Monday, January 04, 2010

Dubai - It's a simple case of Jealousy

Image credit: Taha

So I was watching the spectacular opening ceremony of the building formerly known as Burj Dubai but now renamed to Burj Khalifah. It was something epic. Most people agree - Burj Khalifah is a magnificent building, well designed, pleasing to the eye, while being a marvel of technology as there were significant engineering and physical challenges to overcome while building a structure this big.

Check out this video - someone at the Burj Khalifah is at eye level with a plane!

Yet, while reading the news reports about this building, one can sense a condescending attitude from the Western media. Why is that?

During the initial boom stages, everyone rushed to fawn over Dubai.

"Today it's Mumbai, Shanghai or Dubai, else it's bye bye."

I remember that quote. Every time Dubai proposed some preposterous, the media wrote shining articles in golden letters. And this was the free media of the West! Only a few brave souls raised the issue of the abuse of workers in Dubai.

And then came the financial crunch, and Dubai's real estate crash. Dreams came crashing down, and suddenly, the tone of reporting of Dubai in the west took on a more sinister note.

It was suddenly with glee that Dubai's property bubble being burst was reported. It was with barely concealed laughter that we learned how cranes are now empty in Dubai, or how the Atlantis's washrooms flooded, or how sewage was piling up in Jumeirah beach. With dubious standards of reporting we read how cars are being abandoned at Dubai airport, with the number quoted sometimes more than Dubai airport's parking space would allow.

(Trust me, parking in Dubai is a hassle. You can NOT abandon 3000 cars in the airport, there's simply not enough place to put them all!)

Today should have been Dubai's crowning moment. They are literally at the top of the world. However, if you read through the reports (do a Google news search) you can see the tone of the articles.

Dubai, broke ...

Dubai, taking a $10b loan from Abu Dhabi, are ...

Probably the last party in Dubai for a while ...

Now if you read through the comment section of many newspapers, which are not subject to any editorial standards, the malice is hardly hidden at all. Let's take a look at some samples from the Star.
What a waste of resources, talent, labour and money. This is not a refection of mankind's achievements since going higher is so "been there, done that". Little wonder this tiny, insignificant principality is bankrupt and requires support from the oil-rich emirates to survive.

Yep, The Burj Khalifa Is The World's Tallest Skyscraper ....
.... not to mention the world's ugliest.

Good For Them
I hope it's earth quake proof.

What an incredible waste of money for a country in the midst of a financial crisis!

Ghost tower - 160 stories of empty space in a debt ridden city. Nice!!

Ironic - Tallest building goes up across the world from where the tallest buildings were brought down.

A country with false sense of pride..Bigger is not always better.

Wow. Talk about rich people with penis envy.
Now these are only a sample, and there are many comments praising Dubai. But this is the Toronto Star of Canada. Care to know what the readers of the Daily Mirror in UK are thinking?

Why the hate of Dubai? It cannot be their concern of human rights because a) most of the workers are from Pakistan which these people hate even more and b) they deal with China, India, Russia all the time which also commit numerous human rights abuses. So, why?

I think it's because they are jealous. Dubai has reached for the stars, and has fallen. But nevertheless, their efforts are not going to be lost. They will learn from their mistakes and their achievements will remain.

Most of the top 10 of the world's tallest, biggest etc. are now slowly moving to Asia, and these people are jealous. They see the East rising and they cannot stomach it. Even more as their own countries are not doing something as imaginative or dream worthy.

Also a good read by the wonderful Achelois:
Why one should consider living in the GCC countries


Yawar said...

It's a great achievement, sure. A greater achievement would be to build decent living quarters for the Bangladeshi and other menial workers working in construction--oh, and give them their passports back, pay them on time, give them access to basic plumbing and utilities, and at least ceiling/mounted fans (if not air conditioning). Maybe even a chance to address their grievances in a fair and unbiased forum.

Musa said...

Come on Mezba Bhai, you were the last person i expected would say this!
Yes, world media had gone overboard in their criticism of Dubai. However, we should not forget that:

1) When times were good, no one protested when these same hacks wrote on how Dubai was the best thing since Atlantis, and how every other family owns a X5 and a Range Rover here.

