Dubai: The Biggest Story in the World
Posted in : Geopolitical:
- On : Sep 14, 2006
The story begins in the Middle East we don’t know: Dubai City. While Dubai has meaning to billions of people, aside from a passing mention of the world’s finest hotel or Tiger Wood’s Golf Tournament, it’s practically unheard of here in America.
Day One: “You’re going where?”
My journey to this city of contrasts launches from London with the excitement of a Club Med charter. Instead of the aging businessmen I expected, my flight buzzes with energetic young families and Euro hipsters. Brochures depicting smiling Western vacationers prove truth, not marketing fluff: tourism yields over three million visitors a year and growing. Fast. Tourism in the Mid East? An incredible concept to most Americans. Before departure, friends offer protection tidbits like “get a good security firm” and “stay in the safe zones”. Ten minutes research shows any American how patently absurd this thinking is. Dubai’s safety ranks with Tokyo or London and a good deal safer than Washington D.C. Crime is almost non-existent in this ultra modern city, one of many facts that confound the iceberg of American misconceptions about the region.
Within hours of landing, I know that I have never seen such a thing in my life. Of course I haven’t. No one has. The growth and scale of business in this land of unbounded potential is like nothing else in modern history. Dubai represents no less than the creation of a major new world center, the transformation of a region and therefore the entire world. Welcome to Middle East 2.0, the city of the future.
Dubai City is located in the Emirate of Dubai, within The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a wealthy oil producing nation bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman with excellent relations with the west. The mega wired city is the planet’s biggest construction site, yielding the world’s largest per capita concentration of cranes and Caterpillar’s biggest customer. Its landmarks include the Burj Al Arab, the worlds first seven star hotel. Dubai hosts over 50 major projects, all with sub projects that each dwarf almost anything we can conceive: a Manhattan-sized palm tree shaped peninsula visible from space, 300 man made islands in the shape of the Earth, the world’s tallest tower, tallest residential tower, largest airport and a dozen cities within a city, each with tax free treatment, infrastructure and special benefits for international corporations. The desert magnet has attracted Microsoft, Cisco, Sun, Reuters, Virgin Airways, Donald Trump and Martha Stewart. Not just business brings people to Dubai; in a word the place is fun. Supreme restaurants, golf courses, hotels, malls and nightclubs pepper the beachfront skyline.
Dubai’s diversity rivals the zenith of New York’s immigration boom. At my hotel, women in Abayah’s, the traditional head to toe black dress, sit poolside next to bikini clad Europeans. At mega malls, men in traditional robes push strollers carrying babies with Superman caps past trendy students, Asian businessmen and stores that sell everything from Mont Blanc pens to Persian rugs to Chinese pottery and the latest Sony laptops. What Dubai has achieved is a peaceful and universal melting pot of the world- a land where hundreds of dialects are unified by the international languages of business, hospitality and entertainment.
If every story needs a hero, this one’s is Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, known locally as Sheik Mohammed. Ever since 1776 when we fought King George III for independence, Americans have been unenthusiastic for royalty and have judged people based on their accomplishments rather than family connections or title. But by even by the most cynical American standards, Sheik Mohammed has accomplished enough to not only truly deserve our deepest respect but to ensure his place in world history. Perhaps, even with great natural talent and intelligence, only one born with such opportunity would be able to dream so large. One cannot help but admire Sheik Mohammed when asking “What kind of man looks at a small desert town and decides to create the greatest city on earth? What kind of man looks at the ocean and resolves to create miles of islands in the shape of the earth and palm trees?”
Faster than a bird or a plane…
The “Speed of Dubai” is a few clicks past the speed of the tech boom I saw with the founding of my Internet investment company in 1994. Everything here moves faster than a speeding bullet and Superman. My business meetings and taxi rides move quicker than any during my days in New York. Outside my hotel springs a development with 50 skyscrapers: by day three of my stay, five of them have the entire outside walls completed, transforming steel shells to the outline of landmarks they will be. In three weeks the view will be entirely different and in a year, unrecognizable. Like breeding a prize winning stallion, something this crowd knows better than anyone on earth, Dubai uses a “best of breed” approach for the construction of this super-city. The world’s best advisors are recruited to design everything from the stock exchange which is modeled after the US and London exchanges to Dubailand, a gargantuan theme park and the Middle East’s answer to Disneyland. Other projects are modeled on nothing more than guts and creativity including the worlds largest man made marina and a massive indoor ski resort. At the Mall of the Emirates you can step from 100 degree weather to a 30 degree snow covered domed artificial mountain watching children of all nationalities throwing snowballs and sledding.
We don’t know what we don’t know
Dubai is truly international, representing over 160 nationalities in all income and job categories. Most noticeable to me is the lack of Americans. Others in town simply lump us together with the British, of which there are plenty. Of the few Americans that are here, most are engineers almost none are tourists. To the American mindset, the Middle East just isn’t a place where one considers a vacation with the family. Even American companies here are typically staffed by Londoners or Middle Easterners. Our misconceptions about the region are so great that it is both embarrassing and inconceivable. The locals I speak with are still stunned over Congress’s decision to block US port ownership by Dubai Ports. Even long-term American residents I meet have forgotten just how many and how deep our misconceptions about this region run. Indeed it is easy to forget: within days I’m so accustomed to the buzz of this place that I must remind myself how few of us have heard of Dubai let alone can point to the UAE on a map. Many Americans tend to lump the region together like one giant country, thinking that Afghanistan, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran and Iraq are all similar economically, educationally and politically. This is like thinking that San Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Houston, Atlanta and Boca Raton are similar because of their geographic proximity.
America is a great nation with so many natural resources and attractions that we tend to be isolated in our world view. Our best and brightest tell us of the new ‘flat world’ and global economy but other than a smattering of India and China investments what are we doing about it? Dubai is not only a center of a new global economy but also center of the region we understand least. Islam being the primary religion of the UAE and the area causes even further misunderstanding or outright false perceptions. For example, many Americans do not realize that Islam condemns terrorism or even that Muslims believe in Jesus. Many Americans do not know that Arab and Muslim are two different terms with two different meanings. A religion larger than Catholicism has been condemned by many Americans based on the actions of two dozen fanatics. Few realize that there are peaceful nations in the region with standards of living and per capita wealth near our own levels. When we hear “Gulf War” many Americans associate the entire Gulf region with war, terrorism, poverty and violence. Most would be so shocked at the contrasts in Dubai that they would regret even making a comparison. Sadly, many American journalists cannot write or speak about the Mid East without speaking of terrorism, even though the nations are as different as Georgia and Cuba. Dubai shines as the antithesis of everything wrong in the region, for this small area is in some ways more in line with our values than our own country. No longer is it possible for a third world resident to jump on a plane to America and become a cab driver who sends his children to medical school. This dream now lives in Dubai where working visas are still obtainable, even encouraged; millions of workers now call Dubai home. The state’s expatriate population has grown to 80% of the residents, making its religious and language composition far more diverse than our own. If investment prosperity and world peace require us to understand and embrace the changes in our world, there may be no better place to start than Dubai.The stars are aligned
One key to the success of Dubai is its strategic location: equidistant between London and Beijing, nearby India and at the center of the Gulf region. Dubai is home to the region’s largest port where reselling goods is surpassed only by oil and tourism in revenue. Dubai is blessed with oil wealth but less of it than some of its neighbors, sparking the desire to work hard to diversify revenue. A singularly focused and pro business government with ample funding and offerings of huge infrastructure and tax benefits combines well with the can-do attitude of the area. One of my hosts sums up how obstacles are dispatched, “In Dubai, we make things work.” And working it is; the speed of this development has left even some who follow the story in the dust: by the time we speculate if it will work, it already is working. Yesterday’s concepts are up and running today. In half the time we have plodded along with Boston’s Big Dig or other major American projects, this city has completed two dozen equal or larger scale undertakings. The world’s skepticism at this nation’s ability to build a world financial and economic center is already obsolete and outpaced by the speed of Dubai.
The stunning growth of the city is transforming the region, and therefore the world. Already the UAE’s more conservative neighbor, Saudi Arabia, has asked Dubai construction firms to begin work on King Abdullah Economic City, a super city and economic zone created in a similar model to parts of Dubai. Dubai is now an international hub and free work zone to which millions flock seeking a better life. The energy and focus here is massively positive, an experiment in goodwill that shows how well people get along when focused on building, creating and having fun. American smart money is already here but not in nearly the scale we could be. How can we, the greatest nation on earth be participating so little in this incredible spectacle?
A colossal metamorphosis is indeed occurring in the Middle East and here the change is not from bombs or guns but from handshakes and construction crews. In its quest to become the world’s greatest city Dubai doesn’t need to submit a memo to the desks of America: Dubai doesn’t need our permission. This story is occurring with or without our participation. Middle East 2.0 is here to stay.
A new global economic center has been born. The question is, will America remain in quiet isolation and trod to our sunset retirement home or will we come to the nursery and celebrate this birth with words of congratulations? I choose the latter. I hope, for the sake of our nation and our world, that my fellow Americans will join me. Welcome to the world’s big leagues Dubai, it’s a pleasure to meet you.
Bruce Fenton is a financial consultant, a writer, and the Managing Director of Atlantic Financial Inc. Bruce welcomes inquiries, comments, and questions. He can be reached by contacting The Fenton Report.