Dubai: The political model

Published on Al Jazeera, by As’ad AbuKhalil, December 09, 2009.

The emirate of Dubai has in the past few decades been more than a shiny example of glitzy capitalism and the insulation from the repercussions (and responsibilities) of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It has represented the type of political model which has been promoted to the Arabs, by their rulers and by the West … //

… Playground for the rich:

Dubai was supposed to be a vision but one not rooted in the productive sectors of the economy. 

There were early warnings of the debacle that struck Dubai World – too much glitz and ostentation and little attention to a careful building of culture and economy that reflect the region.

There was a rush to build multi-billion dollar artificial ski slopes and playgrounds for the very rich of the world.

But Dubai did not want to be part of the region, politically speaking. Instead it modelled itself as a copy of Las Vegas in the heart of the Arab Middle East.

Dubai carefully steered away from all the issues that alarmed and agitated Arab public opinion.

Instead, Dubai and the other six emirates which comprise the UAE made sure that they operated within the realm of US foreign policy priorities. Dubai became a regular stop on the travel routes of US diplomats.

But people will wonder whether the recent crisis in Dubai is the apparent economic mismanagement resulting from rapid urbanisation and modernisation that lacked a soul.

Was this an example of a fundamental contradiction between economic growth and lack of democracy?

China and Vietnam have proved that rapid economic growth without democratisation could work, and work splendidly. Yet, Dubai’s model of economic growth seemed less planned and less guided by a realistic vision of the future.

There was little attempt to match future planning with Dubai’s demographic realities or even of the area around it. Instead, the emirate had to rely on the import of large numbers of Asian workers without any effort to integrate them, or even to afford them decent living standards and human conditions.

Lack of co-ordination: … //

Arabs questioning policies:

But the collapse of Dubai may redraw the political and economic pictures of the region. Maybe governments will now be pressed to explain the purposes and motives behind their economic policies. And maybe the Arab public will now raise more questions about the various models that are promoted as exemplary by the West.

It was only a few years ago that Western governments and media believed the emirate of Dubai could do no wrong. Western publications that had once praised the Dubai experiment and the wisdom and vision of “Sheikh Mo” are now discovering the shortsightedness of the policies that guided the emirate’s growth. Western media are suddenly discovering the plight of Asian workers in the region.

The Arab public has experienced disappointments and disillusionments before but this one will have consequences for US foreign policy.

The Arab people have been urged to abandon struggle and the search for justice and to seek the model of Dubai. Now, the young generation of Arabs will not seek pilgrimage in Dubai.

Another destination will be sought and this could signal a return to Palestine. (full text).

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