Monday, May 4, 2009

Why Disney will never build a theme park in Dubai

Yesterday we had a look on different destinations where Disney might open one day a new theme park. Today i will talk about a place where Disney will very probably NEVER build a theme park. And this place is Dubai.

Aaah, Dubai! Its beaches on the Persian Gulf... the green colour of the sea... the Atlantis hotel... sun and heat all year long... its skycrapers each one higher than the previous one... If we look at the brochure it looks like a Shangri-La where everything looks great and luxury...but i'm sorry to say that the reality is darker than the glossy image.

I will explain to you why Disney will never build a theme park in Dubai - and why Disney won't be the only one - but, first, you need to read this brilliantly written article by Johann Hari from british newspaper The Independent and know more about the reality of Dubai. The truth is not always pleasant, and in this case, it's the least we can say. I'll meet you at the end of the article, if you survive to its reading - you will understand what i mean!

The dark side of Dubai

Dubai was meant to be a Middle-Eastern Shangri-La, a glittering monument to Arab enterprise and western capitalism. But as hard times arrive in the city state that rose from the desert sands, an uglier story is emerging. Johann Hari reports

The wide, smiling face of Sheikh Mohammed – the absolute ruler of Dubai – beams down on his creation. His image is displayed on every other building, sandwiched between the more familiar corporate rictuses of Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders. This man has sold Dubai to the world as the city of One Thousand and One Arabian Lights, a Shangri-La in the Middle East insulated from the dust-storms blasting across the region. He dominates the Manhattan-manqué skyline, beaming out from row after row of glass pyramids and hotels smelted into the shape of piles of golden coins. And there he stands on the tallest building in the world – a skinny spike, jabbing farther into the sky than any other human construction in history.

But something has flickered in Sheikh Mohammed's smile. The ubiquitous cranes have paused on the skyline, as if stuck in time. There are countless buildings half-finished, seemingly abandoned. In the swankiest new constructions – like the vast Atlantis hotel, a giant pink castle built in 1,000 days for $1.5bn on its own artificial island – where rainwater is leaking from the ceilings and the tiles are falling off the roof. This Neverland was built on the Never-Never – and now the cracks are beginning to show. Suddenly it looks less like Manhattan in the sun than Iceland in the desert.

Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out. This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing – at last – into history.

I. An Adult Disneyland

Karen Andrews can't speak. Every time she starts to tell her story, she puts her head down and crumples. She is slim and angular and has the faded radiance of the once-rich, even though her clothes are as creased as her forehead. I find her in the car park of one of Dubai's finest international hotels, where she is living, in her Range Rover. She has been sleeping here for months, thanks to the kindness of the Bangladeshi car park attendants who don't have the heart to move her on. This is not where she thought her Dubai dream would end.

Her story comes out in stutters, over four hours. At times, her old voice – witty and warm – breaks through. Karen came here from Canada when her husband was offered a job in the senior division of a famous multinational. "When he said Dubai, I said – if you want me to wear black and quit booze, baby, you've got the wrong girl. But he asked me to give it a chance. And I loved him."

All her worries melted when she touched down in Dubai in 2005. "It was an adult Disneyland, where Sheikh Mohammed is the mouse," she says. "Life was fantastic. You had these amazing big apartments, you had a whole army of your own staff, you pay no taxes at all. It seemed like everyone was a CEO. We were partying the whole time."

Her husband, Daniel, bought two properties. "We were drunk on Dubai," she says. But for the first time in his life, he was beginning to mismanage their finances. "We're not talking huge sums, but he was getting confused. It was so unlike Daniel, I was surprised. We got into a little bit of debt." After a year, she found out why: Daniel was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

One doctor told him he had a year to live; another said it was benign and he'd be okay. But the debts were growing. "Before I came here, I didn't know anything about Dubai law. I assumed if all these big companies come here, it must be pretty like Canada's or any other liberal democracy's," she says. Nobody told her there is no concept of bankruptcy. If you get into debt and you can't pay, you go to prison.

"When we realised that, I sat Daniel down and told him: listen, we need to get out of here. He knew he was guaranteed a pay-off when he resigned, so we said – right, let's take the pay-off, clear the debt, and go." So Daniel resigned – but he was given a lower pay-off than his contract suggested. The debt remained. As soon as you quit your job in Dubai, your employer has to inform your bank. If you have any outstanding debts that aren't covered by your savings, then all your accounts are frozen, and you are forbidden to leave the country.

"Suddenly our cards stopped working. We had nothing. We were thrown out of our apartment." Karen can't speak about what happened next for a long time; she is shaking.

Daniel was arrested and taken away on the day of their eviction. It was six days before she could talk to him. "He told me he was put in a cell with another debtor, a Sri Lankan guy who was only 27, who said he couldn't face the shame to his family. Daniel woke up and the boy had swallowed razor-blades. He banged for help, but nobody came, and the boy died in front of him."

Karen managed to beg from her friends for a few weeks, "but it was so humiliating. I've never lived like this. I worked in the fashion industry. I had my own shops. I've never..." She peters out.

Daniel was sentenced to six months' imprisonment at a trial he couldn't understand. It was in Arabic, and there was no translation. "Now I'm here illegally, too," Karen says I've got no money, nothing. I have to last nine months until he's out, somehow." Looking away, almost paralysed with embarrassment, she asks if I could buy her a meal.

She is not alone. All over the city, there are maxed-out expats sleeping secretly in the sand-dunes or the airport or in their cars.

"The thing you have to understand about Dubai is – nothing is what it seems," Karen says at last. "Nothing. This isn't a city, it's a con-job. They lure you in telling you it's one thing – a modern kind of place – but beneath the surface it's a medieval dictatorship."

II. Tumbleweed

Thirty years ago, almost all of contemporary Dubai was desert, inhabited only by cactuses and tumbleweed and scorpions. But downtown there are traces of the town that once was, buried amidst the metal and glass. In the dusty fort of the Dubai Museum, a sanitised version of this story is told.

In the mid-18th century, a small village was built here, in the lower Persian Gulf, where people would dive for pearls off the coast. It soon began to accumulate a cosmopolitan population washing up from Persia, the Indian subcontinent, and other Arab countries, all hoping to make their fortune. They named it after a local locust, the daba, who consumed everything before it. The town was soon seized by the gunships of the British Empire, who held it by the throat as late as 1971. As they scuttled away, Dubai decided to ally with the six surrounding states and make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The British quit, exhausted, just as oil was being discovered, and the sheikhs who suddenly found themselves in charge faced a remarkable dilemma. They were largely illiterate nomads who spent their lives driving camels through the desert – yet now they had a vast pot of gold. What should they do with it?

Dubai only had a dribble of oil compared to neighbouring Abu Dhabi – so Sheikh Maktoum decided to use the revenues to build something that would last. Israel used to boast it made the desert bloom; Sheikh Maktoum resolved to make the desert boom. He would build a city to be a centre of tourism and financial services, sucking up cash and talent from across the globe. He invited the world to come tax-free – and they came in their millions, swamping the local population, who now make up just 5 per cent of Dubai. A city seemed to fall from the sky in just three decades, whole and complete and swelling. They fast-forwarded from the 18th century to the 21st in a single generation.

If you take the Big Bus Tour of Dubai – the passport to a pre-processed experience of every major city on earth – you are fed the propaganda-vision of how this happened. "Dubai's motto is 'Open doors, open minds'," the tour guide tells you in clipped tones, before depositing you at the souks to buy camel tea-cosies. "Here you are free. To purchase fabrics," he adds. As you pass each new monumental building, he tells you: "The World Trade Centre was built by His Highness..."

