Thursday, July 20, 2006

the Superlative

These days the superlative reigns supreme in the UAE, especially in Dubai. Some of the popular references include the tallest building, biggest shopping mall, most luxurious hotel, largest-manmade island, first underwater hotel, most number of cranes, fastest growing population, and so on.

Some may find it excessive and annoying, but it is certainly one of the things that makes the UAE experience a unique one. It is a country that is trying to chart a new and distinct identity and, thanks to Dubai's sense of adventure and ambition, it has found a way to do that.

Not everyone agrees with the course the country is taking. Although spearheaded by the country's leaders, some among the local population feel disillusioned. They see change all around them and a massive influx of foreigners. To them it is nothing short of an invasion and they are the dispossessed.

Nevertheless, it is a transformation from within. Change has not been imposed by outsiders, but rather sought and indeed chased after by the country's rulers. A cynic might say that it is just a way for them to further enrich themselves. But there are easier and far less innovative ways to do that.

From Ports to Freezones

No, there has been a sincere determination to transform the country by the most important among its rulers--the late Sheikh Zayed, founding ruler of Abu Dhabi and the federation, the late Sheikh Rashid, prime instigator of Dubai's initial forays into trade and commerce, and the present ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, the guiding force behind that emirate's breakaway development. (See rulers of the UAE.)

These leaders have had visions that they have pursued and have invested in with the nation's oil wealth. They have avoided squandering that wealth, and it is especially to the credit of Dubai's rulers that they could effectively plan for the day when those resources would begin to diminish.

Part of Dubai's success in charting new economic territory has to be attributed to a bit of luck. It naturally sought to build upon its historic position as a small regional trading hub--a runner of sorts of sometimes illicit merchandise between regional ports. Focussing on trade and commerce the iconic Dubai Trade Center was constructed as early as 1979. It at once became an early symbol of Dubai's ambitions.

The 1980's saw the commisioning of a second large shipping port in Dubai and the region's first freezone--essentially a zone within the country which allowed foreign investors and traders to function outside of local tax and other regulatory regimes. Dubai had stumbled upon a new business strategy that it would eventually expand to include a wide variety of industrial, commericial and intellectual fields.

A New Century

The ascendency of the superlative emerged from this. Jebel Ali port, in time, became part of a huge and highly profitable shipping and trade zone. Likewise the rapid success of Emirates Airlines suggested that the same could happen within the aviation sector. This led on to a realization of the potential of the tourism sector, while at the same time the retail sector had begun to experiment with concepts like the "shopping festival" and the "global village."

Success in one area led to a determination to repeat the process in other areas, with a continual ramping up of the product each step along the way. By the late 1990's the stage was set in Dubai for an era of superlatives.

Emirates Towers, one of which would be the tallest tower outside of Asia and North America, and the Burj Al Arab hotel, the tallest and arguably most luxurious hotel in the world, heralded the start of a new century. The runaway success of the concept of freehold that has emerged since, has added to the frenzy of development that is beginning to characterize the whole of the Arab Gulf region.

(The excessive use of ) the superlative, which got its start in Dubai, symbolizes the daring and self-confidence of the government, the builders, the disigners and all of those involved in these projects and ventures. It is a symbol to revel in not only for Dubai and the UAE, but for all of the oil rich Gulf states.

701 words
Open a printable copy, in a new window.
Links (Postscript)

A View from New York, In Dazzling Dubai, a Superlative Struggle for Rights

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For English Study:
the Superlative (Advanced Level)
the Superlative (Intermediate Level)
the Superlative (Pre-Intermediate Level)


Anonymous said...

I am a UAE national and I am not very happy with the way Dubai is heading. Not feeling like I belong here anymore and the mad crowds everywhere makes me want to be in a much quiter place

BD said...

Thanks for your comment. I wonder how many UAE nationals in Dubai and the rest of the country feel this way.

I have just supplemented this post with an English study based exercise, that allows the reader to consider the topic in more depth. The link is entitled the Superlative (Advanced Level).

blogrosh said...

BD, I agree with your comments, may I say it’s so well written - thoroughly loved reading it. Infact I think I am turning into a huge fan of your blogs : )

However, as an expat, born and raised in the UAE since the 1970's till I moved to NYC 5 years ago, I also feel & identify with the UAE national chap - when he says he does not feel like he belongs in his own country.

Every Christmas when I visit
"home" to the UAE - I feel unease in seeing so many new people, so many changes, increase in traffic, increase in pace of life, the crime, change in the country's culture etc etc. There is minimal sight of the country's true inhabitants - the Emiratis, as they seem to be shrinking, and the expats who moved to the UAE in the 60's and 70's and even the early 80's seem to have moved out (due to the country's immigration laws).

Of course, then there is the economic and mammoth real estate change/boom - hence there is change, a lot of change - and even though every time I see an Emirates airline at JFK airport in NYC or I hear about Dubai or the UAE here in North American Media and feel incredibly proud and sentimental - I cannot help feel unease thinking, the UAE which was perhaps unique, safe, warm and a beautiful place may turn into a New York City or LA of the 70's/80's.

I guess it's a given, with growth comes change, some good, some bad.
However I sincerely hope what made the UAE so unique in terms of a well kept secret in this world, remains in some form or the other, such as the warmth of the people, the safety, the closeness everyone shared in the 70'/80's and of course true landmarks like the Sharjah Gold Souk/Jazeera Park and the wonderful Dubai World Trade Center (I remember seeing the WTC for the first time in 79 as an infant, on my way to visit my aunt in Abu Dhabi and it was so majestic - the lone building on Sheikh Zayed highway) cause at times I feel this is all that's left of what I call home - all else seems to be changing.

BD said...

