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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 Linda Heard
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.