Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Truth About Dubai

For all his faults, Johan Hari writes:

Dubai is finally financially bankrupt – but it has been morally bankrupt all along. The idea that Dubai is an oasis of freedom on the Arabian peninsular is one of the great lies of our time.

Yes, it has Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts and the Gucci styles, but beneath these accoutrements, there is a dictatorship built by slaves.

If you go there with your eyes open – as I did earlier this year – the truth is hidden in plain view. The tour books and the bragging Emiratis will tell you the city was built by Sheikh Mohammed, the country's hereditary ruler.

It is untrue. The people who really built the city can be seen in long chain-gangs by the side of the road, or toiling all day at the top of the tallest buildings in the world, in heat that Westerners are told not to stay in for more than 10 minutes. They were conned into coming, and trapped into staying.

In their home country – Bangladesh or the Philippines or India – these workers are told they can earn a fortune in Dubai if they pay a large upfront fee. When they arrive, their passports are taken from them, and they are told their wages are a tenth of the rate they were promised.

They end up working in extremely dangerous conditions for years, just to pay back their initial debt. They are ringed-off in filthy tent-cities outside Dubai, where they sleep in weeping heat, next to open sewage. They have no way to go home. And if they try to strike for better conditions, they are beaten by the police.

I met so many men in this position I stopped counting, just as the embassies were told to stop counting how many workers die in these conditions every year after they figured it topped more than 1,000 among the Indians alone.

Human Rights Watch calls this system "slavery." Yet the Westerners who have flocked to Dubai brag that they "love" the city, because they don't have to pay any taxes, and they have domestic slaves to do all the hard work. They train themselves not to see the pain.

But Dubai's bankruptcy does not end there: it is ecologically bust. This is a city built in the burning desert, where everything shrivels up and blows away if it is not kept artificially cold all the time. That's why it has the highest per capita carbon emissions on earth – some 250 percent higher even than America's. The city has to ship in desalinated water – which is more costly than oil. When it runs out of cash, it will run out of water.

Today Dubai will be bailed out by the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich country of which it is only one state. But the oil will not last forever. More importantly, there is no Bank of Morality that could provide a bailout for this sinister mirage in the desert.

Yes, Johan, there is indeed something missing at the base, at the roots, at the core of Dubai's apparent Western-ness. Would you care to guess what that something might be?


  1. Bangladeshi Farmer Sends "Aid" to Dubai Government

  2. David,

    What can I say, great posting, you summed it up. I just returned from that sinful, rediculously idiotic city, after 4 weeks on business, what stroke me the most is the complaisance of the Westerners, their willingness to close their eyes on what is really going on under their nose, their selfishness, mind-boggling, they will not do half of the things they do back home.
    Its time to really expose the truth about Dubai, I wish CNN or BBC would do a segment on this awful place.
    Well done


  4. Why does there seem to be so many "Dubai" bashers out there who seem to take so much pleasure in having a go at this country. I am an ex-pat in Dubai and like the majority of us here we enjoy the lifestyle on offer and of course the benefits of a tax-free salary. Crime is relatively low in Dubai where as in the UK it seems to be knife & gun crimes, massive drug problems in most major citys, rising unemployment and a goverment that bail out the banks which put the country in the financial mess in the first place and then give them bonuses, and I can go on an on about many more about good old blighty! Let's not even mention the recent influx of immigrants to the country working in very low paid jobs!(Half of Poland is there!) As for the naive comment about Westerners in Dubai closing their eyes to what is going on? Think you should open your own eyes to what is happening closer to home or is it that your secret desire it to live that ex-pat life in a place lke Dubai? Sounds like a chip on the old shoulder seems to be the order of the day for comments as such as those without the relisation of having being a resident in the country and experiencing the many benefits it brings. Sounds like you obviously visited some places you dont usually frequent at home eh! Guilty conceience is it?


    1. Some of us find dictatorships run by Muslim families distasteful. Germany was very crime free during the reign of the Nazis.

