The Towering Dream of Dubai (Anthony Shadid, April 30, 2006, Washington Post)
“The only limitations are your own limitations,” [Ahmad Sharaf] said matter of factly. “No one tells you that it cannot be done, that it should not be done. The only pushback has always been let’s do it bigger, let’s do it better, and let’s do it smarter.”
He reflected on what was being built — the Dubai model, as its advocates call it, the region’s most ambitious experiment in bringing success to an Arab city by shearing away the qualities that have long defined it as Arab.
“You know how the West was won?” Sharaf asked of the American experience. “From the Eastern seaboard to the West, you had to build a railroad — the fastest way to get there and the most efficient way to get there to exploit the resources.”
“Dubai,” he said confidently, “is the railroad for the Middle East.”
Railroad is a metaphor often heard in Dubai, an autocratic city-state ruled by a dynasty that evokes a language uncommon in the Arab world today: an utter confidence, brimming with pride and optimism, that collides with the dejection heard elsewhere in the Middle East. It has emerged as a 21st-century phenomenon, a city of perspectives, whose globalization suggests its inspiration and the discontent of those left behind.
To Sharaf and others, Dubai is the answer to the Arab world’s ills, so diverse that conversations in taxicabs are sometimes a patois of Arabic, English and Hindi. Its architecture suggests Pharaonic ambition; at 3 billion square feet, the amusement park known as Dubailand will be three times the size of Manhattan, complete with a replica of the Eiffel Tower and a 60,000-seat stadium. The city’s growth, vision and dynamism — to advocates, at least — chart a way forward for Arab development independent of the Bush administration’s emphasis on democratic reform. Arab expatriates who have flocked here declare Dubai a success and say that the Arab world needs a success story.
“We’re seeing the beginning of an Arab renaissance, and I find it very hopeful,” said Nasser Saidi, a former Lebanese minister and the chief economist of the Dubai International Financial Center.