But this is a lie. The sheikh did not build this city. It was built by slaves. They are building it now.

III. Hidden in plain view

There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other. There are the expats, like Karen; there are the Emiratis, headed by Sheikh Mohammed; and then there is the foreign underclass who built the city, and are trapped here. They are hidden in plain view. You see them everywhere, in dirt-caked blue uniforms, being shouted at by their superiors, like a chain gang – but you are trained not to look. It is like a mantra: the Sheikh built the city. The Sheikh built the city. Workers? What workers?

Every evening, the hundreds of thousands of young men who build Dubai are bussed from their sites to a vast concrete wasteland an hour out of town, where they are quarantined away. Until a few years ago they were shuttled back and forth on cattle trucks, but the expats complained this was unsightly, so now they are shunted on small metal buses that function like greenhouses in the desert heat. They sweat like sponges being slowly wrung out.

Sonapur is a rubble-strewn patchwork of miles and miles of identical concrete buildings. Some 300,000 men live piled up here, in a place whose name in Hindi means "City of Gold". In the first camp I stop at – riven with the smell of sewage and sweat – the men huddle around, eager to tell someone, anyone, what is happening to them.

Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. "To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell," he says. Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal's village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects. It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa – a fee they'd pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.

As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat – where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees – for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don't like it, the company told him, go home. "But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket," he said. "Well, then you'd better get to work," they replied.

Sahinal was in a panic. His family back home – his son, daughter, wife and parents – were waiting for money, excited that their boy had finally made it. But he was going to have to work for more than two years just to pay for the cost of getting here – and all to earn less than he did in Bangladesh.

He shows me his room. It is a tiny, poky, concrete cell with triple-decker bunk-beds, where he lives with 11 other men. All his belongings are piled onto his bunk: three shirts, a spare pair of trousers, and a cellphone. The room stinks, because the lavatories in the corner of the camp – holes in the ground – are backed up with excrement and clouds of black flies. There is no air conditioning or fans, so the heat is "unbearable. You cannot sleep. All you do is sweat and scratch all night." At the height of summer, people sleep on the floor, on the roof, anywhere where they can pray for a moment of breeze.

The water delivered to the camp in huge white containers isn't properly desalinated: it tastes of salt. "It makes us sick, but we have nothing else to drink," he says.

The work is "the worst in the world," he says. "You have to carry 50kg bricks and blocks of cement in the worst heat imaginable ... This heat – it is like nothing else. You sweat so much you can't pee, not for days or weeks. It's like all the liquid comes out through your skin and you stink. You become dizzy and sick but you aren't allowed to stop, except for an hour in the afternoon. You know if you drop anything or slip, you could die. If you take time off sick, your wages are docked, and you are trapped here even longer."

He is currently working on the 67th floor of a shiny new tower, where he builds upwards, into the sky, into the heat. He doesn't know its name. In his four years here, he has never seen the Dubai of tourist-fame, except as he constructs it floor-by-floor.

Is he angry? He is quiet for a long time. "Here, nobody shows their anger. You can't. You get put in jail for a long time, then deported." Last year, some workers went on strike after they were not given their wages for four months. The Dubai police surrounded their camps with razor-wire and water-cannons and blasted them out and back to work.

The "ringleaders" were imprisoned. I try a different question: does Sohinal regret coming? All the men look down, awkwardly. "How can we think about that? We are trapped. If we start to think about regrets..." He lets the sentence trail off. Eventually, another worker breaks the silence by adding: "I miss my country, my family and my land. We can grow food in Bangladesh. Here, nothing grows. Just oil and buildings."

Since the recession hit, they say, the electricity has been cut off in dozens of the camps, and the men have not been paid for months. Their companies have disappeared with their passports and their pay. "We have been robbed of everything. Even if somehow we get back to Bangladesh, the loan sharks will demand we repay our loans immediately, and when we can't, we'll be sent to prison."

This is all supposed to be illegal. Employers are meant to pay on time, never take your passport, give you breaks in the heat – but I met nobody who said it happens. Not one. These men are conned into coming and trapped into staying, with the complicity of the Dubai authorities.

Sahinal could well die out here. A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: "There's a huge number of suicides in the camps and on the construction sites, but they're not reported. They're described as 'accidents'." Even then, their families aren't free: they simply inherit the debts. A Human Rights Watch study found there is a "cover-up of the true extent" of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.

At night, in the dusk, I sit in the camp with Sohinal and his friends as they scrape together what they have left to buy a cheap bottle of spirits. They down it in one ferocious gulp. "It helps you to feel numb", Sohinal says through a stinging throat. In the distance, the glistening Dubai skyline he built stands, oblivious.

IV. Mauled by the mall

I find myself stumbling in a daze from the camps into the sprawling marble malls that seem to stand on every street in Dubai. It is so hot there is no point building pavements; people gather in these cathedrals of consumerism to bask in the air conditioning. So within a ten minute taxi-ride, I have left Sohinal and I am standing in the middle of Harvey Nichols, being shown a £20,000 taffeta dress by a bored salesgirl. "As you can see, it is cut on the bias..." she says, and I stop writing.

Time doesn't seem to pass in the malls. Days blur with the same electric light, the same shined floors, the same brands I know from home. Here, Dubai is reduced to its component sounds: do-buy. In the most expensive malls I am almost alone, the shops empty and echoing. On the record, everybody tells me business is going fine. Off the record, they look panicky. There is a hat exhibition ahead of the Dubai races, selling elaborate headgear for £1,000 a pop. "Last year, we were packed. Now look," a hat designer tells me. She swoops her arm over a vacant space.

I approach a blonde 17-year-old Dutch girl wandering around in hotpants, oblivious to the swarms of men gaping at her. "I love it here!" she says. "The heat, the malls, the beach!" Does it ever bother you that it's a slave society? She puts her head down, just as Sohinal did. "I try not to see," she says. Even at 17, she has learned not to look, and not to ask; that, she senses, is a transgression too far.

Between the malls, there is nothing but the connecting tissue of asphalt. Every road has at least four lanes; Dubai feels like a motorway punctuated by shopping centres. You only walk anywhere if you are suicidal. The residents of Dubai flit from mall to mall by car or taxis.

How does it feel if this is your country, filled with foreigners? Unlike the expats and the slave class, I can't just approach the native Emiratis to ask questions when I see them wandering around – the men in cool white robes, the women in sweltering black. If you try, the women blank you, and the men look affronted, and tell you brusquely that Dubai is "fine". So I browse through the Emirati blog-scene and found some typical-sounding young Emiratis. We meet – where else? – in the mall.

Ahmed al-Atar is a handsome 23-year-old with a neat, trimmed beard, tailored white robes, and rectangular wire-glasses. He speaks perfect American-English, and quickly shows that he knows London, Los Angeles and Paris better than most westerners. Sitting back in his chair in an identikit Starbucks, he announces: "This is the best place in the world to be young! The government pays for your education up to PhD level. You get given a free house when you get married. You get free healthcare, and if it's not good enough here, they pay for you to go abroad. You don't even have to pay for your phone calls. Almost everyone has a maid, a nanny, and a driver. And we never pay any taxes. Don't you wish you were Emirati?"

I try to raise potential objections to this Panglossian summary, but he leans forward and says: "Look – my grandfather woke up every day and he would have to fight to get to the well first to get water. When the wells ran dry, they had to have water delivered by camel. They were always hungry and thirsty and desperate for jobs. He limped all his life, because he there was no medical treatment available when he broke his leg. Now look at us!"

