Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dubai Changes

I'm just back from a five day trip to Dubai. I lived in Dubai for nearly two years through 2005 and 2006. This was my first time back in over three years. I noticed some interesting changes. Most were connected to the Abu Dhabi bail out of Dubai. In November 2009, Dubai's largest government property developer, Nakheel, announced that it could not honour its debts. It sent the Dubai market, that had been relatively stable since the global recession, into free fall. In December 09, Abu Dhabi, the most powerful of the UAE's seven emirates announced their intention to bail Dubai out to the tune of 10 $ Billion. This bail out has changed the political climate of the UAE.

Some background on the unique political structure of the UAE might be good at this stage. The United Arab Emirates was formed in 1971 by Sheik Zayed, the ruler of Abu Dhabi. The UAE consists of seven emirates (the most well known of which are Dubai and Abu Dhabi) that govern themselves on all matters accept foreign Policy which is reserved for the capital Abu Dhabi. You might argue what is so strange about that. It is not unlike any federal system, even that in the US. However there is literally no federal law in the UAE. The rulers in Abu Dhabi have never passed laws on how the other six Emirates should govern themselves. However the Abu Dhabi bail out of Dubai has changed this to some degree. To put it simply, Abu Dhabi only agreed to bail out Dubai if they were guaranteed more of a say in how it is run. This is the latest manifestation of centuries old rivalry between the different Arab clans of the region. The bail out has resulted in some subtle, and some not so subtle changes to Dubai.

One not so subtle reminder of Abu Dhabi's new influence over Dubai is the renaming of the tallest building in the World. I took this picture last week of the Burj Khalifa named after the ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed. The Building was initially to be called the Burj Dubai but after the bail out in December 09, which occurred a mere two weeks before the opening of the building, they decided on a name change. On the first of January 2010, 3 days before the opening, the name of the tallest building in the world was changed from Burj Dubai to Khalifa, after the ruler of the rival Emirate. Ouch, that had to sting.

Dubai has always been the most liberal city in the Arab world when it comes to social issue. This again has been tamed somewhat post bail out. Abu Dhabi and its more conservative nature has clearly been forced on to Dubai somewhat over the last year. Last Saturday my all day bender was interrupted by a new law that I was unaware of which prevents the sale of alcohol between 4 and 6 pm.

Another change and one which will be of more interest to Gubu World readers is the issue of Iran and its relations with Dubai and the UAE. The indigenous Arab population of each Emirate is actually quite small. It is less than 20 percent of the entire population. These locals, known as Emiratis are exceptionally privileged people. They are traditional Sunni Arabs who have always viewed Shia Iran with hostility. The UAE does in fact have some thorny territorial disputes with Iran over islands in the Persian Gulf which they both claim. The Sunni Arab states of the gulf have been particularly angered at Iranian attempts at spreading unrest among the Shia minorities in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Rumors have been flying about in recent months that they are willing to cooperate with the US, and even Israel in a military strike against Iran's nuclear sites. However the UAE has always tended to be less vocal in their criticism of Iran than their Gulf neighbours. The reason being that perhaps as much as 10% of Dubai's 20% Emirati population are in fact of Iranian decent although not necessarily of the Shia sect of Islam. As a result Dubai has long standing links with Iran, making it a generally pro Iranian city. Dubai has been a place where wealthy Iranians, and indeed the Iranian government have managed to keep money safely, away from the clutches of international sanctions. But once again, post bail out this may be changing. According to people I have met this week, several prominent Iranian companies, particularly those affiliated with the Ahmadinejaad government have found themselves being squeezed in Dubai over the last year. This is clearly the work of Abu Dhabi and its anti Iranian agenda. It is a fascinating issue, any developments in which I will keep Gubu World readers informed of.

Some photos from Dubai
An image of Dubai from Bur Dubai looking toward Deira. The new metro system can be seen on the right.

The Sheik Zayed motorway looking toward Jumeirah.

Another view of Burj Khalifa, taken from Sheik Zayed road.

There are no labour laws in Dubai. Workers, particularly Indian construction labourers are treated in an atrocious manner. Dubai received much negative press over this and I believe there have been some improvements. But still the sight of workers, likely earning about 100 Euro per month being transported to and from their camps in the desert to the construction sites in the city in buses that look more like prison transports, remains a disturbing image.

I have never been a smoker. But during my time living in Dubai I developed a curious liking of the sisha pipe. I t was nice to be at it again.

The Palm Jumeirah is one of the most spectacular developments in Dubai. This image taken from the beach is of one of the "Frongs" containing villas.

Another view from the Palm Jumeirah, the Burj Al Arab seven Star hotel can be seen in the distance.


Paul said...

Is the place still awash with hordes of Saudis (and others) over there to frink beer and shag hookers? Or has that been clamped down along with the restrictions on alcohol?

Paul said...

'Frink beer' sounds like fun, typos!

Ted Leddy said...


I have heard that Dubai's rampant prostitution has also been curbed post bail out. But to be honest, I think it's all about perception for them. The Emiratis (Dubai and Abu Dhabi alike) are as pro prostitution as the Dutch, they just don't want it to be so in your face. I believe that prostitution is also widespread in Saudi. And its the same for alcohol too. The privileged Emeratis and the Saudi elite can frink all they want if they're into it !

Paul said...

I'm sure that's true Ted, Arabs in general get up to all sorts of miscreant behaviour yet have extreme difficulty acknowledging it - a shame culture as opposed to a western guilt one.

Amusingly I remember a story told recently by a colleague Seamus. He and I were in the Middle East and our flights were routed out through Dubai. However our company mistakenly put Seamus in a different hotel, he ended up in a dingy place that was full of camp Saudis all vying trying to seduce him! I told him afterwards that Dubai can cater for all tastes.

Ted Leddy said...


Poor Seamus, I'm sure he hasn't been the same since !