2) The mentality here is to go overboard with expecting praise on having the biggest hotels and the tallest towers. I mean, talk about universities and hospitals, and they simply dont care.

Its all about biggest this and tallest that, and making money and spending it on 5 Million Dirhams license plates

Musa said...

And not to mention, for every jealous comment out there there are 2 comments coming from inside Dubai which cross the boundaries of praise and are more of shameless sycophancy....

Stuff like:

"Dubai deserves to be nominated the diamond of universe..the world greatest triumph .. what a classy event...the world is to learn from Dubai"
"this tower will stand till the end of the world"

Spiteful comments are bad,, but so is spineless chamchagiri*

PS, Sorry, but no English word captures the spirit conveyed by "Chamcha" :)

Farah said...

Can we please have the real Mezba back? lol... since when did you start praising Dubai? that tower is a monstrosity.

nadia said...

Coming from Pakistan and India, my family and I are all living here in Dubai. We are not rich, but we do have decent jobs. We could never have earned the same back home. But more than that, our homes aren't safe anymore. When my mom visited karachi for Eid, she got robbed in broad daylight. Here, we are safe. And we all have our passports with us :)

Suroor said...

I agree that there are many, many jealous people and they hate Dubai.

But, Emiratis are very shallow people and extremely proud. After Saudis, Kuwaitis and Emiratis are the worst Arabs. These are the same people who literally blew away billions on fireworks that could have been used to save lives during the natural disasters in Pakistan and Indonesia.

Tallest building, longest flagpole, largest ski dome, biggest malls, smallest brains!

And I have never seen such terribly blatant boot-licking before - Burj Dubai becomes Burj Khalifa!

It is a beautiful building but I wouldn't call UAE Diamond of the Universe!

Thanks for the plug ;)

Sumera said...

There were similar reactions were they not when they built their other hotels/towers? A few praises, but overall contempt?

Musa said...

What has happened this time is that lots of opportunistic, 2-faced expats; Brits, Indians, other Arabs are falling over each other in licking ***

Anyone who points out that the biggest towers/hotels arent necessarily the main ingredients for a great country is being shoved aside and labelled "jealous".

Nadia; most subcons choose Dubai for the reasons you stated, however not all of them are lucky to have their passports with them...
Also, I would guess 3 years back, it was next to impossible to have an average job and live in Dubai without sharing flats....

mezba said...

Just read that a Quebec firm designed the observation deck of Burj Dubai.

The funniest comment on CBC was by a reader who said, "Er, what if the deck decides to separate?"

(joke understood only by Canadians)

Yawar, this is why I really admire Malaysia as a country. They do great things too, but it's all by locals and not on the back of what you may call "slave" labour.

I did rant against the abuse of foreign workers in UAE, but the Burj itself is a marvelous achievement both on a technological and design perspective.

It gives tourists one more reason to visit Dubai and the building is really something else. It's the one project of Dubai that I really support and wish we did something similar.

Musa, for sure Dubai is about opulance and extravagance and I am sure they will realize hospitals, good infrastructure and proper rights for workers are more important than who has the biggest building.

But for now, this post was about this building. And it truly is a wonderful achievement and I wish we built something here that the world could come to see.

Tourism is a good way to make money, but Dubai just went about it the wrong way.

Musa, about those "flowing" comments, yeah, I was reading Gulf News and Khaleej Times and it was as if Dubai has opened a portal to heaven! What Dubai has to understand is that you have to allow people to criticize you and criticism is not something to be feared. Having too many 'yes'-men always leads you to delusion.

Farah, I actually think this is one tower that's really pretty. It has a design and a theme.

nadia, in Dubai anyone with a proper white collar job is better off than the blue collar jobs. Never anywhere else have I seen such distinct class seperation as in Dubai. It's a 'in-your-face' thing.

But what I wanted to say in this post is that those are not the reasons some people in the West want to see the Burj fail. They are jealous.

And I have never seen such terribly blatant boot-licking before - Burj Dubai becomes Burj Khalifa!

That had me laughing so much. As one of my friends said on fb, it's such an Emirati thing to do!

I remember a long time ago all radio stations in UAE had to produce songs on UAE's national day. The best song would win a lot of prizes.

