Dubai, October 2011
Isn’t it just my luck that right when things are heating up in my own country, and finally getting to be interesting with the “Occupy Wall Street” protests; here I am in Dubai. First let me qualify that I will only be in Dubai for a total of four days, and therefore all of my comments and observations are based on a very limited perspective.
Having said that, here goes:
Wikipedia, "The United Arab Emirates, abbreviated as the UAE, or shortened to "the Emirates
", is a state situated in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula in Southwest Asia .. ." There are 20 million people in the city of Istanbul. There are 4,320,000 people in the whole UAE.
Dubai is probably the antithesis of the “Occupy” movement, and perhaps the model of the new society as envisioned by those who have gone a long way toward structuring both the world financial globalization, and the current global financial crisis. If you remember, the Bush’s (both father and son) were very good friends and extensive business partners with the royal family of the United Arab Republic. I understand that, contrary to some popular opinion, the Bush’s did not create the current money-resource crises. There were a great many other contributing factors, but they are a viable symbol of the initial first awareness that, “...something is happening here But you don’t know what it is Do you, Mister Jones?”
Only 18% of Emirates
are nationals. If you are an Emirates man, and you marry an Emirates woman you are given 30,000 dirham
before the wedding and 30,000 dirham after the wedding. You are also given
bonuses for each child. The president encourages Emirates to boost the population, and he has had 30 children to provide a good example. For this
population, there is free medical, housing, and other incentives provided to
stay in the UAE which is comprised of nine localities including
Dubai and Abu Dhabi.The rest of the population is 80% Indians, with a small
percentage of Pakistani, Indonesians, and Europeans. They are here basically to
provide services. They drive the taxis, work in the hotels, sell in the
shopping malls, and do most of the work. The Europeans are here to make
money. Dubai offers enormous incentives, including a “free zone”, which allows
businesses to come here and operate with no local taxes and other creative
incentives, including housing and medical care.
On the surface, Dubai is a prosperous, industrious, efficiently managed, and interesting city. The showcases like the Dubai Mall are filled with waterfalls, walk-through aquariums, cinemas, and shops with all the top brands worldwide. The mall was packed the entire day I spent there, and although I could see signs of some economic conservation in empty shops and anxious sales staff, there was also a great deal of commerce. The opulence here is best illustrated by the fact that most of the cars are Mercedes-Benz, BMW’s, Lexus, luxury land rovers, and even Rolls Royce’s. I did not see one single “fuel economy” car. I sat in a BMW tour bus for over 40 minutes with the engine running, and the air conditioner on because there is absolutely no concept of conserving fuel or resources here. The highways are like German autobahns with top speeds of 120 mph, and minimum speed of 60 mph.Dubai has modern highways and buildings that remind me of the 1950’s sci-fi covers on books by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury; buildings that rise up in strange geometrical shapes out of the vast Sahara desert like future cities on Mars. At night, everything lights up in a weird Arabian Las Vegas theme, but with a bit more exotica and a lot more class.
Arab men in white robes and head covers are the essence of “cool”. They have taken “cool” to a new level. They are aloof, and have no interest in foreigners. They have had the world by the balls for a long time now, and they know it. The woman also have a simple, elegant way of ignoring you completely. They know who has money and power, and who does not; and they seem to have no interest who those who "have not".
There is some evidence that the rulers realized, because they are a very smart and very large family, that this domination would end. Their president was known to say, “I rode in on a camel and built my dream of Dubai. My son rides a BMW, his son will ride a Ferrari, and his son will ride again a camel." Oil reserves here are said to be enough for about another 10 years at the current rate of consumption. Therefore, the Royal family has been very busy diversifying; and they now own the bulk of their wealth in real estate and development. I doubt their descendants will be riding a camel anytime in the near future. The camels now are only for the tourists.
This is the world most of the upper class elite of the world think they would love to live in; and it was created for them. The reality is they are not flocking here. There are many exclusive buildings, villas, apartments empty. Yes, Richard Branson and Donald Trump stay here; and I’m sure many others, but the rich are not leaving wherever they are now to come here. Mainly, I think, because it is a made up place in the middle of the desert and once you've shopped, and dined, and gone dune hopping, and swam in the pool or ocean, and gone on a yacht; there is nothing else to do with all your wealth but more of the same. There is nothing left except to repeat all of those events over and over, reassuring yourself that you are rich and you are having a wonderful life.
When we talk about the current globalization of the world economy, we do need to remember that the minds that created Dubai out of the desert sands using oil to fuel their dream are the same minds that had a great influence on the current structure of the world economy. Perhaps they were not the most powerful influence, but they most certainly had a say. Therefore, Dubai is a small microcosm of what they envisioned for the world, and it is certainly evident in the slow change in the structure of America. Especially in the rise of upper class wealth, the loss of a middle class in America, and the influx of an immigrant workforce. These things may all seem coincidental, and anyone who suggests that there is some plan at work will be accused of being a paranoid world conspiracy buff. But there is no denying that the reality of these changes is having a profound effect not only on the structure of the American Dream, but on what that dream has meant to the rest of the world. Even though anyone who has studied American History knows that that dream has only been a reality for a small part of the whole, it is still a dream that is very much believed in, or had been until the past few decades.
It seems as if now the only choice most of us will have is whether we will live in a country based on this model of a moneyed upper class, and a large working or servant class; and the only distinction will be does the system provide for our needs. Dubai and billionaires like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates seem to have the same working model of providing for the needs of the people; while the current American system, and most of the rest of the world are oriented toward discarding the needs of the many, while sucking up more and more of the resources available for the few.
So here I am in Dubai, the working model for everything that is being protested against in the world; and although I am well-fed and sitting here by a pool in a semi-luxury hotel writing this, I can’t help wishing I was out there marching with the rest of the world…because, although I love to live in a world with plenty of food, water, industry, and entertainment, I would also like that world to be available to everyone.