Dubai on Empty

I know this blog is about Lebanon, but occassionally I come across pieces about the region that I think are worthy of mention..

And this is most definitely one of them.

“Dubai on Empty” was this month’s Vanity Fair’s web exclusive.  I lifted a couple of the most striking parts to give you a sense of the article.  If you have the time, read it in its entirety.  Although quite harsh, it pretty much sums up why I will never move to Dubai..  Let me know if you feel the same.

The following are excerpts from “Dubai on Empty,” by A. A. Gill.

Dubai on Empty

A reveler at the Dubai World Cup the most lavish horse race in the world. The winner walks away with a $10 million prize. Photo from article.

“The only way to make sense of Dubai is to never forget that it isn’t real.  It’s a fable, a fairy tale, like The Arabian Nights. More correctly, it’s a cautionary tale.  Dubai is the story of the three wishes, where, as every kid knows, with the third wish you demand three more wishes.  And as every genie knows, more wishes lead to more greed, more misery, more bad credit, and much, much, much more bad taste.  Dubai is Las Vegas without the showgirls, the gambling, or Elvis.  Dubai is a financial Disneyland without the fun.  It’s a holiday resort with the worst climate in the world.  It boils.  It’s humid.  And the constant wind is full of sand.

Outside, in the sodden heat, you pass hundreds and hundreds of regimented palm trees and you wonder who waters them and what with.  The skyline, in the dusty haze, looks like the cover of a dystopian science-fiction novella.  Clusters of skyscrapers lurch out at the gray desert accompanied by their moribund cranes, propped up with scaffolding, swagged in plastic sheeting. Dubai thought it was going to grow up to be the Arab Singapore—a commercial, banking, and insurance service port on the Gulf with hospitality and footballers’ time-shares, an oasis of R&R for the less well endowed.  But it hasn’t quite worked out.  The vertical streets of offices are empty.  A derelict skyscraper looks exactly the same as one that’s teeming with commerce. They huddle around the current tallest building in the world—a monument to small-nation penis envy.

Burj Khalifa Dubai

The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, in Dubai

image credit

No one dreamed of this.  Twenty years ago, none of this was here.  No Narnia.  No seven-star hotels.  No tallest prick buildings.  Just a home of pastoralist tented families herding goats, racing camels, shooting one another.  And a handful of greasy, armed empire mechanics in khaki shorts, drilling for oil. In just one life span, Dubai has gone from sitting on a rug to swiveling on a fake Eames chair 100 stories up.  And not a single local has had to lift a finger to make it happen. That’s not quite fair—of course they’ve lifted a finger; to call the waiter, berate the busboy.  The money seeped out of the ground and they spent it.  Pretty much all of it.  You look at this place and you realize not a single thing is indigenous, not one of this culture’s goods and chattels originated here.  Even the goats have gone.  This was a civilization that was bought wholesale.  The Gulf is the proof of Carnegie’s warning about wealth:  “There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else.”  Emiratis are born retired.  They waft through this city in their white dishdashas and headscarves and their obsessively tapered humorless faces.  They’re out of place in their own country.  They have imported and built a city, a fortress of extravagance, that excludes themselves.  They have become duplicitous, schizophrenic.  They don’t allow their own national dress in the clubs and bars that serve alcohol, the restaurants with the hungry girls sipping champagne.  So they slip into Western clothes to go out.

Dubai on Empty

Out-of-towners get ready for the Dubai World Cup. Photo taken from article.

The Gulf Arabs have become the minority in this country they wished out of the desert.  They are now less than 20 percent of the total population.  Among the other 80-plus percent are the white mercenary workers who come here for tax-free salaries to do managerial and entrepreneurial jobs, parasites and sycophants for cash.  For them money is a driving principle and validation.  They came to be young, single, greedy, and insincere.  None of them are very clever. So they live lives that revolve around drink and porn sex and pool parties and barbecues with a lot of hysterical laughing and theme nights, karaoke, and slobbery, regretful coupling.  In fact, as in all cases of embarrassing arrested development, these expats on the short-term make don’t expect to put down roots here, have children here, or grow old here.  Everyone’s on a visa dependent on a job.”

