Dubai—the most modern and hippest place to be in the Middle East today. The place practically reeks of wealth, with its dime-a-dozen Ferraris, yachts, humongous yet atractive shopping malls, ultra high-end merchandise, five to seven-star hotels, to name a few. Purchasing power in this tiny Emirati state is so great that I read of diamond encrusted license plates and see diamond studded designer cellphones. Here, if one is on top of the moolah heap, how else can one distinguish himself way above the average dough-laden masses?
For most people in the Third World, Dubai is the new Land of Plenty. With its tax-free salaries and its ever-growing need for jobs, Dubai attracts people from lowly workers to well-skilled professionals. I think I can say that those who form the immigrant worker base are mostly Indians, Pakistanis, and Filipinos—Indians perhaps dominating the immigrant worker population. I felt so at home at the malls in Dubai. Almost every shop had a Filipino salesperson and most of those in the major groceries–Spinney’s, Carrefour and Panda Hypermart– were Filipinos. It felt like shopping back home, only dealing with much higher prices.
Poverty seems non-existent here. There seems to be absolutely no beggars or homeless people. At least I’ve never run into any. I hear it’s against the law to beg. And who needs to, when Dubai’s citizens are well taken cared of by a government giving comfortable pensions. Utilities and housing are all paid for by the government as well.
Health care, though, leaves much to be desired. The Filipinos I’ve talked to all agree that hospitals and doctors in the U.A.E. need so much more improvement. Most dread getting sick as they do not trust doctors’ medical skills nor the hygiene of Dubai’s hospitals and would rather go home to the Philippines where medical treatment is superb. With all that money, don’t you think health care should be state-of-the-art? Strange.
Construction has been in a fever pitch these past few years since 2003; so that Dubai has burgeoned rapidly into one with a beautiful cityscape of glittering glass architectural behemoths. Dubai wants to be the -est; hence the Burj Dubai, tallest building in the world (as of today); the Dubai Mall, one of the largest shopping malls in the world boasting perhaps one of the world’s largest indoor aquariums which has clinched the Guiness World Record for having the World’s Largest Acrylic Panel; the Rose Tower at 333 meters has replaced the Burj Al Arab (currently the tallest hotel) as the tallest hotel in the world.
The ruler of this tiny kingdom, Shiekh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is indeed a visionary. He had invested loads of his kingdom’s petrol money and invited a lot more into creating a tax-free business haven and a playground of a city for anyone with the cash to burn. To be globally attractive and competitive, he’s welcomed the freedom of the Western culture (up to a certain point); hence, the chic bars and nightspots, midriff-bared or mini-skirted women; and hip-hop Arabs (can you picture “cool dude” Arabs in “Yo, Mama” duds?—quite incongruous, really).
For an Islamic state, this is a HUGE leap forward. What was conspicuously absent for Dubai to be a complete mogul haven is a casino. Maybe a bit too much to swallow for U.A.E.’s Moslems now; but I see gambling as the next big thing for Dubai. It’s all in the justification – religion or money? Hmmm….quite a moral wrestling match here.
But why all these changes? To decide to invite opposing ideas and diverse cultures and religions to co-exist with a usually closed Moslem culture must have had, I surmise, earned Shiekh Maktoum some serious flack. But he must be a cut above other Middle Eastern rulers to recognize that to survive rich in the long term, one has to move forward as the rest of the world — or rather the rest of the market. Dubai’s major bread and butter used to be oil. He however must have recognized the urgent need to diversify in the face of petering oil reserves and frenetic global development of energy source alternatives. So, if Dubai runs out of oil or if hardly anyone really needs it anymore, the little state wouldn’t be caught dead in the water. It will have its robust financial industry, trade, real estate and tourism industries to carry it very well into the next several decades.