Thursday, April 9, 2009

Defending Dubai

A lot of people have been talking and writing about Johann Hari's piece that appeared on The Independent's website a few days ago. Entitled "The dark side of Dubai", Hari's article was a commentary on what he saw and the people he met while on a recent trip to Dubai.

It's a real shame that so many people from other countries are reading this commentary and taking it as gospel. The people interviewed by Hari are borderline caricatures, and the piece has a very heavy anti-Dubai bias. It's so frustrating to read all the articles that are coming out nowadays that seem to be kicking Dubai while it's going through a rough patch. Most of these articles are written by people who visited for no more than a week or so, and their opinions are quickly-formed and poorly supported.

The Dubai that is never reported in these types of articles is the ordinary Dubai. The Dubai that attracts families and young professionals who see the city as a place where they can live in safety, and prosper securely. This side of Dubai is never reported because it doesn't make interesting reading. It's only the outrageous and scandalous that makes the papers, and as a result the international audience has a severely jaundiced view of Dubai.

It must be said, however, that the treatment of construction workers in Dubai isn't something we can be proud of. In this respect, I agree with most of what Hari has to say, but he only hits on the validity of his outrage towards the end of the article - the division between rich and poor is a global problem that should be addressed on a global scale, it's just that this problem is often more obvious in Dubai than it is in London, or anywhere else.

The idea that Dubai is a place that has grown out of debt and is nothing but a series of concrete and glass skyscrapers is such an unfair characterisation. Dubai does have a history as a trading port, but people from other countries often forget that the UAE is not yet even 40 years old. We've come so far in such a short time, it often makes me think that these articles are meant to scold a city that has exceeded the expectations of what people thought was previously possible. It seems that Dubai has grown faster than others gave it permission to, and now it's paying the price for it's temerity and audacity. This is such a ridiculous attitude. Dubai's prosperity and ambition should be championed. Of course not everything about Dubai is perfect, but if anything, it's major failure has been to model itself on the Western model of free-market Capitalism, which we now see as being inherently flawed in some respects.

What do you guys think? Am I totally off the mark? Or do you feel as frustrated as I do with this avalanche of negative articles about Dubai? Leave a comment and let me know what you think..


  1. I agree with you 100%. I live in dubai as well and I'm sick and tiered of people bashing this city. If they don't like it, then they ought to leave. As for the reporter, come and see what this city has offered to all the region and all the expats then write your article.

  2. i don't like Dubai, never visited and never intend to. you see prosperity and ambition, but i see excess and disregard for the environment (the Versace hotel for example. a beach where the heat gets sucked out of the sand? is that really necessary?) oh and snobbery:

    i'm afraid that is another article highlighting the treatment of contruction workers - but it is the following extract which seals it for me:

    "One evening in Abu Dhabi, I have dinner with my friend Ali, a charming Iraqi engineer whom I have known for two decades. After the meal, as his wife serves saffron-flavoured tea, he pushes back his chair and lights a cigar. We talk about stock markets, investment and the Middle East, and then the issue of race comes up.

    "We will never use the new metro if it's not segregated," he tells me, referring to the state-of-the-art underground system being built in neighbouring Dubai. "We will never sit next to Indians and Pakistanis with their smell," his wife explains."

  3. Anonymous, as a wise man once said, "I think you'll find it's a little more complicated than that". As it happens, I don't like Dubai and I *am* leaving, but I don't see why others living here should be denied the right to criticise. On the contrary, the shameful thing about the coverage in the international media is the failure to identify and address the legitimate criticisms among the dross. There is a lot wrong with this country that is in desparate need of improving, by better people than me, but they are stifled because of the lack of freedom to make changes or even draw attention to the flaws. I tried to justify being here despite the slavery and flagrant abuses, but the smugness and nastiness of the "haves" in this country, piled on top of constantly seeing half-starved builders, abused maids and acts of sheer hypocrisy by companies and government, has convinced me that I don't have the stomach for this any more. All the good intentions - and there are a lot of well-meaning people here who do want to make a difference - mean nothing in the absence of an open society; but give people the means to change what's wrong and Dubai will be that much stronger.

  4. You hit the nail on the head.
    Take it or leave it !Criticism is so much easier.
    Let this decade be one of Positivism.
    Most people think they are well-informed.But I cannot stand the 'blind'copying of information that is done while not having seen with own eyes.We are manipulated daily.
    Saw a documentary on BBC about poor housing of workers.Impressing, but how do the Chinese in Romania feel in comparison to home?
    Apartments being sold for the fifth time without even being built.The world is moving @ a pace that one can only follow/understand by twittering without sleep ;)
    Dubai is a good visual example of the excessive speed many countries have been moving, but did not want to see.Time-out time !
    Until I have not seen Dubai I have to make up my mind with 'found luggage'in my head.

