Monday, July 24, 2006


Dubai on the World Stage

More so than the UAE, it is Dubai which figures to make a name for itself internationally. This is all well and good when one considers that as little as a decade ago Dubai was for the most part an unknown quantity. It becomes problematic, however, when one considers that today Dubai is susceptible to a host of misconceptions, being in a region that is known for a certain amount of turmoil.

The Gulf

To understand Dubai, the first requirement is to look at it in the context of the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf region in which it is located and to where it is politically and culturally oriented. It is within this context, as opposed to the larger Middle East region, that one can gain a sense of not only the character of Dubai but also the conditions of life there.

The Gulf region has been politically and economically stable since most of the so-called Gulf states established their independence in the early 1970's.* Two exceptions of course are Kuwait, which suffered at the hands of an Iraqi invasion in 1990, and Saudi Arabia, which has for decades been threatened by forces of religious extremism.

These may be considered notable exceptions, but despite such concerns, the Gulf states as a whole have prospered--first and foremost, economically, and also in terms of offering a politically stable and calm climate for business, tourists and residents.

*The Gulf states include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman.

The Larger Region

When compared to the larger Middle East region, conditions in the Gulf could hardly differ more. Though geographically near three zones of conflct--Israel/Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq--the Gulf states (with the exception of Kuwait) have been spared the worse effects of the numerous political, military and economic crises that have plagued the larger region.

It is under these conditions that Dubai prospers today. Associating the problems in Baghdad and Beirut with the UAE is sort of like suggesting that Greece is under threat just for being of similar distance to such trouble spots as the UAE is.

This is not to say, with naivete, that the current crises in the Middle East are not linked in significant ways to the Gulf states. There are substantial cultural, economic and social ties amongst the various states across the larger region. One also would not expect that it were inconceivable for problems in one region to spillover into another. But if the past is any predictor of the future, then the Gulf states are likely to stay clear of direct involvement in the current tumultuos events.

It is a difficult balancing act that the Gulf states must maintain, but they have been successful in the past and it is in their interest to make every effort to continue to walk the fine line. Furthermore, in the face of any regional crisis it has been the tendency of Dubai to not only remain aloof, but to even find ways to prosper.

Fundamental Questions

The layperson is not, however, very much interested in geo-politics. His concerns are often more simple and direct.
  • Is Dubai safe?
  • Are personal freedoms respected?
  • Does it operate by the rule of law, or is one at the mercy of corrupt officialdom?
  • What is it like for the visitor?
  • What are the risks investors face?
Whether from a personal or business perspective, those from outside the region may not be able to differentiate Dubai and Damascus. But those in the know, who have either lived or travelled or are well-versed in the affairs of the region, will be all too aware of the differences. Dubai fares well in regard to nearly all of the concerns one may have about safety, security, stability and the rule of law.

Living in Dubai

It is a city where residents enjoy a standard and quality of life not unlike that in other international cities. That is, business and personal freedoms flourish. The city enjoys a low-crime rate, liberal social attitudes and a government which values above all else the notion of economic prosperity.

The city houses a relatively transient population of workers--professional, skilled and unskilled. They represent not only a wide range of classes in terms of lifestyle, but they hail from an innumerable list of countries. Despite this, the city, and the UAE as a whole, function in a civil, orderly fashion. The authorities are adept at maintaining control while at the same time respecting individual freedoms.

The point is, Dubai is a safe and prosperous city with the same comfort, conveniences and problems as any other large, modern, cosmopolitan city. It is in many ways Singapore, Hong Kong or New York City. It is not Baghdad, while it is perhaps what Beirut had recently aspired to become.

The Arabian Gulf is not the Levant. It has its own interests, concerns and dynamics, which over the past three decades have led to the creation of stable, prosperous societies.

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