"This is the best place in the world to be young! The government pays for your education up to PhD level. You get given a free house when you get married. You get free healthcare, and if it's not good enough here, they pay for you to go abroad. You don't even have to pay for your phone calls. Almost everyone has a maid, a nanny, and a driver. And we never pay any taxes. Don't you wish you were Emirati?"
Interviewee to Johann Hari
The question of course is what if you are not a native.
If you are not, you can find yourself sympathizing--silently--with the people who are trapped in Dubai. Their description of the region is a little different.
I wrote yesterday about Robert Fisk's article about racism in the Muslim World.
Now, Johann Hari writes about The Dark Side of Dubai, a place intended as "a Middle-Eastern Shangri-La." He reports on the other side, where foreigners who come to work and find success--instead find themselves trapped, and their passports confiscated. They discover that there is no concept of bankruptcy and being in debt means time in prison. Speaking out means having yourself and your family blacklisted. Dubai is answerable to Abu Dhabi, to which it owes 107% of its entire GDP.
Hari paints a picture of what the real Dubai is really like, based a variety of interviews--many with people telling stories about how desperate live is to be a foreigner living in Dubai.
- This is the most terrible place! I hate it! I was here for months before I realised – everything in Dubai is fake. Everything you see. The trees are fake, the workers' contracts are fake, the islands are fake, the smiles are fake – even the water is fake!" But she is trapped, she says. She got into debt to come here, and she is stuck for three years: an old story now. "I think Dubai is like an oasis. It is an illusion, not real. You think you have seen water in the distance, but you get close and you only get a mouthful of sand.
"The thing you have to understand about Dubai is – nothing is what it seems," Karen says at last. "Nothing. This isn't a city, it's a con-job. They lure you in telling you it's one thing – a modern kind of place – but beneath the surface it's a medieval dictatorship."
- The work is "the worst in the world," he says. "You have to carry 50kg bricks and blocks of cement in the worst heat imaginable ... This heat – it is like nothing else. You sweat so much you can't pee, not for days or weeks. It's like all the liquid comes out through your skin and you stink. You become dizzy and sick but you aren't allowed to stop, except for an hour in the afternoon. You know if you drop anything or slip, you could die. If you take time off sick, your wages are docked, and you are trapped here even longer."
- A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: "There's a huge number of suicides in the camps and on the construction sites, but they're not reported. They're described as 'accidents'." Even then, their families aren't free: they simply inherit the debts. A Human Rights Watch study found there is a "cover-up of the true extent" of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.
It is not a pretty picture, and certainly not the generally accepted image of Dubai.
However, at a time that there might be a slow and begrudging acceptance of what life might really be like in the Muslim world, stories like the above may be exposed more frequently.
Hat tip: EG
Technorati Tag: Racism and Dubai and Johann Hari.