Expat Eyes

This blog contains the photographs, observations and reflections of Rena Diana, an educator and writer, during extended stays in the Arabian Gulf, China, and Mongolia.

Visions of Utopia

“… the ethos of Dubai is all about building bridges to the outside world…about creating connections with different cultures…Dubai hopes to show young Arabs that there are alternatives to extremism.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai

Wall Street Journal, January 12, 2008

A city where people of all religions can live and work in peace and in safety.

A city that takes advantage of a lucky – and temporary- source of wealth by spending it quickly, even extravagantly, to create a better lifestyle for its citizens.

A city that wants to use its strategic location to become a world-wide tourist, entertainment, and business destination.

A city that honors ancient traditions while welcoming new ones.

In an interview on 60 Minutes in 2007, Sheikh Mohammed was asked, “Why are you trying to do all this so fast?” His response: “Why not?” Their countries were behind. They needed to catch up. So they went into fast forward mode. Why not?

The royal families in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar could have continued their own lavish lifestyles without paying any attention whatsoever to the ordinary citizens. Instead, they chose to build new cities and improve the standard of living for their people.

Here is more from “Sheikh Mo” in his editorial in the Wall Street Journal, January 2008:

 “We believe that helping to build a strong regional economy is our best opportunity for lasting social stability in the Middle East…the Dubai narrative is all about changing people’s lives for the better through smart capitalism, will power and positive energy.”

Post Credit Crisis: It is tempting to ridicule Dubai. After all, it has certainly promoted itself worldwide. Sort of like a “show off.”  There is a running commentary: “How can they build a city in a decade when Rome took centuries?” “It is like Las Vegas on steroids.” The more glitter and glitz, Dubai concocts- the tallest building in the world, the largest fireworks ever seen, largest mall in the world-the more many people dismiss it, not unlike disdain for the “nouveau riche.” I, too, harbored these same misgivings and some scorn. Now I have a different feeling. I admire the  Emiratis’ courage and daring, the boldness of their dreams, their perseverance in the face of wide spread skepticism.

Dubai was hit hard by the global economic crisis and is paying for over-extending itself. It made huge mistakes . (Haven’t we as well?) They have halted some of their ambitious projects. They face huge challenges. Some of the fancy new buildings are already having structural problems. The aquarium in the Dubai Mall  sprung a leak, which was hastily covered up in the local press. Apartments on Palm Jumeirah, where we lived, are beset with mildew.

The city is rebounding, however, and trying to address those issues.  From a distance, it is easy to demean such exuberance, such faith in the future, and such determination to prosper. When you are here, however, you are swept up in the energy. It can happen. It is happening.  And, I suspect that Dubai will continue to surprise us. Let us hope Sheikh Mohammed’s vision IS realized. Positive repercussions will flow far beyond the shores of tiny little Dubai…

Next post: Pausing at a Crossroads

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2 thoughts on “Visions of Utopia

  1. Great descriptions. “Sheik Mo’s” op-ed in 2008 sounds prescient years before the “Arab Spring.”

  2. John Sasser on said:

    Has the Arab Spring touched Dubai??

    Or will it?

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