At least we are Dubai

Conor Purcell April 30, 2010

George Fulton’s opinion piece on Dubai – “At least we are not Dubai” – was misguiding, cliché-ridden and typical of the simplistic analysis some of the foreign media has employed when talking about Dubai. Schadenfreude seems to be the dominant emotion. Just who did these Arabs think they were? The economic crash that affected the entire world (including Pakistan) led to an outpouring of glee in certain sections of the media when it came to the Emirates.

There seemed to be delight that Dubai had ‘failed’ and expectations that the city would turn into a ghost town, receding back into the sand. What this reporting exhibits is ignorance — ignorance of the fact that Dubai is about much more than five-star hotels and skyscrapers. This ignorance is clear from George’s second paragraph. He claims that Dubai has no art.

Did he, in his ten days in the city, visit the thriving art scene in Al Quoz or walk through an exhibition at The Gate at the Dubai International Financial Centre? Did he pick up a copy of Bidoun or Brownbook magazine? It seems not. What he did do was go to the mall, where he observed “people buying shirts they will never wear and books they will never read.”

One wonders how he came to this conclusion. But we get the sense George came to his conclusion long before he arrived in Dubai and nothing he saw was going to change his mind. He loves clichés: “…the Arabs walk around with enough gold-bling to blind you at ten paces. But not everything that glitters is gold.” Thanks George, how insightful. Most of the Emiratis walk around in simple white khandouras, the women in black abayas — that’s certainly not blinding.

But why let a fact get in the way of a pithy phrase? George has a question he wants answered: “…will this city of hubris built on sand and folly sink back into the dunes, a desert mirage that evaporates once the public relations people, the speculators and the tourists disappear?” We can guess what he believes will happen, but unluckily for George, Dubai is made of slightly sterner stuff. It is by no means perfect, but name a country that is?

For all its faults, it still draws millions of tourists each year and many of the speculators have already left — something the locals and long-term expatriates are not sorry about. And if Dubai did fail just what message would that send to the rest of the world? Why would that be celebrated? Dubai has forced the world to look at the Middle East through a different frame — a frame that does not include violence or poverty. Dubai reached high and that makes it a big target.

And many of Dubai’s critics have valid points. But George’s article makes no valid points — it swims around in clichés and speculation, telling us about a man in a “silly shirt” and women in “oversized sunglasses.” He delights in his own prose, describing what he sees when the call to prayer filters through the Mall of the Emirates. “Nobody appears to move to the prayer room; everyone’s too busy performing sajda before Stella McCartney, genuflecting before Gucci, and prostrating themselves at Prada.”

How clever, how witty, how simplistic. Is Dubai a consumer culture? Of course it is. Name a country where people do not shop at malls or try to better themselves. Is Pakistan immune to this? I could list Pakistan’s faults, but having never been there I won’t. I do know this — I would rather live in Dubai than Pakistan. And there are more than 500,000 Pakistanis living and working in Dubai who would agree with me.


Nabila Usman | 12 years ago | Reply Dubai is a fairly new country that gained independence in 1971. It doesn't make any sense comparing it with countries such as Pakistan that gained independence in 1947. Having said that, I feel sorry for Pakistan because in less than 3 decades Dubai has achieved what will take many more decades for Pakistan to achieve. People may boast about history and culture; things that are hardly needed in the present except for the show-case value. The whole world is laughing at the sorry state of Pakistan; instead of fixing it pro-Pakistanis are trying to disregard hard work and intelligent efforts made by cities like Dubai. I bet many Pakistani's don't even know that Dubai is not a country, it is a city within United Arab Emirates. Forget about nitty-gritty details, what matters the most is where you feel safe and secure. Over 90% of Dubai residents feel safe in this country. Can Pakistan boast this figure? Not in a couple of decades I think. Pakistan was a mistake - the reason why it was created was apparently "Islam" but the face of "modern women" in the country represents everything but that reason. Good luck to Pakistan and keep singing "Pakistan Zindabad" without realizing what exactly it means.
Bushra Abeed | 12 years ago | Reply Having read both the articles, also having had the chance to live in Karachi, Lahore, Dubai, UK & now Canada. I totally agree that every place has its positive & negatives. It is a matter of experiences & prespective. I spent seven years in Dubai just when the Dubai "phenomenon" started,I read in one of the newspaper that a company has presented Sheikh Mohammad with the idea of a man made island in the shape of a date palm, second or third structure on earth that will be visible from space or moon (the other that I know off is Great Wall of China)the Sheikh got extremely excited and thus the foundation of Palm Jumeriah was laid. I got the opportunity to visit the island some three years back and was horrified at the ugliness of it all, the unimaginable use of cement and concrete into the sea is and will cause enormous damage to the envoirment in the region. Had the Sheikh halted for a moment and asked the question that why was'nt this structure built in Florida and what benifit will this structure bring to my nation the scenario would have been quite differnt. It pains me to see Dubai fail. I once had a very interesting conversation with the partner of a leading law firm and he made fun of me when I said that I belive in Singapore or Malaysian model of success where the turnaround was brought about by developing their own people. Take the model of Bill Gates each and everything that Microsoft Corp. builts he was the cheif architect. Now come back to Dubai the recent electrical problem the happened within Burj Khalifa can an emarati engineer fix it?? The point I am trying to make is that instead of making the biggest, the tallest and the most expensive structures and having dependency on outsiders to run these projects forever, the investments should have been made on the people of UAE, in making them understsnd the benefits of hard work and educatio, art & democracy would have followed in naturally. People from world over have benefitted from this region, UAE, Saudi Arabia & other gulf countries are a stopover for young people to make some quick tax free money and then move & settle down in Canada, Australia Or US. Some of the finest engineers, financial advisors, doctors have done this had the leaders of these countries had some prudence they would offer permanancy to these professionals by offering them citizenship, equailty in front of law & civil rights, good health care & most importantly world class higher education for children.This is what the US did & this is what Canada is doing this is how they retained the talent from world over and built themselves as super powers. I want UAE to be a vibrant, modern & educated. A nation of hard working humble humanitarian people which is what I dream for my homeland Pakistan as well. The debate that which palce has a city is futile. Any place where your heart is will be the place where your soul will automatically will be. I can comment & writ pages of the good, bad 7the ugly in Dubai, Pakistan or Canada but remember with good there is bad, nothing can be all good or all bad. Everything that goes up comes down as well, the faster it goes up in all probabilty the quicker it will come down.Unfortunately this holds true for Dubai making it an example for future.
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