Not long ago, Dubai was simply a vast desert with modest neighborhoods scattered among sand dunes as far as the eyes could see. It was cozy and modest, even boring for many of us who visited for business. Back then, no one visited for pleasure!
The transformation this city has gone through especially in the past two decades is phenomenal. An extraordinary effort born from a vision that everything is possible and a determination to take risks always with the intention to soar.
Even when Dubai failed, and it has done so a few times, including a brush with bankruptcy and a threat of a repeat at any moment in the future, it stood back up and challenged itself further every time. The name Dubai has made for itself and the role it has carved is undoubtedly one of the most important lessons in self re-invention. It turned itself from obscure to one of the best cities in the world, topping bucket lists and global tourism destinations, attracting the most notable names in all fields and industries.
As proud as I am of Dubai and its achievements, I continue to see it as one graffiti has expressed once at a Dubai metro station, “A Soulless City!” Through my frequent visits, I search for a soul. The beautiful Emirati soul that my many UAE friends carry proudly does not translate into the emirate of Dubai in particular. The cold skyscrapers and inanimate structures still dominate the scene adding another cold layer to the tired faces of the populace more than 80% of which are migrant workers and other expats.
Being in the UAE as it celebrates its National Day a few days after Dubai’s major victory clinching the World Expo 2020 bid is a reminder of the successes, the failures and the challenges ahead. It is a story of pride for even the most skeptics as to what is possible and what political stability and well-planned economic growth can bring a nation and its people. While other Arab countries witness uprisings, revolutions and leadership overthrow, the UAE houses migrant workers from around the world an offers opportunities to many foreign nationals especially Arabs. A trip down the street or on the city’s metro is a display of the mosaic this nation offers and what its melting pot looks like on just any day. On National Day, there is exhilaration among various skin colors, diverse faiths and backgrounds, the only thing that links them together is a Dubai promise: An opportunity for a better life!
The UAE is not a democracy and does not promote free speech. In fact all media, including foreign media, are controlled. Yet, its leaders enjoy popular support rarely found even in the most open and free societies. Indeed a lesson in life, whether one admits it or not!