  5. TO Anonymous: -- Were you forced to right that? most likely..typical idiot ignoring the blatant facts and talking out his ass.

  6. You people, should look at your own contry first, you are just jealous!Enjoy the crime there

    I support completely the comment from 20th of Jan 2010


  7. If in fact this is true, than it is sad. No matter where it happens. Fact is, cheap laborers come to "western" countries and know beforehand they will be paid less. To be promised higher wages than you will receive and be trapped away from home (as supposedly in Dubai) is the true crime.
    I would have to see this for myself though, as each side has their story or opinion.
    PS no way would I be jealous of this city, I love nature. And sand is not the kind of nature I like. Would rather have my stuff stolen than be oppressed and not be allowed true freedom as article 70 of the UAE law says no critic against the rulers are allowed. BS!

  8. ok here's a fact that everyone should focus on: there are people living in dubai with NO HUMAN RIGHTS!!!!!! They get their passport taken away and BAM you are their property. Can we try to put ourselves in their shoes for just a moment? Imagine having no freedom, you can't talk to your loved ones, you work under dangerous heat conditions and if you don't work you are abused and tourtered. Any decent person would know better that thats not how you treat a person! Hello!?

  9. I have just returned from Dubai. I was there with my family We are American and I must say that the facts are there. The labor laws and attitudes there are an abomination to human rights. My family and I had to fight for a month with assistance from our consulate to finally gain exit. Our sponsor was holding our passports illegally an at the end of my contract concocted phony charges stating that I owed them over fifty thousand. My family was blocked from traveling and we were branded absconding workers by the police as we refused to pay the fictional charges. We had to hire an attorney, and live on no money other than friends helping as all of our accounts were frozen and we had no identification.

    This was an absolute nightmare. The sad thing is this was not the Arabs that did this. Y company was managed by westerners from the UK and Ireland. I have learned now that this is all to common even among westerners. The company in an effort to recover things like education and visa expenses for dependants will do this. The general belief is westerners will pay rather than fight just to get the family out.

    We involved many people including fox news, governor Rick Perry from Texas , and the American state department. I can tell you that Dubai is a slave state and the majority of expats thatanage the country are from the UK, and will make sure this continues to make sure they can escape the crowns taxation.

    I prefer to live in Texas where yes I pay my taxes but I will not be healed against my will just because I wil not buy my freedom from my sponsor.

  10. Brilliant article. I lived in Dubai for 5 years. I agree the lifestyle appears to be great but behind that lifestyle is a trap. Dubai is nothing but a con job, prefer paying taxes rather than being conned by the government. The start conning you the moment you arrive, pay 12 months rent in advance, so you take a loan, to drive you need 40 classes and you dont pass untill you have spent 5K. I passed in 3 attempts and in the first 2 I was just told to park the car btw I have been driving in India, UK, Malayasia for 10 years before, so till u get your licience go by taxi which is super expensive, they built a metro which runs basically between the big malls and tourist destinations, and so it goes. By the time you elave you realise u are down and debt and thats when the nightmare starts.... Good luck to those who love the lifestyle hope u continue having that lifestyle and are not forced to aprk your proche at dubai airport and run when you lose ur job and u are going to be put in jail.

  11. dubai is plain evil,,,,,,,,,,slavery, dictadorship..........too all you wealthy people ,remember one important thing is the root of all evil if not spent wisely, and you people are not very wealthy billionares are evil and greety .What goes around comes around, your time will come....the people that have worked to build your evil world that you have used and abused, what kind of people r you? your pure evil.... dubia will fall one day and hopefully that day will be soon

  12. David's article has very well covered the plight of the people on the edge... those who are bound into a life worse than slavery.

    I'm an Indian and worked in Dubai for 3 years... I was lucky in the sense I'm a software engineer and worked in the office of one of the largest Dubai based companies. But even there, it was discrimination from the word go. I left because I just couldn't stand the apartheid.

