Why The End of Dubai May Not Be A Bad Thing
Friends living here are not that pessimistic. They point out that Abu Dhabi, Dubai's bigger, wealthier, more conservative cousin state, will not let Dubai fail. Though Dubai has no oil, and has to renew more than $60 billion sovereign debt in the next few years, they are always hoping that Abu Dhabi will come out as Dubai's Knight in the shining armour. It is too closely linked, they say.
However, it is a bit too dire for comfort at this time. I know the planes will be full with people going home, whichever direction I fly from here. One is still finding abandoned cars in the airport parking lot. Many development projects will never be completed; and others, which will be somehow completed, will also suffer as the roads connecting them and the electric supply network hooking them on to the grid will never be.
Besides, despite denial from a red-faced ruling family, the place is full of gossip about the rift between the rulers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Apparently, the rulers of Abu Dhabi want shares in Emirates Airlines, despite their own Etihad doing rather well. Al-Mokhtums are less than willing, but suddenly they are the junior partners in need, and they no longer have the clout to throw money at everything.
Foreign investors finally have woken up to Dubai. The party is truly over. The High Street investors have lately discovered what the more astute ones knew all along: Dubai is not a safe place to invest. Once you invest, you are tied to the personal whims and fancies of one man, and in today's world, that may not be what you want.
For me, Dubai was never attractive. We talked about it on and off, but the place appeared soulless to me and the lure of 'no income tax' was not going to sway me on the other side. Besides, irritatingly, you try to access a number of websites, and the strange notice [which I reproduce above] comes up. You suddenly have this feel about living in a police state, where the big brother is watching you all the time. Creepy! Not for me, surely.
Besides, despite all the efforts to build a modern city, Dubai remained arcane and corrupt and in some parts, built on blood money. Dawood Ibrahim, the big Indian Mafia who masterminded bombings in Bombay in 1993, invested a significant sum of money there. So, are the refugees - those who were persecuted by the people like Dubai, they have lived there and owned and ran businesses. While Dubai is relatively crime-free, except unhindered speeding and the fact that Emiratis can get away with murder, the rule for settlers seem to be this: We don't care what you do in another country, as long as you have the money and you don't do anything here.
I have been to labour camps in Dubai and seen what condition people live in. These were people mostly from Bangladesh and Eastern India, who spoke Bengali, and I learnt from them how they live in construction sites, in sub-human conditions and with limited rights. Any protest is treated with an expulsion from the country and a permanent black-listing, a severe punishment for those who sold the family land to pay the agents the passage money. I often wonder why the Western investors so much love Dubai: It is possibly this unencumbered opportunity to exploit people and cause almost Dickensian miseries have been so attractive.
And, finally, Dubai is as racist as one would imagine South Africa would have been at the height of apartheid. In a city state with 85% settlers, people who come to work here had no settlement rights and were classified according to their nationality. If you happen to be a person of colour, you end up getting employed in Junior positions and get paid less than a similarly qualified White person. Most companies work in racial compartments: An Emirati owner, an European CEO, Indian Managers and Filipino and Bangladeshi workers, seems to be the norm. People seem to be upfront about their racial preferences. I still remember the shock and awe from my first business discussion here: I was asked to recruit people with only certain skin colour, certain age and certain gender. Made my beloved profession sound like pimping, but that's Dubai.
So, in summary, Dubai is a combination of Pharaoh's Egypt, Apartheid-era South Africa, the innards of a Swiss Bank and an overbearing Myanmar-style Police State, all packaged and presented as the Disneyland of Capitalism. Take it too seriously, you are expelled; Don't believe that it exists and you are hauled to a prison, like the sex-in-the-beach British couple learnt to their cost. Thinking about all this, the party getting over may not be such a bad thing. In fact, it may actually allow us to gain our faith back and restore some sense in the end.