The song that won was a Bengali song. It didn't have the best music or lyrics.

But what it had was the NAME of the President mentioned every line!

Sumera, only after the boom went ka-boom!

Musa, it's sad that dissent is so forbidden and hated in the Arab world. Dissent prevents contempt and arrogance.

isheeta said...

I had to comment.

First, like Musa, I'm just as shocked. I thought you hated Dubai because you are always blasting it. Maybe you do, maybe you don't... it's hard to talk about Dubai without being objective to it.

The thing is, Dubai takes care of its own. Always. At the end of the day, if you are the ruler of a country, your responsibility lies in protecting your citizens. Dubai seems to be doing just fine in that department. Granted the way Dubai accomplishes its "greatness/notoriety" is not exactly something to write home about, and is plain disgusting, but the fact of the matter is... Dubai's rulers are doing a great job of taking care of its citizens.

Meanwhile, you look at Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan. If these countries had taken care of its own in the first place, provided them with a decent standard of living, employment, I don't think their citizens would think twice about leaving their beloved homelands. It's disgusting how these poor labourers have to live in a foreign land with such horrible working conditions, but really, where are their home countries at this? Why are these foreign countries even allowing these poor guys to work there? I'm goign to quote a line from one of my fave movies Apocalpyto which begins with an epigraph from Will Durant: "A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within"."

The jealousy arises when these expats - from construction workers to executives (who have left THEIR country for a better life for themselves or their families) realize that you cannot hope to achieve your dreams in someone else's backyard... and honestly, if a country tells you outright that you will never get a passport from a country no matter how much you have contributed towards the country's growth, I'd pretty much have given up on that country ages ago.

I was born and raised in Dubai.. I've seen it when it was all sand, and I've recently gone back and had dinner with the Burj Dubai as backdrop while watching a fountain that makes the Bellagio fountain in Vegas look like a kid's playground. That took 4 years of hard-working labourers blood. I'm not justifying anything here, I'm not taking any sides here.. but really, just like it gets sick to hear the same old story of how Aamir Khan is the High Priest, it gets sick of hearing the same old complaints. Everyone complains about Dubai, and then at the same time, everyone jumps to see what Dubai has made/crashed. People are STILL living like kings and queens there, recession or no recession, bailout or no bailout. They really DON'T CARE. The only people that care is the BBC and their documentaries about the same topic every few months, half of them exaggerated, half of them deathly true. Its pathetic. I have become apathetic to it. Why don't people focus on dissing their own countries' governance, and see whats wrong with the system internally, why are these workers even fleeing to Dubai in the first place? or better yet, maybe DO somethign like go to United Nations and claims the abusive human rights, etc. If you really want to change Dubai, trust me you cannot do that while sitting in front of your PC in your first class world... you have to take the bull by the horns, get out there. A few BBC comments in BBC documentaries will not cut it.

I hate to say this, but the reason Dubai is where it is right now.. living in the lap of luxury (YES EVEN during these trying times), is because they dont just sit there and have whine with their cheese. They actually get people to do their bidding... they give them motivation to do it, as inhuman as these motivations are. Why can't we do any better?

And surprisingly, no one has an answer to that.

And so people take the easy way out, and sit and whine.. and like Mezba said, more green envy and jealousy.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to the rulers of UAE for opening of the greatest monumnet of the modern times "Burj Khaleefa". HE Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid has re-christened it's name to Burj Khalifa, honouring the visionary leadership of our nations President HE Sheikh Khalifa, under whose leadership, UAE showed to the world that a diligent economic approach leads to a nations prosperity even at adverse times.

mezba said...

isheeta, I don't hate Dubai. I like the UAE as a country and what it has given me and I wish them all the best.

But I do hate all the wrong they do. I think it was Jesus (pbuh) who said 'hate not the sinner but the sin'.

I mentioned long time ago on this post:

The fault is ours. Governments of Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka cannot create enough jobs for their millions of citizens. So they encourage them to go abroad and work in unskilled positions, and remain grateful for the foreign exchange they send back. However, they turn a blind eye to the abuses these workers have to suffer. Men who leave their wives and kids, borrow money by selling all they have, to procure a visa. They in turn work illegally and are not paid for months. They return, years later, with nothing much to show for it except broken families and lives.

