The other side of Dubai

Last week I linked to a lengthy article on Dubai that didn’t paint it in an attractive light at all; it was pointed out in the comments (not to mention in many other places around the web) that said article was a bit of a hatchet job.

Via BoingBoing (from whom came the original story) comes a response from Joi Ito, a recent arrival in Dubai:

I’m still new to the region so I can’t speak definitively as a native, but I do know that the picture that is sketched is pretty biased and I think could be rightly called “bashing”. As far as I can tell there is a crunch going on, just like everywhere else, and the government and businesses are trying to figure out what to keep and what to shut down. There are a lot of solid businesses and a lot of solid business people in Dubai and like anywhere else, consolidation and downsizing is taking its toll.


I don’t want to sound too defensive about Dubai or the Middle East in general, but one thing I’ve learned from my still brief time is that it’s much more complicated than it appears. Just calling Muslim law and governance “medieval” and writing it off is ignorant. It’s very different and isn’t in sync with what many of us might think is “fair”. They treat bounced checks and drug smuggling very seriously. Moving to the Middle East casually and assuming that everything should be just like home is dangerous and I wouldn’t recommend it. However, I knew about the drug thing even before I visited and I learned about the “bounced checks land you in jail” thing on my first day.

He’s got some important points there; current media coverage is definitely playing to the backlash against conspicuous consumption and weird financial doings. I lived in Saudi Arabia for three years when I was a kid, and that part of the world operates very differently to the West – culturally, religiously and politically. It’s probably not fair for us to judge entirely based on our own standards.

That said, I don’t think it’s entirely out of line to point out that Dubai is still a very weird set-up indeed, and will quite possibly become an emblem of the attitudes and approaches that led us to our current economic situation.

One thought on “The other side of Dubai”

  1. Whether or not “there’s a crunch going on” or “Muslim law and governance is different”, the fact is that Hari exposed labourers having their passports confiscated and then being made to work for a lower wage than they’d agreed. There’s no excusing the fact that Dubai is built on slavery.

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