For Emiratis, this is a Santa Claus state, handing out goodies while it makes its money elsewhere: through renting out land to foreigners, soft taxes on them like business and airport charges, and the remaining dribble of oil. Most Emiratis, like Ahmed, work for the government, so they're cushioned from the credit crunch. "I haven't felt any effect at all, and nor have my friends," he says. "Your employment is secure. You will only be fired if you do something incredibly bad." The laws are currently being tightened, to make it even more impossible to sack an Emirati.

Sure, the flooding-in of expats can sometimes be "an eyesore", Ahmed says. "But we see the expats as the price we had to pay for this development. How else could we do it? Nobody wants to go back to the days of the desert, the days before everyone came. We went from being like an African country to having an average income per head of $120,000 a year. And we're supposed to complain?"

He says the lack of political freedom is fine by him. "You'll find it very hard to find an Emirati who doesn't support Sheikh Mohammed." Because they're scared? "No, because we really all support him. He's a great leader. Just look!" He smiles and says: "I'm sure my life is very much like yours. We hang out, have a coffee, go to the movies. You'll be in a Pizza Hut or Nando's in London, and at the same time I'll be in one in Dubai," he says, ordering another latte.

But do all young Emiratis see it this way? Can it really be so sunny in the political sands? In the sleek Emirates Tower Hotel, I meet Sultan al-Qassemi. He's a 31-year-old Emirati columnist for the Dubai press and private art collector, with a reputation for being a contrarian liberal, advocating gradual reform. He is wearing Western clothes – blue jeans and a Ralph Lauren shirt – and speaks incredibly fast, turning himself into a manic whirr of arguments.

"People here are turning into lazy, overweight babies!" he exclaims. "The nanny state has gone too far. We don't do anything for ourselves! Why don't any of us work for the private sector? Why can't a mother and father look after their own child?" And yet, when I try to bring up the system of slavery that built Dubai, he looks angry. "People should give us credit," he insists. "We are the most tolerant people in the world. Dubai is the only truly international city in the world. Everyone who comes here is treated with respect."

I pause, and think of the vast camps in Sonapur, just a few miles away. Does he even know they exist? He looks irritated. "You know, if there are 30 or 40 cases [of worker abuse] a year, that sounds like a lot but when you think about how many people are here..." Thirty or 40? This abuse is endemic to the system, I say. We're talking about hundreds of thousands.

Sultan is furious. He splutters: "You don't think Mexicans are treated badly in New York City? And how long did it take Britain to treat people well? I could come to London and write about the homeless people on Oxford Street and make your city sound like a terrible place, too! The workers here can leave any time they want! Any Indian can leave, any Asian can leave!"

But they can't, I point out. Their passports are taken away, and their wages are withheld. "Well, I feel bad if that happens, and anybody who does that should be punished. But their embassies should help them." They try. But why do you forbid the workers – with force – from going on strike against lousy employers? "Thank God we don't allow that!" he exclaims. "Strikes are in-convenient! They go on the street – we're not having that. We won't be like France. Imagine a country where they the workers can just stop whenever they want!" So what should the workers do when they are cheated and lied to? "Quit. Leave the country."

I sigh. Sultan is seething now. "People in the West are always complaining about us," he says. Suddenly, he adopts a mock-whiny voice and says, in imitation of these disgusting critics: "Why don't you treat animals better? Why don't you have better shampoo advertising? Why don't you treat labourers better?" It's a revealing order: animals, shampoo, then workers. He becomes more heated, shifting in his seat, jabbing his finger at me. "I gave workers who worked for me safety goggles and special boots, and they didn't want to wear them! It slows them down!"

And then he smiles, coming up with what he sees as his killer argument. "When I see Western journalists criticise us – don't you realise you're shooting yourself in the foot? The Middle East will be far more dangerous if Dubai fails. Our export isn't oil, it's hope. Poor Egyptians or Libyans or Iranians grow up saying – I want to go to Dubai. We're very important to the region. We are showing how to be a modern Muslim country. We don't have any fundamentalists here. Europeans shouldn't gloat at our demise. You should be very worried.... Do you know what will happen if this model fails? Dubai will go down the Iranian path, the Islamist path."

Sultan sits back. My arguments have clearly disturbed him; he says in a softer, conciliatory tone, almost pleading: "Listen. My mother used to go to the well and get a bucket of water every morning. On her wedding day, she was given an orange as a gift because she had never eaten one. Two of my brothers died when they were babies because the healthcare system hadn't developed yet. Don't judge us." He says it again, his eyes filled with intensity: "Don't judge us."

V. The Dunkin' Donuts Dissidents

But there is another face to the Emirati minority – a small huddle of dissidents, trying to shake the Sheikhs out of abusive laws. Next to a Virgin Megastore and a Dunkin' Donuts, with James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" blaring behind me, I meet the Dubai dictatorship's Public Enemy Number One. By way of introduction, Mohammed al-Mansoori says from within his white robes and sinewy face: "Westerners come her and see the malls and the tall buildings and they think that means we are free. But these businesses, these buildings – who are they for? This is a dictatorship. The royal family think they own the country, and the people are their servants. There is no freedom here."

We snuffle out the only Arabic restaurant in this mall, and he says everything you are banned – under threat of prison – from saying in Dubai. Mohammed tells me he was born in Dubai to a fisherman father who taught him one enduring lesson: Never follow the herd. Think for yourself. In the sudden surge of development, Mohammed trained as a lawyer. By the Noughties, he had climbed to the head of the Jurists' Association, an organisation set up to press for Dubai's laws to be consistent with international human rights legislation.

And then – suddenly – Mohammed thwacked into the limits of Sheikh Mohammed's tolerance. Horrified by the "system of slavery" his country was being built on, he spoke out to Human Rights Watch and the BBC. "So I was hauled in by the secret police and told: shut up, or you will lose you job, and your children will be unemployable," he says. "But how could I be silent?"

He was stripped of his lawyer's licence and his passport – becoming yet another person imprisoned in this country. "I have been blacklisted and so have my children. The newspapers are not allowed to write about me."

Why is the state so keen to defend this system of slavery? He offers a prosaic explanation. "Most companies are owned by the government, so they oppose human rights laws because it will reduce their profit margins. It's in their interests that the workers are slaves."

Last time there was a depression, there was a starbust of democracy in Dubai, seized by force from the sheikhs. In the 1930s, the city's merchants banded together against Sheikh Said bin Maktum al-Maktum – the absolute ruler of his day – and insisted they be given control over the state finances. It lasted only a few years, before the Sheikh – with the enthusiastic support of the British – snuffed them out.

And today? Sheikh Mohammed turned Dubai into Creditopolis, a city built entirely on debt. Dubai owes 107 percent of its entire GDP. It would be bust already, if the neighbouring oil-soaked state of Abu Dhabi hadn't pulled out its chequebook. Mohammed says this will constrict freedom even further. "Now Abu Dhabi calls the tunes – and they are much more conservative and restrictive than even Dubai. Freedom here will diminish every day." Already, new media laws have been drafted forbidding the press to report on anything that could "damage" Dubai or "its economy". Is this why the newspapers are giving away glossy supplements talking about "encouraging economic indicators"?

Everybody here waves Islamism as the threat somewhere over the horizon, sure to swell if their advice is not followed. Today, every imam is appointed by the government, and every sermon is tightly controlled to keep it moderate. But Mohammed says anxiously: "We don't have Islamism here now, but I think that if you control people and give them no way to express anger, it could rise. People who are told to shut up all the time can just explode."

Later that day, against another identikit-corporate backdrop, I meet another dissident – Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, Professor of Political Science at Emirates University. His anger focuses not on political reform, but the erosion of Emirati identity. He is famous among the locals, a rare outspoken conductor for their anger. He says somberly: "There has been a rupture here. This is a totally different city to the one I was born in 50 years ago."