Read the entire article here.



Filed under life in Lebanon

12 responses to “Dubai on Empty

  1. Youssef Chaker

    WOW! And I thought I was harsh on Dubai!!

    The article doesn’t see to mention all the labor workers that were imported from east asia, the ones whose passports were taken away, never paid and live in slums, stripped of all dignity and humanity.

    But lets just stick to what the article does go into, and maybe tie that to Lebanon 🙂

    These people who feel alienated in their own country, the ones that have money but nothing else (not even their goats), where do they go and what do they do to make up for all of that? They take their fancy SUVs, pack their families and servants in them, ship the ferraris, and cross the boarders (through other countries first of course) in to Lebanon. And once there, they procede to do the same exact thing they did to Dubai. They buy up everything they want, they pollute the country with their greed and lack of substance, single handedly fund the prostitution business in Lebanon, and basically strip this country of whatever value or culture it still has before they move on to the next place.

    So yes, this post is extremely relevant to Lebanon!

    And as a country that is completely built on the services industry and whose leaders and people alike have not figured out the value in investing in other means to bring in money (or even take care of what was already there, like agriculture), it is going to be very difficult not to sink along with them!

  2. Hey D !!!

    well ive seen my share of articles being harsh on Dubai!! it all started with the exodus of westerners following the crisis and the rowdy behavior of some that faced harsh punishment in the country, prompting the western media to attack Dubai in a way… Regardless of that, as a an expat living there for almost 5 years now, ill share my take on the article and living in the United Arab Emirates.

    Yes some of the article’s mentions do stand up, from the lavish and luxurious facade that Dubai offers to its residents, the demographic reality of unequal distribution between locals and expats, the weather, etc,,,

    Having said that, i am one of the people happy to be living and working in the UAE. The professional scene is really challenging in matters of the talent present here, the opportunities of growth and the networking you are able to have; it being the regional hub of many national and international companies does offer the right environment for professional growth…
    On the front of “Born Rich – Lazy Emiratis” front, i would have to totally disagree. The fact that the UAE, more precisely Dubai bounced back from the crisis hit, is due to the powerful performance and status of its national establishments, owned entirely by local talent. Emiratis have been engrained in the professional life and rise of the country during those past 20 years. The power of media has in fact pushed forward this conception that locals are born rich and do not need to work, but as we look deeper, we see that the Emirati youth is getting much more involved on the professional scene with lots of them shining through actually. You will find levels of poverty across the emirates as well, as extremes of wealth. The congregation of the wealthy in Dubai led many to think that locals, are just no-doers unfortunately.
    Yes this is a desert, with a town erected in the middle of it, this of course would make it look fake; but credit has to be given for its rise and for where it does stand today. A tourist would see it as the fake wanabe El Dorado of the desert, but once a resident, you get accustomed to it and actually start discovering and appreciating its wonders, being from the great activities to do, the beauty of the hidden local architecture, the high-tech buildings and their facilities, the lengths of amenities you find in every residential compound and such, the high level of educational facilities, etc….
    Of course this is without ignoring the uglier side of Dubai, which you could find in any country, being from employers withholding employee passports, hard working conditions of laborers (which is being arduously fought by the authorities), the human and drug trafficking trades, also being locked down even more firmly by the authorities… The high debtors and fraud cases you find, all it being from greed and the ease of getting loans in a country unfortunately..

    In nutshell, it is a very good place to chose to make a living, with being cautious about not being sucked into the whirlpool of spending left and right, relying on credit cards and all the lavish offerings it offers.

    my 2 cents 😀


    • kris

      i guess aa is a reporter with local media…who is always praising emiratis….infa t…dubai locals r one of the most idiotic and lazy people known to mankind…wat aa said is true..its all local eztablishments which pulled dubai out of trouble…but itz all westenerz and asians working….emiratis r good only in eatinv and fu#kin

  3. joseph

    Wow! This article is spot on! It pretty much sums up life in Dubai and the UAE.

    I worked as a “white mercenary worker” and apart from the colossal racetrack have pretty much seen everything this writer talks about.

