foreign speculators will be heading to Dubai hunting for bargains in their droves. In the meantime, this relative lull may not be such a bad thing. It allows Dubai to take stock and decide upon its future direction.

First seen in Arab News.

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  1. SAS on August 25, 2009 6:10 pm

    Excellent article. truly spot on ! Dubai is an amazing city, its critics are mostly either jealous or racist ( sometimes both ) and once the global economy recovers, Dubai will be one of the first cities to recover. Then the rest of us can revel as Dubai’s critics eat their hearts out !

  2. Andreas Papamichael on October 29, 2009 11:03 pm

    Dubai already lost the game. It will never recover as there are no end users for the properties already built. The situation will become worse even when the world gets out of the recession. Dubai will be in recession for many years to come and may naver recover> It is a lost case.

  3. Peter on January 15, 2010 1:44 am

    The reality about Dubai being bankrupt and Dubai bashing is bang on. In response to this article you will find 2 sets of respondents. 1 set that will slate Dubai and the 2nd set that will praise Dubai. The slaters are usually living outside the Emirate and the praisers are living inside the Emirate.

    I am one who has lived in Dubai for numerous years and can align myself with both sets if I wanted to. However, taking everything into account, I will say that Dubai has some good things going for it, i.e. safety, shopping and safety! But on the whole, it is a dictatorship built on slavery pretending to be a part of the developed world. Dubai does practice open discrimination, the locals do have an ‘I am better than though mentality’ and the law actually maintans this status quo, plus the Emirate has hypocritical practices (open prostitution, alcohol consumption, service based on your birth place and the colour of your skin, but claiming to be an Islamic State). The respondents who are praising Dubai, are doing so in order to save their bacon because they know very well that anything negative said about the establishment will result in imprisonment followed by deportation and they cannot afford for that to happen as it will effect their families back home. Dubai has swindled money from literally every person that comes into the Emirates in order to find a bettter life and then after it has financially raped them, it tells them to get out. The days when people from the West used to go to Dubai in order to make a hefty tax free income and then come home with a lump some amount are long gone. The majority of the people who now leave Dubai are broke and come home with nothing.

    Some respondents are right. If you don’t like it then don’t come and stay away. However, the problem here is that Dubai wants everyone to come because it has no real economy of it’s own. It is advertising worldwide in the Western countries as an exotic tourist destination, economic trading hub for East and West and a newly built oasis of Real Estate. The majority of investors in Dubai are expats are not local emiratis. If it wasn’t for the expat investors and labourers whether they be in the building trade, retail, hospitality, taxi, finance and banking, the City would still be in the Dark Ages diving for pearls, asking for hand outs from every country and still practicing piracy like they used to. It is us, the expatriate community that built Dubai and it is us the expatriate community that will bring Dubai back to it’s knees where it belongs.

    There is no such thing as freedom of speech, choice or movement in Dubai and anyone who thinks otherwise needs a reality check. The laws are draconian from the offset and are usually made up depending on what mood the Ruler is in on any given day. If the Emirate was so cool and propsperous, then why would the Ruling Elite be educated abroad, hide their wealth abroad, invest abroad and ask people to come and build their country from abroad?

    It was about time that one of the greatest lies in modern history was exposed including the modern day Pharoah (Sheikh Mo) who has built this city with modern day slavery, under the guise of modern day prosperity, utilising modern day technology.


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