The Null Device

The Singapore of the Middle East

An interesting, if characteristically boosterist, WIRED article on Dubai, the United Arab Emirates' high-tech city and a sort of Singapore or Hong Kong of the Middle East:
Last year, only 17 percent of Dubai's gross domestic product came from oil revenue, behind services, transportation, tourism, and hospitality. In comparison, the petroleum sector accounts for 45 percent of Saudi Arabia's GDP.Dubai also stands in contrast to the Saudi kingdom in another Arab-world indicator, the role of women. Where Saudi women are still waiting for the right to drive, Dubai women play a pivotal role in society. "My success means success for other women here," says Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi, the CEO of Tejari, an Internet business-to-business procurement firm, noting that women form 65 percent of Internet City's workforce.
What Dubai is today, Baghdad was 1,200 years ago. "This island, between the Tigris in the east and the Euphrates in the west, is a marketplace for the world," wrote Al Mansur, the eighth-century founder of Baghdad. "It will surely be the most flourishing city in the world."

Dubai is also home to the region's two independent news channels: firstly Al-Jazeera, often touted as the "Arab CNN" (or perhaps the "Arab FOXNews"), and more recently, al-Arabiya, an even further refinement of the formula, without the emotive bluster al-Jazeera, for all its revolutionary changes, still shares with the region's state-run media:

Negm proposed an experiment: No Al Arabiya report could last longer than two and a half minutes. Gone was the long-windedness and speechifying. "You don't have to say that something's a crime against humanity," says Ismail. "If it is, people can see that for themselves. At times of crises people like emotionalism. If you don't respond to emotional needs, you're accused of being detached. But if you do respond to the hurt with emotionalism, it creates a vicious cycle. If we're going to get out of this cycle, we have to be rational, critical."
That rhetoric-wary approach has gotten Al Arabiya in plenty of trouble. Recently, the station clashed with the Palestinian Authority, which expects the Arab press to take up its cause unequivocally and refer to any Palestinians killed by the Israeli Defense Force as martyrs. When one of Al Arabiya's West Bank reporters used instead the politically and religiously neutral word dead, he was rifle-butted by members of Yasser Arafat's ruling Fatah party.

Meanwhile, here is the CIA World Factbook's entry for the UAE. For all its economic liberalism, it's interesting to note that the UAE is still an autocracy (albeit, arguably, one of the more enlightened ones). Mind you, one could levy similar charges against Singapore (where the ruling party has held power for decades; among other things, voting districts in Singapore are so small that it is easy for the bureaucracy to systematically penalise anyone who votes for the opposition).

There are 1 comments on "The Singapore of the Middle East":

Posted by: El Bizarro http://bizarro.typepad.com Fri Aug 6 02:13:59 2004

Yes, a very rosey view of Dubai methinks. Having spent quite a bit of time there last year, I don't think I can be as optimistic about personal freedom and the status of women as Wired magazine.

Of course, I'm sure they were given the grand tour by the ministry of information, who seem to be extremely keen on developing Dubai as the IT centre of the Middle East. I wonder how much our Wired reporters were chaperoned and how much they got out on their own?

Some important things to remember about Dubai that don't suface in the Wired report.

Dubai is _not_ the United Arab Emirates, it is it's largest city. Of course the oil income for a city is not going to be the same as comparing it to a whole country (Saudi Arabia). The CIA fact book actually puts it's GDP as 33% from oil and gas (the whole country that is).

Dubai is also the regional transit hub, all roads lead there, from Africa, Asia and Europe. It is also a tax-haven for sweat shops, mostly employing Indian labour but increasingly African (Soma

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