Fifty years after its founding, the United Arab Emirates has reason to celebrate. The blatant contradictions in the union of states on the Arab Gulf have not stood in the way of recovery so far.
Was it a brilliant marketing move or a cynic when the UAE Minister of Happiness and Quality of Life was appointed in February 2016? A few months later, the rulers of the Federation of Small States of the Persian Gulf went a step further and created a “Ministry of Tolerance” that had not existed anywhere in the world before. Unsuspecting strangers should be given an impression of an ideal world in which the Ministry of Welfare would “develop programs to make people happier”. Not all of them were, of course.
Only ten percent of the roughly ten million people have an Emirati passport. 90 percent are foreign migrant workers, nearly 70 percent of whom come from South Asia. They have transformed the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Quwain and Fujairah, which had only 200,000 people living when they merged on December 2, 1971, into thriving economic centers. For their work, in sometimes disastrous conditions, they were and still are falling short of hunger wages. Only in this way can the long-term prosperity and welfare of the minority be ensured.
The UAE has been on the fast track since its independence 50 years ago. The engine was and remains Dubai, whose rulers turned almost everything into gold. “Our emirate must always be number one” is the motto of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai. “No one cares who takes second place.”
Dubai’s position on arrogance
This arrogance almost drove Dubai to ruin. When a property bubble, inflated by the greed of local and Arab investors, burst in 2009, the putative second country, the wealthier but somewhat more modest neighboring emirate, secured the financial survival of the self-proclaimed “land of tomorrow” with billions of dollars in loans. The tallest building in the world, with a height of 828 meters, is no longer called “Burj Dubai” (Burj Dubai), but “Burj Khalifa.” The whole world should know that the emir of Abu Dhabi of the same name saved the mischievous brothers of Dubai. The shock of the real estate collapse was deep at first.
But in the long run, modesty doesn’t fit with the way Dubai sees itself. Only as number 1 can you remain attractive and attract tourists from all over the world. The UAE has managed to diversify its economy like never before in the Arab world. Oil and gas extraction now accounts for only a third of GDP. With great skill, the city-states on the Persian Gulf have managed to develop into a tax haven and a global financial services hub. In addition, brilliant marketing campaigns, for which millions are spent every year, have turned the Emirates into a capital of entertainment and shopping. Although Dubai is expensive, the half-year-long shopping festivals attract hundreds of thousands.
Paying influencers from all over the world manage to attract tourists to Dubai beaches year after year. There are only “parties”, we suggest lightly dressed bikini women in the pools of glistening five-star hotels. Rulers want visitors who are consuming and celebrate without criticism, business women and men who focus on their business and who don’t ask any other annoying questions.
For example, according to the rights of women in the Emirates, who cannot marry and divorce without the consent of a male guardian. In February of this year, the world learned from his daughter Latifa how brutally the ruler of Dubai treated his family. After her failed escape from her family mansion, she posted a video on the BBC. “I am now a hostage in a forbidden palace,” said the frightened woman. She denigrated her father as “evil in his own person”.
Two years earlier, on the occasion of the Pope’s visit, the ruling elders declared their country “the world’s capital of tolerance.” Unlike other countries in the Arabian Peninsula, places of worship for Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews are allowed in the Emirates as long as they are still not visible. Rights organizations accuse the government of using the slogan of religious tolerance to cover up its political fanaticism.
The UAE is also at the forefront when it comes to vaccination
“Even if they claim vehemently to be a progressive and tolerant country of law, the UAE has become frighteningly unsafe for academics, journalists, and activists in recent years,” says Human Rights Watch. But human rights abuses will not slow the recovery for now.
The epidemic caused an economic setback. However, the lockdown has been limited to a few months, because almost the entire population is now vaccinated – although the less effective Chinese vaccine was mainly given by Sinopharm. “We are also world champions when it comes to vaccination,” Gulf News said after the World Expo opened in October after a one-year delay. “Connecting Ideas, Shaping the Future” is the motto. It deals with pressing questions – for example, how the oceans can be cleaned of plastic waste, how aircraft become more environmentally friendly and climate-neutral transportation planning in major cities. The show won’t save the planet. As with other major events in the Emirates, the exhibition is used as a marketing tool to stimulate tourism.
In order for the economy to thrive, it must grow in double digits every year. Given the exposed location of the Emirates, it is surprising that this has mostly been achieved in the past few decades. The sheikhs established diplomatic relations with Israel only last year. Relations with neighboring Iran are still touted as good – also because trading partners need each other.
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