  5. Thank you for the article. I do agree with most of what Hari says - and i guess it is a good thing that someone actually says it, because the more people that know, the better (better than some of the people who just turn a blind eye). I feel bad for the racial hierarchy which exists in dubai and it's so unfortunate for most. And until the govt actually does something about it, there is nothing that we mere expats can do about it...

    I just don't agree with all the Dubai-bashing. I can't say i'm 100% happy living here, but i've been here for 3 and a half years so there must be something keeping me here.

    Re Bushra's comment and excerpt from another article (which i will not read, i'm sure it's just a shadow of the Independent article), do you not think there are racist people everywhere in the world?? Don't take these smallminded peoples views and assume the rest of us feel the same!

  6. Holland is also built with blood and sweat.Many people who MADE this nice country are left in the cold.Why? They don't have a voice or as she says to her husband :"Jan, we'll manage, we had less after the war".Sad but true.
    $$$ and politics make big bellies,and diabetis makes blind in the end.Is it not?

  7. Firstly, to address Bushra's comments, the Versace 'chilled beach' concept was just that, a concept. It was essentially an overblown press release from a publicity-seeking developer. The project never even reached the stage of being a blueprint.

    Also, your comment about the racism in Dubai is obviously disappointing, but I fail to see how this attitude couldn't be found in any other country on earth. Dubai is home to people from scores of different countries, from all over the world. It is a truly multicultural city, and yet there never seems to be any friction between different religious or ethnic groups. In this way, I think Dubai is a lot more advanced than many other cities in the world.

    I'd certainly never promote the restriction of criticism. It's one of the most important rights we have. It's just that this article in The Independent seems like it's the latest in a line of hundreds of articles that are criticising Dubai because of what it represents, rather than what it actually is.

    I just thought that by writing a rebuttal to Hari's article, I could get people to reconsider the idea that Dubai is a soulless, oppressive town, with no merit whatsoever.

  8. I totally agree with The Sandman. It's too easy to judge a country or city one has never visited !! First come to Dubai AND then pass a judgment !
    Everyone is entitled to an opinion, whether it is positive or negative, but it should be based on something concrete. I've been living in Dubai for 1 year now and many people back home did not understand my love for Dubai... some of these people came to visit and completely changed their minds about Dubai :-)

  9. Hey Sandman, see my open letter to Mr Hari here:

    You may be interested in other dubai-related blog entries there too...

  10. Here's an interesting follow-up to the Hari article. One of the people interviewed in the piece has given his side of the story. Check it out here:

  11. To be blunt, your moral blindness and rationalizing is extreme. You say, "the division between rich and poor is a global problem that should be addressed on a global scale, it's just that this problem is often more obvious in Dubai than it is in London, or anywhere else." You live in a place built by effective slaves - and yes I've been there and Hari isn't the first person to write about this. And you excuse that by pointing to London? See massive, government sponsored slavery in London?

  12. To Anonymous at 7:55am, have you ever heard of something called the British Empire? London is a monument to the exploitation of underpaid workers. It's a sad fact of history that almost every great civilisation was built at the cost of another.

    And to bring it into a modern-day context, who made the shoes on your feet? Who assembled the computer you're typing on? Who sewed together the shirt on your back? London doesn't have 'government sponsored slavery' because it doesn't need to. We've given that responsibility to the free market, and called it 'Globalisation'.

    Just because you don't see underpaid workers in your streets, doesn't mean you're not complicit with their treatment in other parts of the world. And it certainly doesn't mean you have the right to paint Dubai as some sort of backwater slave-trading post.

  13. I also agree 100% with Sandman. Perhaps the journalists that are bashing Dubai are just trying to get the spotlight off of the sorry state that their own countries are currently in. I cannot believe the generalizations about maids, workers etc. that Hari's has made. I have been asking EVERY worker, every taxi driver, every grocery store delivery man, every maid etc. that I have met for 8 last years if they like it here in Dubai and the answer is almost always the same - yes, I like it and I can make money (which most send home to help families back home, unlike us selfish Westerners). The one sad thing I feel is that when they choose to come here it often means leaving their families behind. The laborers at my husbands company are fed, housed with games rooms, big screen tv's, stereos etc, paid well (1000 to 7000+ AED a month tax free with all expenses paid), given health care, plane tickets home, end of year bonuses, some are on family status so do have their wives and children here. Many of them ask if their friends and families can be hired here too, and when they are they feel very lucky!!! (Bet some "Westerners" would love a job like that now, I personally know a few)

  14. "every great civilisation was built at the cost of another"
    That's no justification. Your argument in your 4/9/09 12:37PM post boils down to: other societies exploit workers, so why not us? The just course of action, whether it be for Dubai, Britain, the US, or anywhere else, is expose these abuses. Johann Hari's piece does exactly this. Nowhere does she say that Dubai is the only place in the world where this occurs, just that it DOES occur. Would you be equally upset if the piece covered sweatshop workers in China?