    Firstly, the company took away my passport the day I got there saying it was just some visa additions they need to do, but when I asked for it after a month of not seeing it, I was told that they were keeping it in their safe because it would save me the trouble of getting any visa updations. When I insisted, they said it was a company policy. But I noticed they did not do this with Americans, Europeans or other Arabs. This happens throughout Dubai even though on paper, there are laws against it but in practice, its designed to get the employee in more trouble than anything else.

    Another painful obvious fact is that Westerners and Arabs have a different pay scale, responsibility when compared to Indians/Asians for the same experience. I mean I had 5 years of programming experience back then. But would regularly see new Local fresh college graduates getting a cushy job, more than double my salary and on a higher grade than me. And only westerners (locals never stayed around that long) ever got promoted to any senior manager roles.

    I don't even want to mention the few times I actually came across a Local in a mall or theatre or on the road - reminds me of the era in a Charles Dickens book where the rich trampled on the poor for the fun of it...

  13. I forgot to mention the "government" controls all media there - press (not a single critical article about the government - its always other country news or positive local news), tv (government owns the local channels and only international channels that comply to Dubai's "culture" - read opnions - are allowed to be distributed), and even internet (via censoring, blocking, intimidation).

    So people who post things like Dubai having the lowest crime rate should get a reality check - I know about an entire Indian family being murdered and the news finally appeared in the papers as a small side-note 6 months later with no follow-up.

    And as for the line "the same labour problem happens in Western countries too" - western countries have real laws against this that actually punish the guilty! Most of the punishments by Dubai courts target the innocent poor victims!!!

    The police and all laws in Dubai are implemented selectively and from behind a thick drape with no concept of real justice.

    Shame on companies who profit from this

  14. The accommodation is not cheap at all that is for sure. Although the buildings are made of exquisite taste and designed with perfection. I was baffled to see the prices I saw of property in UAE as in it is extremely expensive but people still afford to buy and rent them? I would really love to see how can people afford to live in such expensive places while working in meager salaries as described in this post?

  15. Seb, British citizen living in Dubai7 January 2012 at 14:28

    I very rarely leave a comment on any article I read on the internet - petty arguments online within which neither party is willing to respect or consider an alternate viewpoint, I believe, is a complete waste of time. You might well believe you are selflessly enlightening others with your wonderful, self-indulged opinion.. opening the eyes of the hoards of ignorant masses around you with your honest, embellishing words of unimaginable wisdom... whatever helps you sleep at night sunshine, life is far, far too short.

    And yet here I feel obliged. The article in question is abundantly clear to be absent any theme of neutral appraisal, informative overview or collaborative thought and makes wild accusations on the back of some misjudged air of self-superiority. "The truth about Dubai" - hilarious title.

    Dubai has its faults, funny that. Indeed the living conditions of the labor workforce could be improved, the westerners could rally forth and fight the injustice that is free-market capitalism and the local population could potentially learn a few things about modesty.. And yet it is their country.

    The UAE is one of the few nations left that consider their economy, theirs. Foreign nationals are more than welcome to join the marketplace, pending agreeing to local practices and cultural laws, and as with any legal contract have to abide to certain contractual agreements with their employer.

    Lets say for example a job as a taxi driver becomes available in Dubai - there will be hundreds of applicants from nations with stalled economies that suffer at the hands of overpopulation (note: the blame for which has nothing to do with Dubai). The taxi driver taken on agrees to release his passport to his employer, to work certain hours, for certain wages. At the termination of his contract, the company are obliged to hold his passport for two months (I am not arguing the credibility of such a practice, merely that it exists) as it is in the employment contract.It is the employers right to uphold all clauses of a contract, and contractual negligence in the UAE is treated sincerely.

    Undeniably, at some point in this process the successful applicant read through these terms and accepted. Regardless that this may have been the only employment option open to this individual (the fault of which lies with the economy of his/her origin), consent must have been abundantly apparent if not at least due to the fact individuals from these countries have been coming to Dubai for years and via word of mouth, the internet, or even letters home, entire nations are well informed on the benefits and detriments to a place as Dubai - I am sorry but the ignorance argument is complete pish.

