Thursday, February 26, 2009


I don't really know what is the single best term to identify this economic crunch that the whole world is talking about. Does it in fact have a single, recognized term or phrase? Perhaps that is something history will have to decide.

Dubai, of course, is not unaffected, and in fact some will say that it has been greatly damaged. I sort of dispute that. While some aspects of the economy have been badly hit, namely real estate, tourism and to some extent the retail sector, the economy is in large measure still intact and life and all the associated activity goes on.

The fact is that Dubai has been on a continuous diversification drive for the past two or three decades. Instead of relying one thing, say trade or oil, Dubai has for years taken pains to expand its scope of activities. One can start with the 1970's, when the ruler of the day, Sheikh Rashid I believe, had the vision to build a big new shipping port. Until that time the bustling port along the waterway that cuts through the center of old Dubai, the Creek, was perhaps enough for Dubai of the time to rest on its laurels. But the new port created a whole new dimension in trade and economic activity.

That it seems was just a beginning. The massive Jebel Ali freeport (tax free--or low tax, less bureaucracy--trade zone) was soon to follow, along with a number of other freezones each catering to a different sort of economic activity. In the late 90s Emirates Airlines began to emerge as a super carrier and at the same time Dubai began to fashion itself as a retail or shopping hub, both of which led naturally to the next big thing, tourism.

Right on the heels of Dubai's emergence as a major tourism destination came a nascent property market which within a matter of 3, 4 or 5 years came to eclipse even the great enterprises that had preceded it. Dubai's economy, even with the so-called credit crunch, economic meltdown or whatever it might be called, is still highly diversified and highly active. The fact that Dubai appears to be in trouble is perhaps more a testament to its successes than its failures.

The very fact that it somehow emerged as a banking and financial hub and a center for stock and commodities exchange, in addition to having its trade, retail, property and construction industries all affected simultaneously by what has happened in the world is evidence of the massive breadth of the economic activity that has taken place here in recent years. Even in the midst of this turmoil, I would dare to say that Dubai is once again, quietly while nonetheless steadily, making progress at developing one of the most modern urban infrastructure networks in the world.

While people continue to harp about the crises, Dubai's ultra-modern 76-kilometer metro system is fast coming online. Expansive highways with countless bridges, flyovers and tunnels continue to get built. The city is also making steady progress on its waterways expansion, such that within a few years time the city should have in place an extremely multi-faceted and efficient transport network. When the world finally begins to emerge from its economic slumber, it will find a Dubai already poised to race ahead again with yet new economic forays, made possible this time by an amazing civil transport systems.

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