    Anonymous at 11:17AM states that she has spoken to many workers about the conditions in Dubai. To extend my China analogy some more, I'm sure most workers in China live decent lives and are content with their jobs. However, this clearly does not preclude the existence of widespread abuses.

    The article also touches on some points that I've not seen any Dubai defenders argue against:
    1) The city is environmentally unsustainable.
    2) The economy is unsustainable, with the dominance of the real estate and construction industries creating and unavoidable bubble.
    3) That the government exhibits a dangerous denial of the above problems and has dug the city into a deep, deep hole.

    I'm not out to slander any country in anyway, but this is just the reality of the situation as I see it.

  15. I guess because I've cleaned toilets, planted trees in extreme heat and altitude, had my husband work on consturction sites in -20 degree weather, worked in many countries (England, Cyprus, Turkey, etc. for very very low wages (definately below any minimum wage), worked 5 jobs at at time (albeit part-time) to pay the bills, etc. that I just don't see how we can all have nice cushy, indoor temp. controlled, high paying jobs. That's just not reality! There are physically hard, dirty, demanding, low paying jobs all around the world and someone's gotta do them! And I don't mean Asians either. People of all races work in these jobs around the world.

    However, I definately agree than any company that doesn't pay their workers is disgusting. My husband worked in the US for 6 months and didn't get paid a dime. And yes, if workers are made to work excessively long hours by their company (NOT thier country), or in excessive heat (Dubai, India, Texas etc. etc..) or excessive cold (Canada, Russia, Alaska etc etc..) that is not a good situation. Thankfully it is mandatory for consturction sites to stop work in the heat of the day here for something like 4 hours, but sometimes that still might not be enough. And yes, they DO stop. All activity comes to a halt and if not heavy fines are levied on the companies.

    As for the unsustinablity of Dubai.........we're not going anywhwere, you'll see. Cities with this much going for them don't just disappear! We are in this global "downturn" with the rest of the world and we'll come out if it with them too.

  16. My concern about Hari's article is that some (if not most) the cases he has chosen to highlight are unrealistic and non-representative of the overall situation. I would have expected "The Independant" to be more moderate in their coverage and at least show both sides of the story, maybe having one rational conversation.

    Just to illustrate how ludicrous the examples are, I'm willing to personally give Karen Andrews my 2-bedroom flat in one of the most prestigious areas of Dubai for one year in exchange for the "Range Rover" she is living in.

    I think a lot of expats got more money in Dubai than they were used to at home and became stupid to a certain extent, buying multiple flats and extending their debt beyond rational limits.

  17. First of all, let me congratulate Mr Sandman on his defence of Dubai. Dubai is truly a gem of a city.

    Secondly, let me point out the inherently racist nature of the hateful diatribe penned by the hatchet job loving ``journalist'' of the Independent. Those who enduring reading his article, overtly hateful as it was, among other things, will have noticed how he referred to Dubai's pastel coloured architecture as ``vomit coloured''. I think this phrase, more than anything else, proves the vile nature of the author's intent. The article was hateful, racist, defamatory, one sided and represented a new low in the standards of British journalism since the days when British tabloids sold their wares by hounding the country's royals.

    The issue of poor treatment of Dubai's workers is a real one, although a poor scapegoat for the racism of the Western press. I would respectfully advise all of Dubai's people - local and expats alike, to campaign on behalf of these people while at the same time promoting the opportunities the city has to offer.

    I think the best approach would be to defend Dubai from racist journalists, while campaigning for the rights of its most vulnerable denizens with approximately equal vigor.

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  19. Its easy for anyone to defend when they are doing well. Who speaks for the labourers? housemaids? All arabs are racist. they treat asians like crap.

  20. do you know dubai is one of the few places where people get away without paying staff? There are labourers who have worked without being paid for months? and if they protest, they are jailed and deported. No one listens to them. what do you say to that Mr. Sandman? read the local news articles everyday. stand outside and see what happens daily on the roads.