In a recent Reuters piece, I have to admit finding this paragraph to be pretty darn funny:
In an online interview this year that epitomized the progressive image Dubai has tried to present, Sheikh Mohammed rejected the suggestion he was a “Superman” who ran the freewheeling emirate alone.
“The ‘Superman’ phenomenon you are talking about does not exist in our organizations and institutions,” he told the questioner — before going on to discuss how his poetry and horse-racing fit into his 24-hour-a-day schedule. [source]
The article is a sharp critique of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, with its author Andrew Hammond seeming to put most of the blame for Dubai’s “recent” financial troubles squarely on the Sheikh. The highlight of course centers on the apparent economic miscalculation that has arisen as of late:
Sheikh Mohammed, whose face and words grace posters all over town, told the [world economic] forum this month that the worst had passed for Dubai which was well-placed to pursue its development plans. The news that investment vehicle Dubai World could not pay a $3.5 billion bond was released just before the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday and UAE national day on December 2. Local media have almost entirely avoided comment on the debacle.
Good governance has never been the forte of leaders in this region so the results, especially in dire economic times, are less than surprising. Dubai has always been sold to the world, and indeed the region, as the Atlantis of an exotic Middle East. With tall shiny buildings and a vanity industry so enormous that it dares one’s gag reflexes, Dubai has always been this promising economic oasis. For Jordanians the attraction was the opportunities such an oasis created. Dubai has long been a brain drain for Jordan, and for a long while, I suppose this was a good thing. Remittances are still a savior for Jordan’s economy.
But it has been interesting to see how perceptions of Dubai have changed recently. Only two or three years ago, it was difficult to find a young professional Jordanian who didn’t dream of going to Dubai. In fact, it wasn’t so much of a dream as a tangible reality for most. The post 9/11 era did seem to have an impact on local youth who once dreamed of green cards and a land abundant with job opportunities; attention was shifted from the west and on to the Gulf where tall tales of 20-something year olds making massive amounts of money hypnotized fresh graduates. For the longest time, all I heard was “Dubai, Dubai, Dubai”. Today, since the advent of the global financial downturn, no one ever seems to say a thing about it.
Naturally, the Gulf is still perceived to be filled with opportunities for young Jordanians, but talk of immigration has died down in recent months.
I don’t know if Dubai’s fate will be, metaphorically-speaking, akin to that of Atlantis, but I doubt it. Markets rebound, adjustments happen. But I still find it interesting how the hype has died down in Jordan. It might extend beyond just Dubai, and indeed the whole concept of setting up camp in a foreign country during uncertain economic times.