Tuesday, February 14, 2006

arab centre of the modern world?

The most impressive feature of the re-designed Guardian is their willingness to run long, detailed features in G2 - I'm thinking particularly of their investigations into modern China, Israel and - now - Dubai. Yesterday's long article was really fascinating. And if you admire large-scale articles with plenty of detail it's hard not to be fascinated by a city like Dubai.

"Dubai is growing faster than any city on earth. "Mushroom City", Ravi Piyush, a plumply content dealer in the Gold Souk, said to me. "Nothing today, everything tomorrow." The World Bank reckons that the reconstruction of Iraq is going to cost $53bn. Here, along the strip of footballer-friendly sand that stretches 25 miles or so along the shores of the Persian Gulf, there is, at a rough estimate, about $100bn worth of projects either underway or planned for the near future. That is a numbing figure, ungraspable."

What are they trying to achieve? Unlike Abu Dhabi, Dubai does not have vast oil resources, which means that it must establish itself in other ways; as a port and a financial centre. The scale of the ambition with which this Arab Emirate is pursuing this is quite outstanding. But the article, by Adam Nicholson, hints at something more; Mustafa, a businessman, tells him of the greater vision,

"which is that Dubai should become a fully developed city, with the best life of any city that has ever been created. The whole city is growing as a single organism. We have planned this, very carefully, ... so that in time Dubai is going to become the first ever Arab modern metropolis".

Perhaps so, but it is far from a democratic state, and living and working conditions for the worst off remain appalling. Nevertheless, it's hard not to be impressed by the vastness of the operation and the staggering speed of growth, much less the ambition. Although that's probably not why the England football team all own properties out there....

"This is the Dubai sandwich: at the bottom, cheap and exploited Asian labour; in the middle, white northern professional services, plus tourist hunger for glamour in the sun and, increasingly, a de-monopolised western market system; at the top, enormous quantities of invested oil money, combined with fearsome social and political control and a drive to establish another model of what modern Arabia might mean in the post-9/11 world. That is the intriguing question: can Dubai do what Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, or almost anywhere else in the Arab world you might like to mention, have failed to do? Is Dubai, in fact, the fulcrum of the future global trading and financial system? Is it, in embryo, what London was to the 19th century and Manhattan to the 20th? Not the modern centre of the Arab world but, more than that, the Arab centre of the modern world."

No comments: