Friday, 10 April 2009

If you think Dubai is bad, just look at your own country

If you think Dubai is bad, just look at your own country

I recently figured that if British journalists such as Johann Hari (Tuesday, 7 April) who come to Dubai don't send back something sensationalist it won't get printed and they won't get paid. After all, sleaze sells.

I called a British journalist friend of mine and said: "I'm going to write an article about London, the same way your compatriots write about Dubai." By the time I was back at home I had come to my senses, it's not fair to London, a city so dear to my heart, or Londoners to be judged by the actions of a few. It's easy to generalise about a country when figures are manipulated to sensationalise and sell papers.

Say for example that I had written an article that states that, in wealthy first world Britain there are 380,000 homeless people, many of them mentally ill, starving and abandoned in sub-zero temperatures to live on the streets.

Say then that I wrote an article that states that Britain, the so called "jail capital of Western Europe" sentenced in 2006 alone a staggering additional 12,000 women to prison and that up to seven babies a month are born in jail where they spend their crucial first months.

I could have written an article that stated Britain, victor in the Second World War, had given refuge to 400 Nazi war criminals, with all but one of them getting away with it. Or one stating that the number of Indians who died while serving the British Empire, to build your Tube and grow your tea, is so large it is simply unquantifiable by any historian.

Or say I write an article about the 2.5 million-strong Indian volunteer army who served Britain during the Second World War, where 87,000 of them died for their occupiers' freedom and yet until recently those who survived continued to be discriminated against in pay and pension.

I could have written an article that stated that, in civilised Britain, one in every 23 teenage girls had an abortion and in 2006 more than 17,000 of the 194,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales involved girls below the age of 18.

I could have written an article stating that Britain, the human rights champion, not wanting to get its hands dirty, had resorted to secretly outsourcing torture to Third World states under the guise of rendition by allowing up to 170 so called CIA torture flights to use its bases. Or that Britain's MI5 unlawfully shared with the CIA secret material to interrogate suspects and "facilitate interviews" including cases where the suspects were later proven to be innocent.

I could have written an article that stated that the Britain of family values is the only country in the EU that recruits child soldiers as young as 16 into its Army and ships them off battlegrounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting it in the same league as African dictatorships and Burma.

I could have written an article that states that Britain either recently did or has yet to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict or the UN's International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families .

I could have highlighted the fact that liberal Britain is responsible for the physical and racial abuse of hundreds of failed asylum-seekers at the hands of private security guards during their forced removal from the country .

I could have written about the countless cases of slave-like working conditions of immigrant labours such as the 23 Chinese workers who lost their lives in 2004 as they harvested cockles in the dangerous rising tides in Morecambe Bay.

I could have written about how mortality rates from liver diseases due to alcohol abuse have declined in Europe in recent decades but in Britain the rate trebled in the same period reflecting deep societal failures.

I could have written about how in "Big Brother" Britain maltreatment of minors is so serious that one in 10, or an estimated one million children a year, suffer physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect.

Or that according to Oxfam 13.2 million people in the UK live in poverty – a staggering 20 per cent of the population in the sixth richest nation in the world.

I could have written all that, but out of respect for Britain, I decided not to. Because when you stitch together a collection of unconnected facts taken out of context, you end up with a distorted and inaccurate picture: something that Britain's Dubai-bashers would do well to learn.

* This article was first published in The Independent on Friday April 10th 2009. The newspaper picked the title of the article.


Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

Hi Sultan,
Be prepared for many to come back at you, but do bear in mind they are not personally involved, as you are. (Irish "navvies" were prime labour for Tube excavation. Were you remunerated for the article? Rebuttal by blog is a mission impossible, I sense!)
As a Brit' I acknowledge your points, irrespective of context, and possibly we are too self deprecating!
My own view is "discretion is the better part of valour"!

Anonymous said...

People living in houses of glass should not throw stones. If their countries were so great, why so many of their own countrymen fled to live here with salaries, houses & cars they could never afford in their own countries.

Yes Dubai is not perfect & so is every other city/country in the world. But there is a difference between constructive criticism & criticism just for the sake of criticism.

But as you said, sleaze sells & this is the exact reason such articles are coming out with such high frequency.

Lara Dunston said...

Great article, Sultan.

I like your view, Rupert.

Dubai Guy also makes a brilliant point - something we constantly said in our many years living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Sultan, take a look at my posts here:

and here:

I will also email you.


Sadegh said...

Excellent article Sultan...As someone who has lived both places, I greatly enjoyed you taking British conceit down a peg or two...

Imraan said...

Hi Sultan,
I think the principle of your article is valid and true, and I commend you for taking the higher ground. However, I believe that the primary reason that we will continue to have such media sensations and "sleaze" stories about Dxb is because is there is no single, coherent, TRUE "story" on the state of Dubai in the current recession.

One can easily turn on any news channel and get a detailed run down of the state of Western countries finances. One can also easily obtain information on their history and political affiliations, some of which you have quoted.

