It is an authoritarian oligarchy; the face of its ruler, United Arab Emirates Prime Minister and absolute monarch of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al--Maktoum, smiles from billboards and, sometimes, from our Queen’s own carriage at Ascot. There is no press freedom in the UAE, just self--censorship. Insulting the royal family, or the flag or possibly the architecture, will get you locked up. Everything gets you locked up in Dubai, except conformity and mindless shopping in the malls, one of which has a mountain in a fridge, which you can ski down — if skiing, rather than shopping in a tyranny, is your thing.
Neighboring emirates are little better. Human Rights Watch is detailing the case of five Emirati reformers, all awaiting trial for talking about democracy. UAE Attorney-General Salim Saeed Kubaish says they are in prison for “instigation, breaking laws and perpetrating acts that pose a threat to state security, undermining the public order, opposing the government system and insulting the president, the vice president and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.”
One, Nasser bin Ghaith, an economist and lecturer at Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, managed to get a statement out from al-Wathba prison this month.
“I have reached,” he writes, “an unshakeable conviction that this court, measured against international norms of justice, is merely a farce and facade meant to legitimize and make credible verdicts and penalties that may have already been decided. It is purely an attempt to punish me and those with me for our political opinions.”
They will not get a fair trial.
Who built this city in the desert? There are 250,000 foreign workers in Dubai, drawn mostly from India and Bangladesh. They are indentured servants, in other words, slaves. The usual way to recruit them is to draw them a picture of joy — great wages, fabulous working conditions — and charge them an enormous recruitment fee. Then, when they arrive, the construction companies often steal their passports, deny them their wages and say they must work endlessly to pay for their return home, while living 10 to a room and working in the terrible heat. In Dubai, they cannot change jobs, and they cannot strike; those who do face violence or deportation. Last year, 113 Indians committed suicide in Dubai, or one every three days.
There is no stopping the development. The recession is a blip as the UAE expands like an octopus. A vast project is afoot to create a new tourist paradise. Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi will be ready in 2020. The Louvre, which should know better, but does not, will have an annex there; so will the Guggenheim and so will New York — New York — University.
We asked a Welsh couple why they came here.
The answer came from the man: The hotel staff would hold my dick if I asked. For me, that is not an advertisement, but others like to travel where labor is cheap and desperate and therefore loving. In my hotel, they styled the ethnic minorities. African men carried my bag (my bag-carrier had a law degree), Bangladeshi men cleaned my room and Thai women with false names — who can be bothered to pronounce a Thai name when there are so many of them? — served my dinner. These were human beings acting as wallpaper.