He looks around at the shiny floors and Western tourists and says: "What we see now didn't occur in our wildest dreams. We never thought we could be such a success, a trendsetter, a model for other Arab countries. The people of Dubai are mighty proud of their city, and rightly so. And yet..." He shakes his head. "In our hearts, we fear we have built a modern city but we are losing it to all these expats."

Adbulkhaleq says every Emirati of his generation lives with a "psychological trauma." Their hearts are divided – "between pride on one side, and fear on the other." Just after he says this, a smiling waitress approaches, and asks us what we would like to drink. He orders a Coke.

VI. Dubai Pride

There is one group in Dubai for whom the rhetoric of sudden freedom and liberation rings true – but it is the very group the government wanted to liberate least: gays.

Beneath a famous international hotel, I clamber down into possibly the only gay club on the Saudi Arabian peninsula. I find a United Nations of tank-tops and bulging biceps, dancing to Kylie, dropping ecstasy, and partying like it's Soho. "Dubai is the best place in the Muslim world for gays!" a 25-year old Emirati with spiked hair says, his arms wrapped around his 31-year old "husband". "We are alive. We can meet. That is more than most Arab gays."

It is illegal to be gay in Dubai, and punishable by 10 years in prison. But the locations of the latest unofficial gay clubs circulate online, and men flock there, seemingly unafraid of the police. "They might bust the club, but they will just disperse us," one of them says. "The police have other things to do."

In every large city, gay people find a way to find each other – but Dubai has become the clearing-house for the region's homosexuals, a place where they can live in relative safety. Saleh, a lean private in the Saudi Arabian army, has come here for the Coldplay concert, and tells me Dubai is "great" for gays: "In Saudi, it's hard to be straight when you're young. The women are shut away so everyone has gay sex. But they only want to have sex with boys – 15- to 21-year-olds. I'm 27, so I'm too old now. I need to find real gays, so this is the best place. All Arab gays want to live in Dubai."

With that, Saleh dances off across the dancefloor, towards a Dutch guy with big biceps and a big smile.

VII. The Lifestyle

All the guidebooks call Dubai a "melting pot", but as I trawl across the city, I find that every group here huddles together in its own little ethnic enclave – and becomes a caricature of itself. One night – in the heart of this homesick city, tired of the malls and the camps – I go to Double Decker, a hang-out for British expats. At the entrance there is a red telephone box, and London bus-stop signs. Its wooden interior looks like a cross between a colonial clubhouse in the Raj and an Eighties school disco, with blinking coloured lights and cheese blaring out. As I enter, a girl in a short skirt collapses out of the door onto her back. A guy wearing a pirate hat helps her to her feet, dropping his beer bottle with a paralytic laugh.

I start to talk to two sun-dried women in their sixties who have been getting gently sozzled since midday. "You stay here for The Lifestyle," they say, telling me to take a seat and order some more drinks. All the expats talk about The Lifestyle, but when you ask what it is, they become vague. Ann Wark tries to summarise it: "Here, you go out every night. You'd never do that back home. You see people all the time. It's great. You have lots of free time. You have maids and staff so you don't have to do all that stuff. You party!"

They have been in Dubai for 20 years, and they are happy to explain how the city works. "You've got a hierarchy, haven't you?" Ann says. "It's the Emiratis at the top, then I'd say the British and other Westerners. Then I suppose it's the Filipinos, because they've got a bit more brains than the Indians. Then at the bottom you've got the Indians and all them lot."

They admit, however, they have "never" spoken to an Emirati. Never? "No. They keep themselves to themselves." Yet Dubai has disappointed them. Jules Taylor tells me: "If you have an accident here it's a nightmare. There was a British woman we knew who ran over an Indian guy, and she was locked up for four days! If you have a tiny bit of alcohol on your breath they're all over you. These Indians throw themselves in front of cars, because then their family has to be given blood money – you know, compensation. But the police just blame us. That poor woman."

A 24-year-old British woman called Hannah Gamble takes a break from the dancefloor to talk to me. "I love the sun and the beach! It's great out here!" she says. Is there anything bad? "Oh yes!" she says. Ah: one of them has noticed, I think with relief. "The banks! When you want to make a transfer you have to fax them. You can't do it online." Anything else? She thinks hard. "The traffic's not very good."

When I ask the British expats how they feel to not be in a democracy, their reaction is always the same. First, they look bemused. Then they look affronted. "It's the Arab way!" an Essex boy shouts at me in response, as he tries to put a pair of comedy antlers on his head while pouring some beer into the mouth of his friend, who is lying on his back on the floor, gurning.

Later, in a hotel bar, I start chatting to a dyspeptic expat American who works in the cosmetics industry and is desperate to get away from these people. She says: "All the people who couldn't succeed in their own countries end up here, and suddenly they're rich and promoted way above their abilities and bragging about how great they are. I've never met so many incompetent people in such senior positions anywhere in the world." She adds: "It's absolutely racist. I had Filipino girls working for me doing the same job as a European girl, and she's paid a quarter of the wages. The people who do the real work are paid next to nothing, while these incompetent managers pay themselves £40,000 a month."

With the exception of her, one theme unites every expat I speak to: their joy at having staff to do the work that would clog their lives up Back Home. Everyone, it seems, has a maid. The maids used to be predominantly Filipino, but with the recession, Filipinos have been judged to be too expensive, so a nice Ethiopian servant girl is the latest fashionable accessory.

It is an open secret that once you hire a maid, you have absolute power over her. You take her passport – everyone does; you decide when to pay her, and when – if ever – she can take a break; and you decide who she talks to. She speaks no Arabic. She cannot escape.

In a Burger King, a Filipino girl tells me it is "terrifying" for her to wander the malls in Dubai because Filipino maids or nannies always sneak away from the family they are with and beg her for help. "They say – 'Please, I am being held prisoner, they don't let me call home, they make me work every waking hour seven days a week.' At first I would say – my God, I will tell the consulate, where are you staying? But they never know their address, and the consulate isn't interested. I avoid them now. I keep thinking about a woman who told me she hadn't eaten any fruit in four years. They think I have power because I can walk around on my own, but I'm powerless."

The only hostel for women in Dubai – a filthy private villa on the brink of being repossessed – is filled with escaped maids. Mela Matari, a 25-year-old Ethiopian woman with a drooping smile, tells me what happened to her – and thousands like her. She was promised a paradise in the sands by an agency, so she left her four year-old daughter at home and headed here to earn money for a better future. "But they paid me half what they promised. I was put with an Australian family – four children – and Madam made me work from 6am to 1am every day, with no day off. I was exhausted and pleaded for a break, but they just shouted: 'You came here to work, not sleep!' Then one day I just couldn't go on, and Madam beat me. She beat me with her fists and kicked me. My ear still hurts. They wouldn't give me my wages: they said they'd pay me at the end of the two years. What could I do? I didn't know anybody here. I was terrified."

One day, after yet another beating, Mela ran out onto the streets, and asked – in broken English – how to find the Ethiopian consulate. After walking for two days, she found it, but they told her she had to get her passport back from Madam. "Well, how could I?" she asks. She has been in this hostel for six months. She has spoken to her daughter twice. "I lost my country, I lost my daughter, I lost everything," she says.

As she says this, I remember a stray sentence I heard back at Double Decker. I asked a British woman called Hermione Frayling what the best thing about Dubai was. "Oh, the servant class!" she trilled. "You do nothing. They'll do anything!"

VIII. The End of The World

The World is empty. It has been abandoned, its continents unfinished. Through binoculars, I think I can glimpse Britain; this sceptred isle barren in the salt-breeze.

