Monday, October 15, 2007

The Rise Of Dubai

60 Minutes has an interesting two-part segment (here and here) on the bustling, booming city of Dubai, the Singapore/Hong Kong/London/New York of the Middle East, including an interview with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai’s visionary ruler.

Dubai is definitely a city on the move. Anywhere you go, small as the emirate kingdom is, the desert gives way to construction site after construction site, including one that will house the world’s tallest building. Artificial islands shaped like palm trees have been built. A new international airport is on the way, which will be the hub for Emirates, arguably the most wildly successful airline in the world.

Dubai is probably the most Westernized of Middle Eastern cities, with thousands of Western expatriates working and living there, joining locals in taking advantage of the city’s many beaches and thriving nightlife. Dubai is definitely not Saudi Arabia! Because of this, thousands of migrants (25,000 a month) flock to Dubai because there’s money to be had and fortunes waiting to be claimed.

But it’s also a city built on inexpensive labor. Without the contribution of thousands of hard working, often poorly paid migrants, mostly from South Asia, Dubai would be nothing more than a sleepy backwater. While anti-capitalists might crow about this, the reality is that many of these migrants are far better off working in Dubai than being mired in poverty in their home countries.

Dubai is modern and sophisticated in every sense except in politics. Dubai is still an autocracy ruled with an iron fist by a mostly benign ruler, who also has a stake in every project under the sun. Still some of the Sheik’s critics were reticent in their comments about him. Nobody seems to care, though, because things are so good.