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Impressions of the Emirate of Dubai

Dubai is not the wealthiest Emirate of the UAE, but it is more than just affluent and it is definitely the most flashy and creative one. Flashy and creative, underpinned by a resolute vision on modern development in a globalised world, connected by state-of-the-art technology. With limited own revenue from oil, Dubai has taken the road of anchoring its future in services and in real estate, creating for itself an image of a hub between Europe and the Far East and Australia, defining for itself a metropolitan function, building its own attractivity for tourism. The desert and the beaches surely are an asset for tourism, but the specific attraction of Dubai mainly lies in the hotels themselves, extravagant, daring in architecture and often focused on themes which generate fantasy. It has all led to a quite artificial world with man-made marinas surrounded by man-made parks in front of man-made islands. For some, these things are futile and of no interest, for others they provoke an element of fascination. After all, how could things not be artificial, knowing that the population of Dubai in 1960 barely exceeded 60,000, a small fraction of the millions of today?

Among those millions of today are foreign workers, mainly from the subcontinent, the Philippines and other Asian countries, often living and working in deplorable conditions, as we all know. They have helped to literally erect Dubai, its grand infrastructure and its forest of remarkable skyscrapers, designed and constructed by Emirati capital and American, Australian and European contractors. Among the millions of people living in Dubai are also the white collar expatriates, who earn good money in their employment, provided they do not fall into the trap of spending it all by imitating the affluent lifestyle of their Emirati hosts. The temptation is big when the city's events calendar is a constant flow of 'bread and games' and when on central Sheikh Zayed Road one sees more Maybach and Lamborghini cars in a day than one has seen elsewhere over the last twenty years...

The real question is: will it all last in the nearing post-petroleum era? And is Dubai's diversification efficient enough and sufficiently independent from oil generated subsidising? Time will tell, but not tomorrow yet.

In the meantime, Dubai is what it is: a fascinating melting pot where inventiveness and affluence, partly secured by the Abu Dhabi neighbours, has converted an arid, empty and hardly inhabitable desert into a lively, modern and dynamic city where the cloudless sky is the limit and where money talks. A city also, where the early period of development has unfortunately erased much of the old heritage, but where at least in recent decades efforts have been made to protect what was left: the historical area around the Creek is an appropriate reminder of where Dubai comes from in a seemingly far away, but in reality not so distant past. And if that is not enough, there is still the desert land beyond the city, at Hatta, where life continues to be pretty much anchored in traditional oasis agriculture and lifestyle.

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