Women, who leave their kids and husbands to go abroad and work as maids. They suffer from sexual abuse, rape, overwork and return to find their husbands having remarried, their children discarded and no help from their government. The cycle continues.

I think the Prophet of Islam once said "Do not oppress and do not be oppressed". So both halves of the equation are at fault. The governments of Bangladesh and other countries - the source of migrant or "slave" workers in UAE - are primarily at fault. You HAVE to take care of your own. This is once again why I admire Malaysia a lot.

What also bugs me is that some of the people who complain about Dubai's "slaves" do not give a hoot about those "slaves", for them it's just another excuse to bash Dubai with.

Anon, you sound like one of those Letters to the Editor from Gulf News.

isheeta said...

Mezba, after reading all your comments and responses, I see and get your point. Thanks for the clarification. Dubai bashing is almost like a hobby, some people don't even get why they are jealous (grass always greener etc).. at least bash for the right reasons instead of being a puppet like everyone else! Or if you can't take any mroe of the bashing, go out and do something about it.

As for people's claim on structure.. maybe the design is not upto par to everyone's standards, and I won't get into that because beauty is subjective after all.. but having followed Report On Business/Guardian's details on the building of the structure from start to completion, I have to give props to the designers for erecting (no pun intended) a structure that seemed humanly impossible. And I'm not going to diss this building, I'm going to give it mad props and salute our people from back home for being responsible for building the tallest tower in the world... with their own hands. They may not be getting acknowledgement openly for this, but suffice to say everyone knows who this building should be named after, for reals. I give props to the Emiratis for *thinking* of it though, thats something that people from all countries were unable to do. Maybe some of us should take a page out of Malaysia's book instead of just bitching about it.

LOL @ Mezba's response to Anon though.

'liya said...

With all of this attention I'm even more curious to visit Dubai now.

mezba said...

Isheeta, I just read that Burj Khalifa's condominiums cost less than those in Mumbai or Delhi!

Also think about this, it cost US $1 billion to make the Burj.

We spent $2 billion for our gun registry.

Liya, as a place to visit, you will love it I am sure.

I am going to write a post soon on why Canada is a better place to live.

Musa said...

Ok, I will be the first to admit that this tower looks great and is spectacular.
@ Isheeta, I understand your point of view. However, have you asked yourself how some people in Dubai are still managing to live like "kings", by spending 5 million dhs on license plates?
Havent you heard of hundreds of subcontractors not paid for more than a year?
Do you know that Dubai does have substantial corruption among high executives?
Have you spoken to any of the thousands of shafted investors with funds frozen and no building in sight ?

So some are living in the lap of luxury on money obtained by deceiving, cheating, and oppressing people. I don't see anything great in that.

I have full respect for the hard working businessmen, national and expat, who made it big.
However, you have to realize a lot of people are rich throught he wrong means.

As for jealousy, nd I personally would never want the sort of lifestyle where my kids are so shallow as many rich kids in Dubai that they boast about buying novelty mobile numbes for 20,000 dhs, and look down upon anyone whose dad drives a Toyota.
Now you may say that such snobs exist everywhere. Thats correct, but in recent years, mainstream Dubai society has become so shallow that even slightly upper-middle class people are overly obsessed with "status", a trait that is reserved for only very rich people in most countries.

Musa said...

Isheeta, while you may be proud of the workers, here is what an Arab thinks of them and he is not even Emirati, he is an expat Arab, often the worst type of people here.

Like many business owners in Dubai, he thinks that paying a salary regularly is a favor that the employer bestows on the employee.

Workers, from the lowly labourer to the highly paid project manager, were thanked plenty of times: in fact, they were thanked every month for the past 4 years.

Its called a paycheque.

What do you people want? You want Sheikh Mohammed to go around shaking hands with every labourer? you want him to grant them citizenship for constructing a building?

The fact is, there is ONE sheikh Mohammed, and 6 billion possible expats. I think the families of all these labourers should send personalized thank you notes to Sheikh Mohammed, thanking him for providing an opportunity for their bread-winners to have a job

Anonymous said...

