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Dubai, the British media and a whiff of snobbery

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Angus Taverner

Director- Global Affairs

Tag: UAE Dubai
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For the past year journalists around the world have competed for the right metaphors to pass harsh judgments on Dubai: expressing increasing dismay and sometimes even glee at the challenges the emirate is facing. They have quoted Percy Byshe Shelleys Ozymandias to the point of clich, making visions of the Dubai dream sinking back into the desert sands tiresome.
With Dubai Worlds announcement at the end of November that it was requesting a debt standstill, journalistic attack grew in crescendo to the tenor of a lynch mob.  Because the British media have portrayed Dubai in the darkest and most damaging ways, one has to ask why, especially when so many Brits choose to holiday, work or simply live in this corner of the Middle East.
The answer may lie in an enduring love-hate relationship with Dubai.  Dubai offers the positives that many hope for in the Middle East: tolerance, willing embrace of capitalism, a globally-orientated place to do business or take a holiday.  At the same time the chattering classes abhor what they saw as un-British ostentation and pre-occupation with making and spending money of the flashier Brits that Dubai can attract.  For them Dubai is less a centre of international business than the natural milieu of the footballers wife and an extension into Arabia of Spains Costa del Sol.
Dubai suffers, then, for tolerating British excess. 
Moreover, for daring to be an upstart and becoming a living experience for development in a region known as a center of conflict, Dubai has become a victim of old-fashioned British snobbery--being derided by Johann Hari in The Independent, scorned by Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times and mauled by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian.  Despite the mistakes the emirate admits it has made, it does not warrant the malicious opprobrium aimed at it.  If the British commentariat took time to talk with ordinary Emiratis and to walk with the expat workers who are still making their livings in Dubai, then they might find a more sophisticated and better-intentioned Dubai, one that bears brighter hope, than they can perceive through the haze from their London-based ivory towers.

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