Thank you, Blogrosh. You've given me a new word "local-expat". It's a group whom, although I may have referred to indirectly, I had otherwise overlooked. Your comments shed some very interesting perspective on this segment of the UAE population. Theirs is a voice we need to hear a lot more of.

Your response, as well as that of the Emirati commentor above, to the rapid changes in the country are also interesting to hear, as there is no public debate about what is happening there.

Although I enthusistically support the changes, myself, that comes simply from my personal perspective. If more voices and different opinions are heard then those in command will have more relevant facts to base their decisions on.

My take on change in the UAE--arrived at by a bit of extrapolation--is that change has been the name of the game here since the country was established in the early 70's. I believe it is in this context, that rulers like Sheikh Mohammed see change as the norm. To these, perhaps younger rulers, one defining characteristic of this young country's heritage is "rapid change."

That being said, the unique, safe, warm and beautiful place of the past you describe is something we newer arrivals need to hear more about.

blogrosh said...

Thank you BD - yes there are several of us, we often refer to as "Native expats". If you haven't already, please read my short blog.

I agree with you, that change for the future of this country was infact drawn up in the early 70's right after independence.

As part of the country's oldest inhabitants (since independence) native expats and the UAE nationals, seem to be the ones confused and a bit bewildered, where the country is actually heading? As a native expat, whose parents have lived in the UAE for 40 years, whose brothers were born and raised in the UAE - I cannot understand the country's naturalization policy - which honestly seems "Alien" and a bit "brutal" when compared to rest of the world - as they continue to drive out native expats, yet intent to grow the country via real estate and economic boom and invite newer expats and population.

Please do not get me wrong, nothing wrong with newer population moving into the UAE. I compare it to, employees in a company - a firm would do better if it values it's most experienced employees and bring in newer employees for fresh perspectives - compared to one, which had constant "change" or "migration" / resulting in high turnover of employees.

Given my thoughts above, to me some of the change is not making much sense? To be honest, I have been toying with the thought - should I be returning "home" a place I may not be able to "belong" (perhaps not in my lifetime) or stay back in a country that sort of champions equality and naturalization, the United States? Given the choice, I would go home in a heartbeat - but then again, with all the changes in UAE and Dubai in general - I just cannot sense or see the very basic and perhaps an important change - treatment of some of the UAE nationals and the native expats (who are people too) the ones who gave the best years of their life to develop a better UAE. The ones who care for the place as their "home" , the ones who will stand up and defend the nation. I mean minus this very basic change - can the UAE truly be progressive, below what you see at the surface?

BD said...

I cannot understand the country's naturalization policy - which honestly seems "Alien" and a bit "brutal" when compared to rest of the world - as they continue to drive out native expats, yet intent to grow the country via real estate and economic boom and invite newer expats and population.

To comment on your comments:

I suppose that immigration and naturalization policy is simply not well thought out, nor given much priority. Therefore, good people (incl. native expats) get driven out. Furthermore, I suspect there is a high-level of elitism among many so-called locals, who consider citizenship their birthrite alone. In fact, many countries do not grant automatic citizenship to native expats, however, they do often have a naturalization process in place.

I don't see this problem being addressed by the government for some time.

The freehold issue raises different questions. The idea it seems is that whoever buys freehold property is elegible for a 3-year residency (non-work) visa, for dependents as well, renewable indefinitely, for a fee.

So, in theory, buy a house and you can live here indefintely. There are however some catches. You have a health condition or legal issues and your visa is in question--at which point I suppose you sell the house you aren't allowed to live in.

As bad as this sounds, I suppose it is an improvement over the native-expat delima you mention above. One's right to residency is not lost with the loss of a job. (So this removes one of the major obstacles that expats who want to remain in country face.)

So, a young man, like yourself (as I presume you to be) could invest in freehold property. Once the title is yours you would have residency in the UAE indefinitely, save for health or legal issues.

blogrosh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
blogrosh said...

Many thanks, whatever you've said makes perfect sense. At the sametime, I am not sure, if it undermines or removes the huge amount of "uncertainty" native expats and perhaps newer expats continue to live with - unfortunately this only undermines UAE as a country.

Naturalization along with immigration is a key step towards creating population for continued growth and existence of a nation. Look at countries like Canada, Australia and NZ for instance - they know and realize the importance and benefit of having a higher population. Often, for the life of me, I do not understand, why the local "rulers" refuse to understand this basic law of national growth, but seem to have an understanding or stand on other complicated issues - and steaming ahead as evident from the current economic/real estate growth.

Hence my debate in response to your blog - "Change has not been imposed by outsiders, but rather sought and indeed chased after by the country's rulers. A cynic might say that it is just a way for them to further enrich themselves. But there are easier and far less innovative ways to do that"

To me it seems - the change is innovative yet is just a way for them to further enrich themselves. My analysis could be shortsighted and incorrect, however from where I stand and from what I have experienced thru 25 years of and my parents in 40 years of living in the UAE – this is the way I feel.

I apologize if I sound negative - it is not my intent. I am extending my honest 2 cents.

BTW - I am really interested to hear an American's perspective i.e. yours, of living in the UAE as an American - the pros and cons. Do you share similar sentiments of life in the ME region as most of my American friends, here in NYC i.e. UAE and ME is violent, unsafe, not progressive - and everyone hates America? Please feel free to state your honest thoughts - I promise not to take any offence : )

Something funny happened today. I was making a reservation to Dubai, with Continental Airlines - the travel agent in Houston, had a hard time finding Dubai International Airport in her listed "Indian Airports". I had to (once again) explain to her Dubai is a city in the UAE and is in the Middle East - not India, of course she was apologetic on her ignorance and very nice about it - a nice woman, like quite a few of the Americans I have come across here in the US.

BD said...

I answer part of your question, Blogrosh, in my latest post, Geo-politics.

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