    I would liken the UAE to the movie WALL·E with the oversized humans for three reasons. 1) The UAE is not really a country. More so a built up place existing out of its natural environment. 2) The UAE nationals are like the fat humans that live on that spaceship. They are all fat. And consume fast food with a reckless appetite. 3) They have their own mode of transport (usually a SUV done up Pimp My Ride style) and never walk anywhere apart from when they are in a mall or hotel.

  4. BTT

    I’d like to add a simile: Dubai is an empty Hollywood set where they mixed props from Laurance of Arabia with Wall Street (the first one not the crappy Shia LaB*tch sequel).

  5. annie

    And I thought about making a small trip of 4 days there

  6. Mok

    I sense extreme bitterness/envy from the author – almost as if he wishes he could partake in the same lifestyle that he seemingly despises so much.

  7. evans

    Oh, God i thought seen it all!! the cottage industry that mushroomed in Old Blighty ,bitching about Dubai is still alive and kicking. As usual , it is a mixture of half truths, malicious slander and outright lies.
    Remember two years back ,when the whole world heard that Dubai roads are empty, and me! I find myself sitting in traffic jam in Dubai-Sharjah high way and wishing all the A-Holes who wrote those article was there suffering the grid lock rather than me

    After two years Dubai has managed to stay on its feet and proved to be extremely resilient ,much to dismay of the doomsayers!! I guess much of the diatribe against Dubai is fueled by pure racism ,against Arabs, Muslims, and against non western societies as a whole.

    Worst part of it is that, these Westerners come here soak up as much hospitality form the local emiratis and go home to revile them in the worst way possible. There can be nothing more shameless and unethical , than this kind of behavior. The locals in Dubai and UAE in general are very open and generous community. The author pictures them like characters in Bret Ellis Easton novel. Nothing can be more further from truth than that.

    • ahmed burhani

      well!! i read annoucment on my local n paper about “vanity fairs” stinging article about dubai, well personally i am a great admirer of this city and have been eyeing it for a long time & had the opportunity of visiting just before the financial crisis hit dubai. as for the article all i can say is that all countries have their pros & cons just like every individual but comparing it with my part of the world dubai is envy to many places, mainly because of its strict law & order,ease of doing buissness and a lesser liberal lifestyl . the issues which i do agree are treatment of workers, the carbon footprint & sex industry.

    • Ana

      Indeed, the locals in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are in general open and generous to Western visitors and yet their generosity seems to disappear when it comes to nationals of countries deemed inferior. I am constantly reminded of the caste system here in the UAE and it makes me sick to my stomach to see local women verbally abuse girls from Malaysia, Phlippines or Sri Lanka, men openly disrespecting waitresses by snapping their fingers or calling out “hey!” when they need service in a restaurant. Sadly, the lack of culture is evident in the simplest interactions among the local people in the UAE.

  8. SlowFoodGuru

    The Emiratis built a city, and you know what? Nobody came because money can’t buy everything. It can’t buy loyalty, true friends, substance, culture, a good human rights record, dignity, self-respect, education, values, or decency. It can apparently buy fat, ill-mannered, drunken Russian mobsters, exploitation, drugs, prostitution, wild parties, shopping orgies and lots of poor desperate people from slums across the globe to clean up the mess. Dubai is more than a joke, it is a pathetic joke. It is like Las Vegas only with less substance. Is this the best the Arabs can do? Is this the only thing they can think of to do with their trillions? Is this their idea of culture? I never thought I would see the day when someone actually succeeded in out-pimping the Russians, though I knew that if anyone could do it, it would be the Arabs. Why don’t these self-righteous creeps do something to better the plight of their illiterate masses, instead of blaming the West for all of their problems?

    As for Arab women treating women from Malaysia, Philippines, and Sri Lanka like dirt, that is just typical. My city is full of rich Arabs and their ill-mannered wives and daughters who treat non-Muslim women like dirt because their own lives of piety and obedience to Allah has made them fat, ugly, bitter, and unloved by the husbands who made them that way. I would laugh if it weren’t so sad.

  9. SlowFoodGuru

    There are a lot of places I still want to visit before I die. Las Vegas and Dubai are not even on my list.

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