Here, off the coast of Dubai, developers have been rebuilding the world. They have constructed artificial islands in the shape of all planet Earth's land masses, and they plan to sell each continent off to be built on. There were rumours that the Beckhams would bid for Britain. But the people who work at the nearby coast say they haven't seen anybody there for months now. "The World is over," a South African suggests.

All over Dubai, crazy projects that were Under Construction are now Under Collapse. They were building an air-conditioned beach here, with cooling pipes running below the sand, so the super-rich didn't singe their toes on their way from towel to sea.

The projects completed just before the global economy crashed look empty and tattered. The Atlantis Hotel was launched last winter in a $20m fin-de-siecle party attended by Robert De Niro, Lindsay Lohan and Lily Allen. Sitting on its own fake island – shaped, of course, like a palm tree – it looks like an immense upturned tooth in a faintly decaying mouth. It is pink and turreted – the architecture of the pharaohs, as reimagined by Zsa-Zsa Gabor. Its Grand Lobby is a monumental dome covered in glitterballs, held up by eight monumental concrete palm trees. Standing in the middle, there is a giant shining glass structure that looks like the intestines of every guest who has ever stayed at the Atlantis. It is unexpectedly raining; water is leaking from the roof, and tiles are falling off.

A South African PR girl shows me around its most coveted rooms, explaining that this is "the greatest luxury offered in the world". We stroll past shops selling £24m diamond rings around a hotel themed on the lost and sunken continent of, yes, Atlantis. There are huge water tanks filled with sharks, which poke around mock-abandoned castles and dumped submarines. There are more than 1,500 rooms here, each with a sea view. The Neptune suite has three floors, and – I gasp as I see it – it looks out directly on to the vast shark tank. You lie on the bed, and the sharks stare in at you. In Dubai, you can sleep with the fishes, and survive.

But even the luxury – reminiscent of a Bond villain's lair – is also being abandoned. I check myself in for a few nights to the classiest hotel in town, the Park Hyatt. It is the fashionistas' favourite hotel, where Elle Macpherson and Tommy Hilfiger stay, a gorgeous, understated palace. It feels empty. Whenever I eat, I am one of the only people in the restaurant. A staff member tells me in a whisper: "It used to be full here. Now there's hardly anyone." Rattling around, I feel like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, the last man in an abandoned, haunted home.

The most famous hotel in Dubai – the proud icon of the city – is the Burj al Arab hotel, sitting on the shore, shaped like a giant glass sailing boat. In the lobby, I start chatting to a couple from London who work in the City. They have been coming to Dubai for 10 years now, and they say they love it. "You never know what you'll find here," he says. "On our last trip, at the beginning of the holiday, our window looked out on the sea. By the end, they'd built an entire island there."

My patience frayed by all this excess, I find myself snapping: doesn't the omnipresent slave class bother you? I hope they misunderstood me, because the woman replied: "That's what we come for! It's great, you can't do anything for yourself!" Her husband chimes in: "When you go to the toilet, they open the door, they turn on the tap – the only thing they don't do is take it out for you when you have a piss!" And they both fall about laughing.

IX. Taking on the Desert

Dubai is not just a city living beyond its financial means; it is living beyond its ecological means. You stand on a manicured Dubai lawn and watch the sprinklers spray water all around you. You see tourists flocking to swim with dolphins. You wander into a mountain-sized freezer where they have built a ski slope with real snow. And a voice at the back of your head squeaks: this is the desert. This is the most water-stressed place on the planet. How can this be happening? How is it possible?

The very earth is trying to repel Dubai, to dry it up and blow it away. The new Tiger Woods Gold Course needs four million gallons of water to be pumped on to its grounds every day, or it would simply shrivel and disappear on the winds. The city is regularly washed over with dust-storms that fog up the skies and turn the skyline into a blur. When the dust parts, heat burns through. It cooks anything that is not kept constantly, artificially wet.

Dr Mohammed Raouf, the environmental director of the Gulf Research Centre, sounds sombre as he sits in his Dubai office and warns: "This is a desert area, and we are trying to defy its environment. It is very unwise. If you take on the desert, you will lose."

Sheikh Maktoum built his showcase city in a place with no useable water. None. There is no surface water, very little acquifer, and among the lowest rainfall in the world. So Dubai drinks the sea. The Emirates' water is stripped of salt in vast desalination plants around the Gulf – making it the most expensive water on earth. It costs more than petrol to produce, and belches vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it goes. It's the main reason why a resident of Dubai has the biggest average carbon footprint of any human being – more than double that of an American.

If a recession turns into depression, Dr Raouf believes Dubai could run out of water. "At the moment, we have financial reserves that cover bringing so much water to the middle of the desert. But if we had lower revenues – if, say, the world shifts to a source of energy other than oil..." he shakes his head. "We will have a very big problem. Water is the main source of life. It would be a catastrophe. Dubai only has enough water to last us a week. There's almost no storage. We don't know what will happen if our supplies falter. It would be hard to survive."

Global warming, he adds, makes the problem even worse. "We are building all these artificial islands, but if the sea level rises, they will be gone, and we will lose a lot. Developers keep saying it's all fine, they've taken it into consideration, but I'm not so sure."

Is the Dubai government concerned about any of this? "There isn't much interest in these problems," he says sadly. But just to stand still, the average resident of Dubai needs three times more water than the average human. In the looming century of water stresses and a transition away from fossil fuels, Dubai is uniquely vulnerable.

I wanted to understand how the government of Dubai will react, so I decided to look at how it has dealt with an environmental problem that already exists – the pollution of its beaches. One woman – an American, working at one of the big hotels – had written in a lot of online forums arguing that it was bad and getting worse, so I called her to arrange a meeting. "I can't talk to you," she said sternly. Not even if it's off the record? "I can't talk to you." But I don't have to disclose your name... "You're not listening. This phone is bugged. I can't talk to you," she snapped, and hung up.

The next day I turned up at her office. "If you reveal my identity, I'll be sent on the first plane out of this city," she said, before beginning to nervously pace the shore with me. "It started like this. We began to get complaints from people using the beach. The water looked and smelled odd, and they were starting to get sick after going into it. So I wrote to the ministers of health and tourism and expected to hear back immediately – but there was nothing. Silence. I hand-delivered the letters. Still nothing."

The water quality got worse and worse. The guests started to spot raw sewage, condoms, and used sanitary towels floating in the sea. So the hotel ordered its own water analyses from a professional company. "They told us it was full of fecal matter and bacteria 'too numerous to count'. I had to start telling guests not to go in the water, and since they'd come on a beach holiday, as you can imagine, they were pretty pissed off." She began to make angry posts on the expat discussion forums – and people began to figure out what was happening. Dubai had expanded so fast its sewage treatment facilities couldn't keep up. The sewage disposal trucks had to queue for three or four days at the treatment plants – so instead, they were simply drilling open the manholes and dumping the untreated sewage down them, so it flowed straight to the sea.

Suddenly, it was an open secret – and the municipal authorities finally acknowledged the problem. They said they would fine the truckers. But the water quality didn't improve: it became black and stank. "It's got chemicals in it. I don't know what they are. But this stuff is toxic."

She continued to complain – and started to receive anonymous phone calls. "Stop embarassing Dubai, or your visa will be cancelled and you're out," they said. She says: "The expats are terrified to talk about anything. One critical comment in the newspapers and they deport you. So what am I supposed to do? Now the water is worse than ever. People are getting really sick. Eye infections, ear infections, stomach infections, rashes. Look at it!" There is faeces floating on the beach, in the shadow of one of Dubai's most famous hotels.

