|Dubai thinks it's pretty damn good. You want to know why? Check out photos from 40 years ago in the Dubai Museum - just Creek and desert. Now it's a modern oasis where you can visit the world's first 'seven star' hotel in a Porsche Cayenne, or relax in a corporate box at the planet's richest horse race while clutching some Veuve Clicquot. You did know that The Palm resort is visible from outer space, didn't you?
Dubai is also needy and always desperate for attention. It's almost as if Dubai thinks that if the world turns away for a second, the enormous wealth will disappear, the buildings will dissolve into sand and the expats will take their bat and ball and go home.
The leaders of Dubai have handled the transformation of this small trading town into a regional business and tourism hub with aplomb. When the Al-Maktoum family and other members of the Bani Yas tribe left Liwa for Bur Dubai, it's almost as if they knew this was their destiny. Each successor has built on the achievements of the last, with no small amount of entrepreneurial skill, daring and vision. These Arab alchemists have come up with a formula that is unique to Dubai, and instilled in its people a sense of optimism and a 'can do' spirit coupled with an expectation of success.
While everyone who comes to live in Dubai in some way shares in its success, there is always an underlying feeling of being the 'hired help', which, of course everyone is. While buying property in Dubai now allows expats lo have an open-ended residency visa, it's not citizenship - and even if it was, how much of a say would you have in a society based on tribal affiliations and no elections?
The major stumbling block is money. The cheap labour that keeps the wheels of Dubai turning is a double-edged khanjar (traditional curved dagger), Why train locals to do jobs such as plumbing when you can hire someone lo do it for one tenth of what an Emirati would expect - and what Emirati would be willing to attend college to learn such a trade?
The cheap labour affects Dubai in other ways. Many workers are cheated out of money, often not being paid for months, or are underpaid and overworked against the terms of their employment agreement. On the other hand, these workers are often employed illegally or try to abscond. In a recent six-month amnesty, 100,000 workers left the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but authorities consider this to represent only 30% of the total figure of illegal workers. Given that the expat workers ratio of men to women is 7:3, there's also the question of the growing prostitution trade in the city. Even the hippest clubs have Eastern European girls trying to ply their trade. Despite the best efforts of the police, the drug scene is also burgeoning.
There does, however, appear to be a sense of balance in Dubai, both within the city and with its relationship with the rest of the world. Dubai today is friends with the West and, for progressive Arabs, a shining example of a modern Arab city, but for increasingly conservative branches of Islam, it is seen as far too liberal. How Dubai manages to balance all these factors is just as important as keeping up its spectacular growth. Given the track record of Dubai's leaders over the past few years, it would be unwise to bet against them. That's what makes Dubai so exciting tqday - like an Arabian thoroughbred, it's just getting into its stride.