Viewpoint by Rahul Singh
DUBAI, UAE (IDN) — Dubai must be one of the most unusual places in the world. It is one of the seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary as an independent, united country. Contrary to what people imagine, Dubai has little oil (Abu Dhabi, the largest emirate, is the oil-rich one). Its prosperity is largely based on trade and commerce, the communications infrastructure there being among the world’s best.
And, as is well known, efficient up-to-date communications are the keys to rapid progress. India is sadly lacking in this. Almost every major international company has a presence in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Not surprisingly, the UAE ranks 11th in the world for the ease of doing business, whereas India is low down in the bottom half.
Due to terrorism and the oppression of women in many societies, Islam is unfortunately associated with backwardness and widespread violence. The UAE is a shining exception, with its modernity and liberal outlook. Dubai has been called “the Singapore of the Arab world”, an apt description.
Dubai, like Singapore, is squeaky clean, with top-rate public transport, and matchless financial infrastructure. Above all, it is an entirely safe and law-abiding place to live in. A woman can go out alone late at night, without any fear of being molested. That cannot be said of many developed western countries.
I was in Dubai two decades ago, for almost a year, as Editor of a daily newspaper. I was there again recently for a few days. The place was unrecognizable: so many new residential buildings and commercial establishments had come up that I was completely lost and disoriented!
This time I tagged along with my tennis-playing buddy, Juzar Khorakiwala, head of Biostadt, a high-tech agro-chemical company. He was leading a 30-member delegation of the Indian Merchants Chamber (IMC), Mumbai’s premier business and trade organization. The main intention was to visit “EXPO2020 DUBAI”, apart from meeting other chambers of commerce.
[Expo 2020 is a World Expo, currently hosted by Dubai in the United Arab Emirates from October 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022. Originally scheduled for October 20, 2020 to April 10, 2021, it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.]
“Four years ago, this was entirely sand”, says Pankaj Savera, a veteran of the UAE, who was showing us around. “Today, EXPO2020 covers a vast 125 acres, double the size of Monaco, with 192 countries participating, making it probably one of the largest of its kind ever held.”
Dubai likes to think Big. It also makes sure it completes whatever it sets its mind to in the shortest possible time, no matter the cost. A humongous $12 billion has been spent on EXPO2020. And after its planned six months is over, except for five country pavilions (India’s is one of them), everything will be dismantled and something else will take its place!
However, by that time 50 million people are expected to have visited the EXPO. The Indian pavilion, architect of which Dikshu Kukreja, is one of the largest, three stories-high, with elevators and lifts. It showcases Indian culture and the nation’s major achievements. Prime Minister Narendra Modi features prominently throughout, starting with pics of him in various yoga positions.
The only incongruity I noticed was the varying length of his beard in different pictures. India’s Consul General, Aman Puri, despite re-confirming that he would be briefing the IMC delegation, the largest to visit the EXPO to date, failed to turn up—typifying the disrespect habitually shown to Indian business by senior bureaucrats.
A lady from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) was deputed instead. She informed us that about ¢49 million had been spent on the Indian pavilion, with FICCI adding another $23 million. However, the Japanese and Saudi pavilions were the bigger attractions, with hour-long queues waiting to get inside.
The UAE, and in particular Dubai’s, success story, is in reality an Indian one. Indian enterprise and hard work have been the major contributors, showing what we as a people can achieve, given the right, hassle-free environment.
Of the UAE’s total 10 million population, 3.5 million—35 per cent—are Indians. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis make up most of the other “expatriates”. The estimated 680,000 Phillippinos in the UAE have lately been making a major impact, their biggest advantage being their fluency in English and their willingness to “dirty their hands”, if necessary, which Indians and Pakistanis are reluctant to do.
Incredibly, only 10 per cent of the UAE population are native Emiratis. Most of them are highly educated, with progressive ideas. They, along with the Sheikhs and their advisers, provide the enlightened leadership, so essential for success.
Those from the Indian sub-continent may be the main entrepreneurs and workers, but the Sheikhs provide the initiative. Malayalis seems to thrive in the UAE, especially the Muslims. Their affinity with another Islamic country is certainly a contributing factor, but it goes beyond that. Kerala’s rampant labour unions and repeated agitations have severely dampened its progress. In the UAE there are no strikes and unions are not permitted. That system evidently suits Keralites, rather than what they experience at home.
But there is an ugly side to Dubai that may be hidden but is very real. Underworld and “black” money flows in unimpeded. Hotels are pointed out to you which are apparently owned by various Dons. Dawood Ibrahim used to openly operate from Dubai, even going to cricket matches.
[Dawood is an unapprehended Indian gangster and drug kingpin from Dongri, Mumbai. He reportedly heads the Indian organised crime syndicate, D-Company, which he founded in Mumbai in the 1970s.]
Bollywood’s connect with the underworld was often made apparent in Dubai. Amitabh Bachchan attended Dawood’s son’s birthday, a photo of which was published in a Sunday paper that I once edited (there was no denial).
[Amitabh Bachchan is an Indian actor, film producer, television host, occasional playback singer and former politician known for his work in Hindi cinema. He is regarded as one of the most influential actors in the history of Indian cinema.]
Sharad Shetty (a Dubai-based Indian businessman), a long-time associate of Dawood, was shot dead in the India Club in January 2003, in a gangland killing, while I was working in Dubai.
David Lyon, who spent several years reporting on Afghanistan, revealed at the recent online Khushwant Singh Literary Festival (KSLF) that much of the billions of dollars that the US government had sent to “contractors” for providing arms and training to the Afghan army had, instead, been diverted illegally to the UAE. No wonder the Afghan army simply melted away, and the Taliban triumphed so swiftly.
A free-wheeling economy operates in the country. You can pay for your purchases by credit card, or cash, no questions asked, no matter how big the purchase. No income tax is levied by the government, though there are plenty of indirect taxes. The flesh trade operates openly at the bars of five-star hotels.
But then, that’s the no-holds-barred Dubai that keeps everybody happy which attracts even more people from India. Along with the obvious, hard and honestly earned prosperity, there is the hidden, but undeniable underbelly of illegal cash. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 November 2021]
Photo: Dubai must be one of the most unusual places in the world. It is one of the seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Source: tribuneindia.com
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