"What I learnt about Dubai is that the authorities don't give a toss about the environment," she says, standing in the stench. "They're pumping toxins into the sea, their main tourist attraction, for God's sake. If there are environmental problems in the future, I can tell you now how they will deal with them – deny it's happening, cover it up, and carry on until it's a total disaster." As she speaks, a dust-storm blows around us, as the desert tries, slowly, insistently, to take back its land.

X. Fake Plastic Trees

On my final night in the Dubai Disneyland, I stop off on my way to the airport, at a Pizza Hut that sits at the side of one of the city's endless, wide, gaping roads. It is identical to the one near my apartment in London in every respect, even the vomit-coloured decor. My mind is whirring and distracted. Perhaps Dubai disturbed me so much, I am thinking, because here, the entire global supply chain is condensed. Many of my goods are made by semi-enslaved populations desperate for a chance 2,000 miles away; is the only difference that here, they are merely two miles away, and you sometimes get to glimpse their faces? Dubai is Market Fundamentalist Globalisation in One City.

I ask the Filipino girl behind the counter if she likes it here. "It's OK," she says cautiously. Really? I say. I can't stand it. She sighs with relief and says: "This is the most terrible place! I hate it! I was here for months before I realised – everything in Dubai is fake. Everything you see. The trees are fake, the workers' contracts are fake, the islands are fake, the smiles are fake – even the water is fake!" But she is trapped, she says. She got into debt to come here, and she is stuck for three years: an old story now. "I think Dubai is like an oasis. It is an illusion, not real. You think you have seen water in the distance, but you get close and you only get a mouthful of sand."

As she says this, another customer enters. She forces her face into the broad, empty Dubai smile and says: "And how may I help you tonight, sir?"

Some names in this article have been changed. End of Johann Hari's article.

Okay. You're still there? Did you survive to the description of the tragic reality of Dubai? If you did, you probably understood where the problem is - and why Disney will never build a theme park over there, as the simple truth is that Dubai is cursed. It's a land which have been built on the suffering of thousand of slaves - not to mention the death or suicide of some of them. Real slaves who can't escape, and all this in the 21st century. Outside it looks bright and shiny, but in fact everything is cursed.

And God knows that there was a lot of Theme park projects for Dubai...First, there was this Dubai Land project (picture above). It has been years now since it was announced. Dozens of companies created concepts for it. And did anything rise from the sands? Almost nothing. The indoor ski resort did it, but we're still waiting for any of the theme park projects, most of them on hold or canceled. The Formula 1 race track is on hold and only a Dinosaurs attraction called "Restless Planet" created by Jack Rouse Associates Co with the participation of London's Natural History Museum and Japanese Audio-animatronic company Kokoro will exist but delayed until 2011. Here are some renderings of this project - probably the only one of the Dubai Land project that will ever exist...

Universal Studios announced two years ago that they will build a theme park in Dubai. It seems that this one is still going on, or may be on hold...

Busch Gardens "Worlds Of Discovery" should have been build on one of the "Palms" artificial islands. It is now also canceled.

A Marvel Super Hero theme park was also announced: same: it's on hold.

And i could go on and on about canceled projects. You have no idea how many creative people have worked in the last 6 years for Dubai theme park projects that will never be build. Even some Disney imagineers quit WDI to go working on Dubai projects...and came back years later because nothing worked. There was no money. Nothing.

The truth is that Dubai is simply and mostly a giant real estate operation, that's all. Skycrapers and malls. I don't deny that they're trying to build a tourism destination - hoping visitors will spend a lot money in these luxury malls. In 2007 6.5 millions tourists went in Dubai - it's not bad for a place which was a desert some years ago, but it's definitely not enough for a Disney resort.

As for the other theme parks projects, it seems that everybody who was involved in them finally understood that everything was a mirage. After all, it's a desert all around, and everybody knows that mirage happens in desert, right?

But "desert" means "heat", and it is bloody hot in Dubai. Frankly, can you imagine anybody walking in a theme park a full day with outside temperatures over 130 degrees (Fahrenheit - 55 degrees celsius)? Also, as we know, islamic laws are pretty strict in the region and could even forbid men and women to ride together on a roller coaster...No kidding.
I have a full respect for islamic religion, but in some cases we have to admit that islamic rules can really be problematic...

Now, imagine a Disney project in the middle of all that: a country built by slaves, a heat like hell at least six months a year, inextricable islamic laws, etc... No way. As long as human rights and workers conditions stay like this in Dubai, Disney will never build a theme park out there. And they will be absolutely right. Not only because a MK that would have been built by slaves would be a disaster in terms of image for the company, but because slavery must not exist in 21st Century and everybody, including Disney, must stand against this. It's just as simple as that.

Johann Hari's article: copyright 2009 Independent News and Media Limited


Leonardo Coppola said...

I just wanted to thank you Alain to post this alarming but marvelous article by Johann Hari.

As an architecture student, Dubai has always intrigued me but never convinced me, even with a far look as I never went there and never wanted to ...

This article is really the piece that lacked in order to clearly see how things are really working out there ... and it's not that shiny ...

I never really found any interesting architectural project in Dubai's skyline, and now that I have a better idea of how everything works, I start to ask myself why famous architects such as Jean Nouvel are still making projects for this city .... But well it's another debate, and surely a long and complex one ... so, let's go back to Disney ...

But once again, thank you for the article !

cola boy said...

Thank you for posting this article. I knew Dubai was too good to be true. This story really helped to expose the horrors that are going on "behind the curtain" of wealth and opulence the city shows. This is truly a place I never want to visit.

Mark said...

Thank you for speaking the truth- something that doesn't happen all too often in these days of being politically correct and trying to please everyone.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, and thank Disney for not opening a Theme Park in Dubai.
it's very hot ans wet in Dubai for a Disney theme park.
I rather go to Paris or even Orlando.

Jaber, from Kuwait

Anonymous said...

universal stuido dubial is not canceled they are open in decemeber 2012 . you got misread date . only one canceled snowdome .why too much heat .

Alain Littaye said...

You're right, i did a mistake, Universal Dubai project is still going one, or may be on hold, but not canceled, i am going to rectify that in the article.

Why too hot? Have you ever walked outside by 55 degrees (celsius). I did, and believe me it's reaaally too hot!

Also, i had to delete a comment. Sorry, but i will not tolerate any racist comment ( or a comment that could be understand as racist ) on my blog.

Anonymous said...


A regular reader of your blog, never commented before but your article moved me to write.

1st - Thank you for a candid and honest representation of a country that I have always consider a jewel admist coal. Now I see that what glitters isn't gold at all.
2nd - My wife and I will change any future plans for our "dream" trip to the "great sail hotel" in the sea. Why support a country with money who fails to allow even the basic human rights to exist.
3rd - My "world" is Disney (and you keep my fix well established) Thank you again for sharing of yourself with the web and the world.

Your continued reader

Anonymous said...

This article from Johann Hari is moving. Thanks for posting it Alain!
As a Westener myself (as you as well), we can't simply tolerate Dubai to make fun of us like they do "we take capitalism, but only the what makes money part of it".

China still ressembles that, but the population is so big there, and they're trying to keep their country united. Hope the Chinese will improve soon soon.

More about Dubailand: this was a project created by "incompetents" as this article said, some kind uninspired and dull like the last Disney Parks around the world (WDS,DCA,HKDL). No creative talent, nothing.

Anonymous said...

Watch and read the mohammed t-shirt from Sweden,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this wonderful and very enlightening article to what is really going on.

Leonardo, in the end, most architects just want their projects built.

