The history of the Persian Gulf’s most prosperous city.
With its extraordinary wealth, towering skyscrapers and hedonistic ways, Dubai has emerged as a major financial center and the world’s most cosmopolitan and tolerant city, writes Krane, a Dubai-based AP correspondent. In workmanlike prose, he details the city’s past as an insular village in a distant corner of Arabia, its early relations with Western traders and its transformation as part of the United Arab Emirates into an international tourist destination. The 175 years of stable rule by the Maktoum dynasty has been fundamental to the city’s commercial success, says the author. Now guided by the wealthy 60-year-old monarch and strategic planner Sheikh Mohammed, Dubai has leveraged its strengths—a small native population, proximity to oil and an enlightened ruling class—to become “the Middle East’s capital of commerce.” It boasts 350 luxury hotels (cheapest room at the iconic Burj Al Arab: $2,000), tax-free business zones (Internet City, Media City, etc.) and man-made islands like Palm Jumeirah, which houses an office tower twice as tall as the Empire State Building and the 1,200-shop Dubai Mall. In its relentless quest for modernity—electricity became widely available, and slavery was banned, in the 1960s—the city has attracted an unusually mixed population of two million (95 percent foreigners, from 200 countries). Indians bring much of the brainpower while construction workers from many nations provide brawn and live ascetic lives in desert labor camps. Krane portrays a boomtown of contrasts, where older residents who sign documents with a thumbprint have children with doctorates; and where average male citizens, who receive $55,000-per-year subsidies and $19,000 toward wedding costs, have a 20 percent unemployment rate. The epilogue explains how the global recession has sharply curtailed—at least for now—the frenetic growth of this key U.S. ally and spy center. Building roads and skyscrapers was the easy part, writes Krane. “Incubating an enlightened society will be harder.”
A fact-crammed report on a culture of excess.