Sunday, August 13, 2006


It would be interesting to consider what the issues of tomorrow will be compared to the issues of today. In addition to a lot of speculation, one would first have to ponder exactly what the important issues of today are. With Dubai in mind, I propose the following, prioritized on the basis of seriousness or visibility due to public or media attention.

  1. Traffic and Transportation
    (A transitional issue as major road works and new transportation facilities are being rapidly constructed; it is at present, however, the biggest nuisance to the population.)
  2. Housing, i.e. shortage of affordable housing, high rental rates, over-crowding.
    (The biggest hardship faced by a large segment of the population--if not the majority.)
  3. Labor Concerns: exploitation of low and unskilled workers; under-representation of UAE nationals in the private sector; lack of job security among expatriates.
    (Very serious issues for the thousands of workers affected--especially the issue of exploitation which can lead to acts of desperation.)
  4. Overall Inflation
    (A growing problem, likely to become more prominent over the next few years.)
  5. Excessive Consumerism: too much debt; over-consumption of natural resources (oil & water).
    (A serious and growing problem as banks push debt products which government does nothing to curtail or monitor, and the excessive display of wealth is lauded.)
  6. Cross-Cultural Relations
    (Seldom talked about as an issue or problem, but clearly the reality wherein there is little social interaction among the various nationalities, ethnicities and other groups within the country.)
  7. Abuse of Power, by police and others in authority.
    (Seldom discussed publicly but often privately as a concern among the expatriate population--who often feel their continued presence in country may at anytime be in jeopardy.)
  8. Wayward Youth, primarily national.
    (A problem characterized by an excessive number of highway deaths due speeding and other reckless acts, poor academic performance and an absence of career motivation or strong work ethic among national youth.)
  9. Prostitution and Lasciviousness
    (Largely an issue of morality, important in a society with a conservative religious heritage, also important in terms of the abuse of those involved and important as a bell-weather of society's direction.)
  10. Poor Air Quality
    (Deterioration in air quality is accelerating and clearly apparent, but largely ignored.)
NOT on the List

Interestingly, crime is not a serious issues at present, although no one would doubt that incidences of crime are increasing. The sort of random assault, theft and burglary that plague many of the world's urban centers are not yet serious issues here.

Few, for example, have any concern about car theft--doors are often left unlocked or locked cars are left with unattended valuables; use of parks during the night even by children and families is common (Jumeirah Open Beach, especially popular); and a ride offered to or sought by a stranger on the highway is common.

This reflects in large part certain characteristics which are unique or fundamental to the make-up of society in the UAE. Specifically, the large expatriate population which has migrated or immigrated to the country have come to work. These are goal-oriented individuals. They are not likely to engage in activity that would put at risk the chance to achieve their goals. Those who are generally disassociated from, on the fringes of or deviants within society will not have sought to or have been able to emigrate from their homelands.

The crime that does exist is often the result of those expatriates who come to feel most exploited acting out in desperation. It also reflects a variety of social problems not so prominent within society but present nonetheless. There is, however, an increasing amount of organized criminal activity as Dubai gains more attention worldwide as a relatively wealthy and open society.

As for the future, I would venture to speculate on the top five issues.

  1. Growing Discontent, among society's less privileged.
    (Unlike today, Dubai of the future will have a less transitory population. Those who are at present disaffected--like the laborers--will eventually emerge as a large underclass within society. Their discontent in the face of an increasing amount of wealth will become a more serious issue for the society-at-large.)
  2. Air Pollution
    (Unlike today, this issue will be recognized as more serious as it begins to impede further development of the city as a destination for tourism, residence, business and industry.)
  3. Crisis of Identity
    (A crisis will emerge as the national population shrinks, proportionately, to negligible numbers and expatriates clamor for the right to permanent residency and even citizenship.)
  4. International Tensions
    (The so-called clash between Western and Islamic civilizations, which has already begun to play out to detrimental effect in a number of countries, will eventually force Dubai and the UAE to pit themselves on one side or the other.)
  5. Organized Crime
    (Money invites corruption and greed; international, organized criminal gangs and cartels will attempt to take advantage of this. It will represent the city's biggest law enforcement challenge.)
Victim of Its Own Success

One implication, belied by what I see as potentially the most important issues in the future, is the notion that Dubai will continue to prosper economically and present itself as a model of success. This very success will, ironically, lead to new problems, just as serious, even as substantial inroads are made on present-day issues, like traffic and housing.

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1 comment:

localexpat said...

I couldn't agree more.. You have literally read my mind!