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Dubai, unlike it’s neighbor Abu Dhabi, does not have oil riches. Though oil and gas were discovered in the 1960s, the Al Maktoum Emirs of Dubai knew early on they had to capitalize on oil money in the 80s, 90s, and 00s before the gravy train ran out of steam. Dubai creek was dredged several times over those decades so that today Dubai is the largest deep water port in the region.
Dubai’s rulers have also worked hard to make their town a financial center, giving sweetheart deals to major western financial houses to locate offices there. With finance comes real estate, which, according to Wikipedia, accounted for 22% of Dubai’s GDP before the housing bubble of started to inflate in 2004. It is difficult to find up-to-date figures on the financial situation in Dubai, probably for two reasons: first, if its economy was driven by a bubble, those interested in it do not want to spread the news it has popped and cause a panic; second, the government of Dubai and the UAE does not seem to be particularly transparent, at least if you are looking at the official website. (This article is indicative.) That said, my eyeball estimate of the economy in Dubai shows three salient categories of economic activity: commerce, service and tourism, and finance, under which I include real estate. (If you don’t like my categories, go talk to a professional economist.)
1) Kelly McEvers of Marketplace reported a couple of months ago that confidence in the Dubai’s real estate market has evaporated. 2) If players like Morgan Stanley are in trouble here, then you can be sure they’re in trouble at the Dubai satellite office. 3) And news that China is rethinking its investment in USD bonds should make any country with its currency pegged to the dollar (like the UAE) think twice about its future purchasing power. That leaves us with the service and tourism sector.
It’s true, everyone loves kareoke. And in the Mall of the Emirates you can record yourself in sound and vision doing a cover of Bowie to send to your friends back home.
I was particularly thrilled to know I could leave cold, rainy New York to go to the warm, sunny desert, and not have to miss a day of skiing. Not that it was so cold in New York. On the day we left for Dubai a friend who lives near Whiteface ski resort upstate lamented in a Facebook status update that it was unnatural to have 60 degree days at the end of December. But that makes indoor skiing in the desert all the more desirable.
When they close down mountain resorts in the US for lack of snow all the ski bums will be able to get jobs at the Mall in Dubai. The Dubai Mall also has ice skating and hockey…
… and a massive indoor aquarium.
Cool huh?! Notice all the folks in Western dress. That’s because most of the people in the malls were either Indian/Pakistani or European. I saw a few Emiratis, but not enough to keep these massive emporia open. Most of the shops are Western too, from Hardee’s and KFC (the writing is Arabic)…
… to lingerie.
This may be what Emirati women wear under their black robes, but I wouldn’t know.
The malls all have a space for “local” stuff, either tourist kitch or jewelry that is dressed up in a faux souk.
If you have any problems shopping, any disgruntled counter help or problems with your credit card, you can appeal either to the mall management or to God.
In sum, as long as tourists can afford to spend money, as long as novelty and kitch can last, as long as a flower can grow in the desert, Dubai will have a future.
(For mah peeps living the bohemian novelist’s dream.)
A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir of life for the young ex-pats who enjoyed the first blush of American global economic dominance in France after the end of the First World War. Though he and Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and John Dos Passos complained about being poor and put on a show of living a bohemian lifestyle, they were all supported by the strength of the US economy and money sent to them from the states. The fact that the French franc was close to trash compared to the dollar supported their artistic ambitions.