I listened to the opinions of people who have been quick to judge Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates that has been the subject of much admiration, envy, and doubt, even before the financial crisis occurred. Many have heard news about how Dubai’s economy has suffered, news which has been announced by officials, and analysed in all places from the stock exchange to the coffee shops. Accordingly many have decided that the Dubai bubble has burst, and that this unprecedented experience of Arab Infitah [economic open-door policy] has drawn to a close.
Nobody can deny that Dubai’s economy has suffered. It is inevitable, and only natural, that the most successful economies in the region and the world will be the most affected [by the financial crisis]. But what may be unclear to many is that weaker economies suffer in two ways: firstly they suffered in the recent past when they missed out on the opportunity for development, and secondly they will suffer today since it has become almost impossible for them to begin the development process since the world financial institutions have become far less adventurous [with regards international aid or loans] than before.
Those rejoicing at Dubai’s misfortune or those ignorant of Dubai’s situation believe that the experiment has come to an end, and this stems from their belief that Dubai represents nothing but flashy projects and surplus finance. Those who are rejoicing most are the bureaucrats who were hostile to the open market in Dubai; they rejected globalisation and were reluctant to use a flexible, less complex system. If they are correct, and Dubai has failed, then bureaucracy – which is certainly one of the most dangerous shortcomings of Arab governments in general – would celebrate one of its most important victories, and Arabs will hold on to it tightly for decades to come.
What the pessimists do not understand is that Dubai will survive because it is a necessity for the Arab region, as well as other countries such as India and Iran. Dubai will not collapse as it built a solid foundation for itself that will not be destroyed because of the global financial crisis. Dubai’s real success is not in its concrete buildings or its markets, but in its ideas, and its ability to turn these ideas and modern developments into reality. Thousands of companies in the East and West that have headed for Dubai and that have established themselves were not seeking skyscrapers or financial markets, but came to make the most of the pleasant work environment on offer by the city that fulfils most if its promises to them.
After Dubai where will they go? In practice there is no place like it. The ordeal Dubai is facing is the same that all other countries are facing due to the global financial crisis, and each company and sector will struggle to survive in this period, yet this is something at which Dubai excels. This current crisis may have come for the sake of correcting inflation, which affected Dubai more than other [cities], and preceded the global financial crisis. In fact this crisis could prove to be something of a saving grace following the soaring cost of living and real-estate, which represented the greatest threat to the Dubai experience.
Dubai is a necessity because it is the only place where the average Iranian can invest his money without hassle, while it is an easy destination for India’s nouveau-riche.
Dubai is also almost the only country that receives a competent and efficient Arab workforce with no specifications of age, gender, or profession, and it is almost the only country in which one can establish a company without having to wait for months on end, or buy a house without too many complications. It is the only place where a Westerner can run a business in the sun, and easily arrange trips to world destinations. It is impossible to find all these benefits and privileges in one place in our region.
So although the construction cranes may be silent, and work on the skyscrapers may end, Dubai will remain the country for the successful, for it needs them, and they need it, and the Arab world as a whole is in need of successful experiences.