Though Thom Mayne of Morphosis, also a Pritzker Prize winner, said last year in a keynote lecture to the World Architecture Congress’s Cityscape Dubai conference that Dubai was headed towards an 'ecological disater'. He blamed business being out of check of the government, which seems to be the same sort of trend with all of Dubai's labor issues; an ignorant government with little control over the money hungry businesses developing their landscape and future.

It's almost like the industrial revolution playing itself out again. Hopefully their workers will organize and get some sort of representation and fair treatment.

As long as Disney stays out of that I will be happy.

Anonymous said...

As with many things in life there are two sides. I am originally from Bangladesh and as you can read from the article workers and others from BD are mistreated in many ways in Dubai and this makes me very angry. But at the same remittance from the same workers are very important source of foreign revenue as our countries gradually work their way out of poverty.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I feel so ashamed after reading the article you included. Not that I have had any part in Dubai, but just the reactions that many of the westerners/expats that you encountered had such horrible attitudes about the slave class. How horrible! I suppose I feel shame for them...and hope somehow all of this is made right.

To be honest, I've never fully believed that Dubai could be all it claimed. Things looked too good to be true, and the expansion was moving at such a rapid pace, I figured something was going to happen. Many, many of the projects looked like vanity projects, and were too beyond any realistic scope. There seemed to be no "start small"; everything must be bigger, better, and brighter than anything that's come before...only it's not just one building, it's a whole city of these things. How can this possibly last?

I have no desire to ever visit Dubai, and I am hopeful that even the celebrities that still like to visit, soon realize what kind of things happen there and stop going as well.

Hopefully Disney will be very careful when they build Shanghai Disneyland or any other park in another country that they avoid all human rights issues. China can be problematic, and I just hope that Disney does not allow any of that, even from it's partners...but it's hard to say yet.

Alain, thank you for providing such an honest look at Dubai. It's really given me things to think about, even in my own country.

Court said...

Even if everything the article has to say is true (and I do believe every word of it), if Disney will build in China, I see no reason why they wouldn't build in Dubai.

john321 said...

I’ve explained that yesterday in a response to Alains article called "A Disney theme park in India?": There simply aren’t enough tourists in Dubai to make it viable. Also a nice quote of Jay Rasulo himself: "I'm happy with what's happening here and if there isn't any Disney resort and I mean anywhere in the world, not just Dubai it's because the timing, evolution and opportunity haven't arrived. The Middle East's tourism industry is in its early days and it will probably continue to grow but we have not looked at Dubai as a destination aggressively seeking development.". Check the source here.

Not until recently, the total scale of abuse of laborers in Dubai has become a target of media attention. It seems Dubai’s rulers managed to keep the press relatively quiet for a long time.
I happen to know some people that have worked in Dubai and got out in time and I know some people living there (they seem to be fine for the moment). Most of them are telling me stories which are very much in line with Johann Hari’s story. Which is, by the way, an excellent and very detailed article. He will probably never get a visa again in Dubai tough... I'm lucky I never took an offer in the booming days, just a year or two ago.

If you want to know a bit more about the Dubailand project and you have some 25 minutes left, you might be interested in this piece of propaganda. It is an early concept promotional video (with a lot of stolen content), before some of the big names like Universal announced their plans. I've first watched this video about two years ago with pure disbelief. It actually finally convinced me that Dubai was just fake.

If you want to know what has been achieved, check this page by "the Theme Park Guy".
Imagine, alongside this mega project, there also are those other projects, some of them even larger in size:
- Dubai Waterfront, creation of islands twice the size of Hong Kong Island, along with a gigantic artificial canal trough the desert.
- The three palms, one bigger than the other.
- A new airport in the middle of the desert: The biggest airport in the world for both freight and passengers… (They already have a huge airport)
- A giant metro system connecting it all.
- And not to forget all those "other" mega projects, like the one tallest building after another and the one biggest mall after another…

Since the credit bubble has burst, their real-estate prices have halved and it is probably getting worse. Dubai doesn’t live on oil. Oil just constitutes about 6 to 7 percent of its income, it lives on credit. Abu Dabi, the neighbor with the real oil money already has written them a large check, but this will probably not even cover the interest rates for 2009 alone… Maybe the city can recover itself to some point, but I think we will soon see the end of this fairy tale, that has become a living nightmare for so many people. Unfortunately, when this happens, a lot more people will get hurt...

Many people might claim that Disney also builds fake worlds. They probably do that, but it is good to know that their original vision was not utter greed and power. Also, most of their projects have proven to be sustainable throughout the years, even without enslaving other people.

With all the big budget projects on-hold or cancelled, how does this look on Universal, Marvel, Six Flags, Paramount, Dreamworks Animation, Trump, etc.? Right, very, very, very stupid. "Like, I told you so... is right around the corner." Especially now the world is learning how this "little economy" worked back there in Dubai.

Dubai had become the new capital of greed, both of locals and expats alike. Everything had to be bigger than anywhere in the world. Come on, let’s not just build one giant palm island, let’s build three. Let’s attach a "waterfront" the size of Hong Kong to one of it. Let’s build an air-conditioned beach in the middle of the desert. A theme park with replicas of known landmarks, bigger than the originals itself... You can call Las Vegas crazy, but Las Vegas will still be standing in 50 years. Dubai might be buried under a large layer of sand in just 20 years, because if they run out of water, it will all start decaying in a matter of weeks. It better dies sooner than later...

So, enough reasons for Disney to stay far far away from this living example of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. Thanks for publishing this. I always wanted to see the architecture in Dubai... But after reading this article, I'll think twice before booking any ticket. The slavery on which this city is built, sounds horrible and should not be supported. Sometimes it is too tempting to look away from these issues or too underestimate them.

It was also interesting to understand a little bit more from the views of the native Emiratis. I was always curious on their views on Dubai. It is a pity to learn moat people feel not free yet to answer and really discuss on improvements to the system.

Anonymous said...

Dubai is on the Persian Gulf, not the Indian Ocean.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think Disney doesn't care about the workers situation in Dubai or Human Rights - they built in China and don't mind their behavior.
Interesting article though. Makes you think twice who to work for and what to work on.

daveyjones said...

i visited dubai in april of last year for my MFA thesis project on thematic design. i must say i agree with many of these observations. but as a frequenter of this blog, it was both cumbersome and annoying to have an entire article by someone else posted in the body. just sum it up, and provide a link.

Jason Rasmussen said...

Excellent article! I wonder how Universal and others will fair with all the problems Dubai is having, and covering up.

Anonymous said...

I am reluctant to believe the article by Hari – though I do believe Dubai does posses many problems, especially since I doubt its development is sustainable... I don't know if people are really 'slaves', or if the gov't is as corrupt or conspiratorial as portrayed... I'll need more evidence on that before I can be convinced, it could just be a case of orientalism and biased journalism.

That said it's intriguing, and the points brought up about Disneyland are true. Good work.

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Anonymous said...

This article is so sad. I never knew Dubai existed until a few hours ago looking up photos of cool hotels.. It's interesting how just looking at photos of it how I could sense evil and corruption. There was something about the glamor and excess that just made me sick just from a few photos... I found this blog by researching to see if my gut feelings were legit... I'm shocked by how horrible they treat people, it makes me want to fight the war against good and evil. This is truly the end of the world. wow.

Anonymous said...

Well I do agree with many of the points, which were made in the article, but not with its conclusion to describe it as an utterly evil place. Sure Dubai has many problems, some related to Human Rights issues some related to financial matters, but just have a look at how young this city is, which nowadays has a population of app. 1.8 million. I did an internship in the Emirates and I can name you many positive aspects of this city. First of all it still manages to attract a lot of tourists, also simply because of the fact that it is very tolerant and a role model for other arab countries. Sure its laws are still very strict, in comparison with western democracies, but Dubai embodies hope for the entire world in my opinion. Just go there and see how the people treat you. Dubai also has excellent infrastructure and is one of the safest places in the world. I had to laugh really hard when I read about couples not being allowed to ride rollercoasters togehter...this is just a lie. You can go out in Dubai, meet Men and Women, you can drink alcohol and so on. I love Disney as well and I am a huge fan of all Disneylands...I always thought that themewise it would really fit well into this oriental setting (maybe by building the palace of Aladdin, instead of the Sleeping Beauty Castle). Last but not least I want to address to this slavery point. How were the US and most of Europe built up? What is happening in China right now with regard to human rights issues. I am not denying the fact that these people who are building Dubai have an issue, but this is a company thing. The government of Dubai has to enforce its laws, but they cannot succeed in doing it all the time and believe me companies are legally not allowed to keep the passports of their associates. Also think about the fact that those people come from a place where they don't have food to put on the tables of their children.


Anonymous said...

I think that you've just decided to hate Dubai.

It seems to start of as a sensible article, but spirals into fiction and exaggeration. You're actually blaming the country for the activities of some people, even though, these activities are made illegal by law. (the whole passport thing)

Obviously, nothing is ever perfect and Dubai has its share of shortcomings. However, it is not evil.

I am an expatriate, living in Dubai - and all I can say is that Dubai gave me the business opportunity that no other country would have. Not just that, the hospitality of many of the locals is beyond belief. To me Dubai is a good place.

I'll be sure to let you know if I ever change my mind.


jony said...

Aw, this was a really nice post. In idea I would like to put in writing like this additionally Dubai is a wonderful creation.The reflections of the building in the water looks great.
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Anonymous said...

This article is more of fiction than fact. Dubai like any other country has its issues, the law and traditions of land does make it much different then west and rest of world, the debt issue is just like anywhere else; people must live in there means. I know lots of western expats living in Dubai for 10+ years living happily and with a lifestyle better then there home countries.

Anonymous said...

I read this article and although I do read many and never have I felt the urge to comment. I was fascinated at first to see what was to come, but all I read was more and more lies. If you feel that what I am about to say is not what you want to hear then I encourage you to actually delete this comment. I am from the UAE and I am a proud citizen. I live in Abu Dhabi and I am not gonna stand here and deny everything you say but there are many things that are untrue. But what is true is that we do have lots of workers that come from India Bangladesh Philippines and other places too. It is true they are building our city, but without the money, they wouldn't be able to. The way they are said to be treated, that I disagree to most of it. Did you atleast try to justify some answers? Did you research more? Well i'm gonna tell you something these workers are treated well by many Emaratis. I remember when a local project was going on into helping those workers that build our city for us. It was a box or a bag that would have necessities that would help workers in their everyday life (it included razors and shaving cream, shampoo, soap, shirts, caps and much more) and this project was successful. the high school students in my school which add up to about 200 girls only have raised a couple thousand of these boxes. And other schools joined in and people all around the city. I always heard an announcement about it on virgin radio. I wanted to also say that my father has raised me into becoming someone that always appreciated the help, and treat people the way I want to be treated. I'm not the only one. I can tell you that most of us have maids that stayed in our houses for generations. My nanny has been here with me since I was a couple months old. She helped in raising me and she is happy that she did she even calls me as one of her children and would show my picture to her children when she goes back to visit them. I will assure you that we treat her as part of the family because she is. I know a maid that stayed here for 30 years and she never felt more at home amongst the family. So in the end I wanted to say it might be some small things that I did say but I have many more, then it comes to me that the only person that would actually believe this article are people who are not deserving of this country. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan -may god rest his soul- built this country from a desert to heaven on earth. I have never been to a country that has the same luxuries we do. It might be expensive in places, sure. But if you're willing to pay then do that but, there are sooo many cheap shops here prices that are unbelievable. I say this again I am proud to be from this country. I also forgot to mention get your facts straight about how the British left this country. They only left under an agreement and since then we have great connections with great Britain and it is one of the most visited places by Emaratis. My dad calls it his second home. This a great case of the phrase that goes like "never judge a book by its cover" but more like never judge a city by an article which probably didn't even become successful.

Anonymous said...

As if everything is perfect on the other side of the world, no gays? no kidnapping? no selling own kids or sisters for extra cash? no beggars on the streets? Of course it's easy to judge, leave the life, do the CSR work within communities, change yourself inside and stop being jealous and spoil other countries by posting non-sense articles. I've been in that situation had no house,etc... got out myself because instead of going out and partying like crazy and spend all that money that gov pays in here, just work and help others if you can. One day, everybody need to have their lessons at one point. You cannot blame country for what happened to you... As if your country is so perfect. At least here you have an opportunity to grow unlike other countries. If it's so bad just be where you belong don't judge gays or none gays, this country provides far more than what rest of the world can provide, so appreciate, pray for people to be humans and just enjoy the life.

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this article. I have never been to Dubai and I wanted to as it is my favorite place to spend vacation, honestly, but this made me realized not to.

Unknown said...

Dubai's back thanks to the Expo2020, and Stronger than Ever ;)

Anonymous said...

Dubai is one of the few cities in the world where you will find yourself in peace. I have not seen any country where you can feel in security every where you walk in the city and at any time.
We can not make general bad conclusion about a city based on the unlucky experience of few people.

Anonymous said...

This seriously biased nonsense ! I am an expat living in Dubai and all I can say to you is "stop hating!!. These guys have done well for themselves...proven that success is possible even in a desert! Deal with it man...stop hating!!"

Anonymous said...

You know why Dubai and the whole U.A.E. are one of the safest, most developed and calmest countries in the world?
Because of that thing that you're mistakenly calling "slavery".By clearing their streets from beggars and helping them and If helping homeless people from the street who've got to shelter no Food and absolutely no money by giving them jobs, shelter and food Is what you call slavery, then I can truly say that this world is filled with close-minded, Full of hatred people.

Anonymous said...

As I scroll down through the comments, I find my self laughing at all those close-minded people who have NEVER visited Dubai Or U.A.E. and some Who have NEVER even heard of Dubai or U.A.E. before.
It's so sad How some people can be so easily manipulated by the media .

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Anonymous said...


as a UAE citizen will say that most of this article is false information and pure fabrication. we Emiratis contribute of 8% of UAE population and we work in both private & government sector, and by the way your info regarding everything is free is false. we do get land or a house from the government but its called government housing plan which we pay back in installments. I thinks most country do that.

1st the story of the Canadian couples, as the wife said they enjoyed and partied like never before and provided with great job pay.
they bought 2 properties had maids working for them.
anywhere in the world if you spend more money, you save less money.
when they had that much of loans, where were you when signing the loan agreement and bank policies. I think its clear that these couple were irresponsible. don't blame a country for your mistakes no country in the world comes running in help. start taking responsibility of your mistakes.

2nd the gay part that is a whole different issue which is not only a government issue. its the Arab culture and society which disallows. These things plays a big roll in such decision.

3rd the human rights concerning workers. there are issue but the government is doing a lot to impose their laws against misbehavior & bad treatment to labor workers. if they are maids or worker both.
most importantly there are comfortable labor camps built by the government for small fee paid by the companies.

if the company is treating the labor badly, I don't think the government is to be blamed !!
I respect your point of view, and your readers of this article and I say your welcome to ( UAE ) Ya Hala.

if Disney is the issue of this Whole propaganda, good at least some readers knew ( DUBAI ) United Arab Emirates

Warda Khan said...

The post is very detailed. Thanks a lot

dr ejaz said...

A bunch of nonsense based on isolated personal experiences.