Dubai: the place of contrasts

Dubai is the most populous city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates that attracts a record number of tourists every single day. The city’s unimaginably fast development and luxury have left people from all around the world amazed day by day.

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Its industrial development started in the late 1960s when, after years of exploration, oil was discovered in territorial waters. The oil era was a huge turning point in the emirate’s history; in the following years its population grew by over 300%.

We would think that Dubai’s tremendous wealth has been based solely on oil, however, the revenues from oil and gas account for less than 7% of the emirates revenue.


What are the largest contributors to the city’s economy then?

The most significant sectors are the real estate, the trade, and the financial sectors. Yet, once we are in Dubai, these are not the first characteristics that catch our eye. Instead, many other characteristics grab our attention such as: the absurd measures of green, the fountains in the middle of the desert, the clothing habits that are extraneous to the European eye, the numerous luxury hotels, and the incredible wealth.

Somehow, among the modern shops, skyscrapers, and yachts, it is easy to forget how different the Arabic culture is compared to other continents’ cultures. Even though many people know that women wear abayas, black shawls that cover their body revealing only their faces, it is still startling to see that in many marriages, women follow their husbands from a couple of meters distance. These habits root back to old cultural practices.

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Religion plays a significant role in the culture of Dubai; mosques can be found throughout the city, and at sunset, the call to prayer can be heard across the rooftops. Police bodies in the emirate, therefore, take certain common customs very seriously, such as public displays of affection, drinking alcohol in public places, swearing, smoking, using drugs, and wearing inappropriate clothing.

Religion-based restrictions apply as for men as for women. However, it seems to apply more for women. Even though many regulations concerning women may be considered as religion-based, not all the limitations of an Emirati woman can be strictly connected to the Islamic religion. One figure that demonstrates the force of men in the country is that only less than 20% of Emirati women are part of the national labor force.

On the other hand, women are also protected in some ways, for example, it is illegal to harass women; this can include through unwanted conversation and prolonged stares or eye contact.

Due to the rapid pace of constructions, there has been a significant increase in international workers living in the city. In 2006, the Human Rights Organization has heavily criticized violations of human rights in Dubai. In fact, some of the 250,000 foreign laborers in the city have been alleged to live in conditions described by Human Rights Watch as “less than humane”. Even though the Dubai government denied any kind of labor injustices, from that point onwards, they allowed laborers to form unions.

Gold industry is also a significant contributor to the economy as 29% of the world’s gold commerce is concentrated in Dubai. “Gold to go” machines in the malls are considered common phenomena for them.

Dubai’s indoor ski arena in the middle of the desert also continues to astonish people since its opening in 2005. Despite the paradox, only a few people think about the absurdity of it, or draw the comparison between the millions of dollars invested in the resort, and the poor conditions some families live in only a couple of miles outside of Dubai.

The national and official language is Arabic, but English is used as a second language. Despite the fact that the city is obviously moving towards a more globalized position, with the huge influx of tourists and international transactions, it is still a completely different and closed world from many aspects due to its unique cultural roots.

Dubai is an incredibly strange combination of past and future.

Zsòfia Kèrèszy


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