    "Take it or leave it" was mentioned in one of the comments that so nearly hit the nail on the head, unfortunately it was from the wrong direction. Employment is not a human right. Even in the god-fearing state of America, the human rights fundaMENTALists would find it hard to argue such a point.

    Dubai offers a free-market economy, one that consistently outperforms even the most advanced of nations. Dubai does not force foreign nationals to come and work here. At 40 years old it continues to be a dazzling nation that breaks boundaries and questions the norm. Take a good hard look at your own perfect little life, before creating belittling, biased articles that attack an economy; that looks after its own people, has a strong trend of cultural law and respect regardless of belief, employs countless individuals that would not have a job elsewhere, outperforms advanced global markets and a forward-thinking place that has never lost sight of what it provides to the outside world.

    I can almost hear the ignorant shouting "but when the oil runs out, where will the UAE be??" and alas the answer should be "when the oil runs out, where will any of us be". I have lived in Dubai for over three years and I will continue to work here, expect no handouts, and respect all beliefs and cultures as long as I can.

  16. Dear Seb,

    Its amusing to read your comments. Where you talk of the author's ignorance and try to poke holes in the article you're own ignorance shows! Of course that isn't necessarily your fault. Most of us city bred are 'frogs in our little wells'.

    Just to give you some perspective, the people who end up trapped there...well, most of them cant read or write! The people who promise them these 'jobs'... the word is 'human traffickers'! You have rightly stated that most of the trapped labor is comprised of people that are victims of the economies of their native countries. However, I think you don't have any exposure or understanding of what that means in a country like India. Many of these are farmers who's lands are now fallow due to climate change. They will do anything to feed their families and this is what the traffickers prey on.

    Lastly, yes dubai offers employment WITH discrimination! If your skin is the right colour you will earn a salary the brown skinned folks wont. This is a reality. And that is fine in itself. However, when you try to justify ignoring the plight of fellow the words of Sylvester 'that's dessspicable'! :)

    My friend, you want to ignore the wickedness around you, go ahead. Thats just fine, its your choice. Don't try to tell others that they ought to still their conscience when it cries out. At least they still have one. I pray your Dubai dream has a beautiful and uneventful ending.


  17. Good article, if you really want to know what Dubai is like from a very detailed ex-patriate entrepreneurs point of view, read 'Escape from Dubai' by Herve Jaubert. If you've actually worked in Dubai and thought any allegations of abused labor or anything of the like was false, then you're blinder than a bat. Sure, there is illegal labor and the like in many places in the world, but Dubai has raised the bar exponentially. The Emiratis are the most arrogant men ever beholden, to think they can lure foreign businessmen in, take their business ideas, then seize their assets and passports so they cannot leave and think they can get away with it.

  18. The opression of woman in Dubai... thats where the true problems like, Muslim culture is horrid, what kinda life is it for a woman out there..

  19. although i might put my self in a trouble for posting something like that i want just to make something clear

    Us the westerners we not closing our eyes we protect our selves because there is nothing we can do aboout it in here

    as the westerners we are in the same line with all these slaves and at the end they have nothing to lose un like us that if we complain for something we will lose everything and end of the day end up in a prison with unknown future,

    i complain once and i end up 2 days in the jail and i did not had even the right to inform my family were am at for this 2 days

    is not only dubai but is all over the same and n the other emirates in more worst.

    i spend 12 years of my life i came with money and i end up living with empty pocket and scared that i might be stoped in the airport

    all we need is a community out of dubai to express our personal experiences and to do something against this torturous life

  20. I have been living in Dubai for 5 years. I would not recommend to it to any one unless you are desperate. Yes it is tax free, but the government is here to rob you left and right with hidden taxes, high rents. You will make money but you will also spend it all. It is sunny, but after 3 years you do not feel like it any more. At any time, based on the economy you may loose your job and have to go back to your own country. So what is the point? Make a couple of more bucks and drive luxury cars. I do not mention the cultural shock, workplace is usually horrible and no human rights.