The emirate of Dubai is only marginally older than I am, having been created when the UK pulled out of the Gulf back in 1971. If you could go back to 1971 even briefly you’d be shocked at how little was actually there in this sandy corner of the world. One high rise building (the world trade center) and a road, and that was about it.
Fast forward to today and it is one of the globe’s most modern cities and destinations. You have the world’s largest shopping mall in the form of Dubai Mall, the world’s most iconic hotel in the Burj Al Arab, and the world’s tallest building now called the Burj Khalifa (named after the royal family in Abu Dhabi, after they bailed Dubai out in the global financial downturn). All around the emirate you’ll find five star luxury, with the finest five star hotels, infinite shopping experiences and an assortment of the best cars that money can buy zipping between them.
The local Emiratis are happy, and generally kind and interesting people. This is amazing because if ever there was a country swamped by immigrants – it’s Dubai. There are nearly 2.5 million people living in the sand by the Gulf and only 200,000 of those people come from there. This is a very useful statistic to quote when people tell you their own country is “swamped with immigrants” – no it’s not, and even if it was it’s perfectly possible to have a great place shaped by locals and immigrants alike. Just to refresh that number – Dubai’s Emiratis are outnumbered in their own country at a ratio of 11 to 1.
Much like Switzerland, hence the post title, these immigrants are essentially temporary visitors. Despite pressure from international law to make it otherwise your chances of successfully applying for Emirati citizenship are slightly worse than winning the Euro millions lottery. The deal Dubai makes is simple, it pays you a lovely (much higher than back home) tax free salary, you get to live in a country with minimal crime and all the pampering an adult could ever possibly need – but only in the good times. Just like the millions who cross the borders to work in Switzerland, when the economy goes down – you’re going home.
Dubai was built on oil money but the money is running out, and the country is looking to develop a genuine industrial base as well as being a world leader in tourism. Sheikh Mohammed is a visionary leader for his people, and has invested hugely in education, the judiciary, health care as well as raising his people up with him. You may question some of the ways this has been achieved, but many countries could do well to learn from this example of how to succeed as one people, rather than pursuing loftier political agendas.
That’s OK by me, Dubai is genuinely one of my favorite places in the world – and while there are some real problems in the country (which will be explored in later posts) it’s a wonderful place to start an expatriate career. In the main I have nothing but fond memories of the place, and its people and the people I worked with and for. Though that may not always be apparent in my blog posts – please try and keep it in mind.