That was a good read and equally interesting comments.I didn't know there's so much depth to Dubai than the glitter...and depts.And I assure you,I'm not jealous of Dubai!:) Btw that building is awesome!

mezba said...

Musa, I think the labour problems of Dubai will go away once the source countries start taking some care of their own citizens.

To that end, since I don't see myself returning ever to Bangladesh to live and uplift the people, I can only pray for that.

Lat, remember, all that glitters is not gold! :-)

What I do remember on my visit back here and here, is how class differences have integrated into the Dubai lifestyle, and how artificial a lifestyle it can be.

Shane said...

Perhaps you should consider this before you so slavishly praise Dubai yourself.

mezba said...

I think my stance on this is well clarified on my blog and in this post.

isheeta said...

Musa, yeah granted Dubai is a bit more corrupt than most (and I think thats an understatement). Please note that I have never said I was taking sides with any sides, either Dubai or the third world countries.. just because I am sick of all the talk and no action. We sit in front of our PCs blasting everything, and then we close our browsers and go back to our non-internet life. That is not how you solve a problem. Affirmative action is required in such scenarios. Do more. Raise awareness and I cannot stress on the doing more (this doesnt include whining). Eg, countries barring their citizens from even working there.. which as Mezba said will lead to the prevention of such practices.

As for people becoming rich via the wrong means... that's everywhere. It's how druglords make money, it's how crimebosses make money, it's how CEOs make more money than they are qualified for.... Its in India, it's well in Pakistan and Bangladesh - 2 of the most politically corrupt countries in the world. Why don't we blast those people as well? Oh right, because it's been done, and because these corruptors are also poor and there is no hope... But we take a special pleasure in taking a job at the "middle class Dubai society" because they are becoming too shallow and too nosy for their own good. The most we can do for these people is hope they get a sense of sanity and their just desserts. I wouldnt waste my time getting pissed off at them because they are too shallow. Don't let your kids hang around the shallow kids, impart your selfless attitude in them instead. 5 million license plates - yes, silly, but really, worthless to us and means nothing to us. WHY do we care? Let them make bad investment decisions.It's no different than us clamourning to know what some Hollywood stars are wearing for an Oscar event (earrings worth 2 million dollars for example or dresses with Swarovski crystals worth a shitload of money, for ONE night) and we as idiots tuning into live programming of the show because its... NICE to look at??? Why???

Everyone hates the rich, there's a reason why it's lonely at the top. I'm just glad I can still think with my head while I still have one, and I'm glad to know it has nothing to do with how much I have and how much I make or who built what.

isheeta said...

I'm also done with my stances too, new topic!

mezba said...

Isheeta, I await your suggestion at my latest posting! :-D

isheeta said...

How about.. Dubai?! lol

i kid i kid

I saw that, I'll let you know soon enough.

mezba said...


Yawar said...

Alas, it's true that people from poor South Asian countries have lined up for the chance to work in the Middle East, and make something for themselves ... just as settling in America is a dream for many, so is going to Dubai to work and send money back home. The only thing separating these two dreams is circumstances which people are born into.

Outright banning can't be the answer. That would just force people to go by illegal means, giving up their legal rights and making them worse off. The manpower industry has to be regulated and licensed just like healthcare, banking, food, pharma etc. Mandatory independent auditing with worker surveys of satisfaction levels has to be the answer.

Another thing I wanted to say is that ridiculous displays of wealth aren't necessarily a bad thing. Big spenders are still pumping money into the economy, which is then earned and spent by goods and services providers, and then earned and spent again ... the multiplier effect. In other words, a rising tide raises all the boats in the harbour, not just the big ones.

Of course, when big spenders lose all sense of reality and think they are God's gift to humanity, is when the trouble starts....

Anonymous said...

Just to make your comment longer than it already is :),

I love the 'Whore Al what?" comment the best from your previous post!:D

mezba said...

Yawar, probably this problem requires a multi-faceted approach and a comprehensive solution - which - given the governments in Bangladesh, is unlikely in the near future.

Bangladesh's main hope seems to be that the private sector comprising of young people somehow make it big.

Lat, I know it was so funny! :-)