However, such info is not easily at hand in Dxb. Press releases from various gov depts are often contradictory, and transparency is still a goal. Outspoken leadership from the rulers is maybe not culturally a norm here, but to some degree it is a comfort to the Western populace seeing their leaders on TV day after day analysing problems and offering solutions. There ARE solutions put forward here, I dont doubt that. But can anyone here in Dxb really spell out the gov's action plan with the same clarity that one could about the recent bailouts of American firms? What EXACTLY is Dxb's action plan to re-start stalled real estate projects, pay accumulated debts and avoid similar misfortune in future? that is what people want to know.

I think if the leadership here published easily verifiable information such as tourism figures, audited financial statements and declared stakeholders of various state owned companies, then there would be less room for "speculators" to fill in the blanks with trash talk, which is what these british journalists are doing.

Lastly, to the "Dubai Guy" who said that people "fled" here because their own countries are worse, I would disagree. I, and numerous others have been asked to come here by Dxb based companies because the indigenous population do not have the numbers or the skills to perform certain job functions. Its a globalised world and for that reason, my work is not limited to the borders of my home country. When the indigenous population reaches the skill level where they can do my job sufficiently, and have the numbers they require to do, then as expats many of us will not be invited to be here.

Thank you for a good article and the opportunity to comment.

Lara Dunston said...

Imraan - the indigenous population has extraordinary levels of skills in many areas and many are incredibly hard-working. I taught at a women's college, and was then dean, for almost 8 years, first in Abu Dhabi, then Dubai. The problems are complex: some are cultural (the issue of women working in male-dominated environments), but gengerally I found that foreigners in the private sector won't give them jobs for a whole lot of reasons - negative perceptions based on stereotypes, unwillingness to adapt to their cultural/religious requirements, and they feel threatened.

The UAE needs to do more to provide opportunities to bring expats and Emiratis together socially. If people know each other as human beings - not just stereotypes represented by the media and through urban myths - they will begin to trust and respect eachother more. And give them jobs!

Angelika Lancsak said...

Great article Sultan!

Success breeds enemies...and the whole world envies Dubai!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Mr. Hari ought to have reflected on where Dubai stands viz the other GCC states like a Kuwait or a Saudi etc on these highlighted issues.
Some of those states could be far far darker than what Dubai is made to be... An article on those lines will perhaps give this whole episode a sense of balance. Apples to Apples.
Dubai is work in progress.. every 'developed' country has had a phase in its lifetime where things were far murkier viz. its civic society. Perhaps when Dubai is 150 years old, it would have reached a critical phase in its life cycle where it can afford to banish these ills rather than overlook them.

Anonymous said...

I agree Dubai has several issues that need further addressing.

That said - in the GCC, Dubai is perhaps the closest those of us hailing from the Indian subcontinent can come about getting a level playing field in most aspects of civic life.
I think most of those Dubai bashers still living in Dubai take that privelage for granted.

Try living for a few months in one of those other GCC countries and then you'd value what Dubai is. I learned the hard way.

You need to lose an eye to value sight.

sarar said...


Humans are very strange; they tend to forget everything when their own wellbeing is threatened. Only a few years ago everybody (including us nationals although our perspective to things differs here) wanted a taste of the UAE and mainly Dubai either to work visits or live a fun life. The country attracted skilled workers, bankers, artists, engineers etc... This is because we need the help of the expatriate population as our numbers are not enough to keep up with the pace of our growth and the vision of our leadership; it is a fact of life. When life was good to certain people, the UAE and/or Dubai was heaven with no better place to be in but the sad thing is now when life has turned its back on the whole world, Dubai included, Dubai is now considered to be a huge fraud. The same people who were praising the Emirate are now back stabbing it forgetting that they once called Dubai ‘Home’. No country, culture or society is perfect and no matter what the media says and no matter how beautiful they draw the picture of a certain place if anyone believes that there is a perfect world out there then he/she are either naive or ignorant. The UAE and Dubai are young with still many years to go and journalists from all over the world will always have something to say about the rights and wrongs that we do during the years to come simply because like the skilled workers, bankers, artists and engineers they also come to the UAE and Dubai to have a taste of this wonderful country. We should not be discouraged with these criticisms but on the contrary they should be our biggest motivator to move forward because when life turns around to the good, like it always does, we will be seeing those same people calling Dubai again 'Home'. Sultan thank you for a great article, we need more people like you to fight our verbal wars while we the skilled workers, bankers, artists, engineers etc… do our part in the overall scheme called the UAE. Last but not least thank you to all the expatriate population that believes in the UAE and really consider this wonderful country as ‘Home’.

Mohammed said...

Hi Sultan. Well done. It was a full statement of fact about their country so they can see how we are dealing with them. In addition, they have forgotten all what they gain while the booming time.

It is important to talk about those fact and let us aware about the coming article.

Wish you all the best
Mohammed Al Mesmari