A Mismatch of Globalization

Traveling to Dubai and Sharjah


A Mismatch of Globalization
by Fariba Amini

Dubai likes to see itself as the center of commerce, investment, and even culture, in the Persian Gulf. It is where the global rich can opt to become even richer and where investors can live out their dreams. It is also a place where people from the poorer parts of Asia flock to make a living and send money home. In the process Dubai has become the center of everything we love to hate: globalization at its worst, consumerism at its most extreme. Whereas old Dubai, situated around the Creek, has retained some of its charm, the new endlessly sprawling Dubai is a glitzy, unreal mega-Disney world focused on high-end shopping, leisure and entertainment. A boat ride across the Creek in old Dubai costs one dirham; crossing the bridge over to the Burj Al Arab hotel, situated on an artificial island in the Gulf, costs 200 dirhams or 70 dollars! The contrast is enormous. [see photos]

Sharjah or al-Shariqah (the East), the adjacent emirate, is quite different. Located a mere 15 miles from Dubai, and led by an enlightened Emir, it prides itself on its cultural activities, its museums, its renovated old buildings, and it advertises itself as a place where theatre and the arts are appreciated and education is cherished. UNESCO has called it the “Cultural Capital of the Arab World.”

The Emir, Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, a scholar and a Scout, who has authored several books on the history of the Emirates, has invested in education and higher learning by building two universities, the University of Sharjah (segregate d between male and female), and the American University of Sharjah (co-ed). The joint campus is huge and plush, a vast expanse of marble plazas and high-domed neo-Islamic buildings, with possibly more flower beds and palm trees than any other University campus in the world. Both universities, with just a few thousand students—4500 at the UOS and 3500 at the AUS—clearly are not for common people, as the cost to study in both ranges from 25K to 80K per year depending on the subject of study.

In addition, Sharjah is the only emirate of the seven to have women (five) in its 40-member assembly and two female cabinet members.

Dubai’s privileged class, its Arab citizens, constitutes a small minority, an estimated 5 percent, of its approximately 1.5 million residents. Men in white dishdashas and sandals drive their latest luxury cars or their mopeds. Some of the women wear not just a black hejab but have their entire face is covered in black. Nevertheless, in both Sharjah and Dubai, females enjoy relative freedom when it comes to clothing and are not forced to cover their heads. Expatriates, meanwhile, most of them male and from the Subcontinent, do all the work, and certainly all the hard and menial work. They make more money than they would in their respective countries—India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines— but they have no job security and few rights.

The contrast is stark, especially for a Muslim country. Dubai is one vast city filled with unfinished and finished towering buildings— among them the tallest structure in the world, the Burj Dubai, at over 2600 feet, as well as the world’s two tallest hotels, the Burj al-Arab, shaped like a sail of a dhow, changing colors at night and costing $7000 per room/ per night, and the Rose Tower Hotel, which just topped it at almost 1100 feet. The rest is super highways, SUV’s, terrible but orderly traffic—a metro system is in the works--luxury car dealerships, the usual fast food places, KFC, Burger King a nd Dunkin Donut, an infinite number of mega malls, an indoor ski slope, and no SOUL. In the midst of this luxury and consumer madness, there are workers who spend their nights on old mattresses out on the ground, next to the ships where they work. They cook and ea t right there.

Incidentally, the highlight of the trip was meeting some fellow Iranians from Khuzestan, right after the passing of the Persian New year, tahvil-e sal, and having tea on their boat. They were sailing the next day for Bandar Bushehr and Bandar Genaveh in Iran. [see photos]


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You are right Kamyar!

by Payam Shahfari (not verified) on

Dubai is a symbol of fake and dubious development. It is pretty much like Vegas in that it is not sustainable environmentally and financially. Their dependency on slave-labor and exploitation reveals the reality of these financial centers. Unfortunately, some Iranians do desire Iran to become a fascistic consumerist society, just as Dubai, at the expense of the subaltern; but this consumerist capitalist system is on its path toward reality; that you cannot sustain capitalism forever. It is merely a system created by human being which will have to end just as other systems, for a better and more humane world.



A Mismatch of Globalization

by Kamyar (not verified) on

So this is what we Iranians, as a country, are supposed to aspire to? This is a tacky, watered-down version of America.