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From Atlantis To The Metro - The Tale Of Two Openings

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Angus Taverner

Director- Global Affairs

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On the symbolically appropriate date of 09.09.09, the new Dubai Metro opened with due ceremony by the Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE.  While the Metro marks another example of Dubais ability to drive infrastructure projects to completion just 4 years from conception to delivery, it also may be a turning point in the medias prevailing narrative concerning the future of Dubai.
The evening before The Ruler cut the ribbon on the Middle Easts first rail transit project, he invited the international media to a Press Conference at his home.  While well-known on the international circuit, Sheikh Mohammed prefers to let his aides and lieutenants do the talking.  His direct encounters with the media are rare and therefore well-attended when offered.  The Sheikh is adept at shaping the medias agenda through pacing his direct encounters to moments when it really counts.
His offering seems to have paid off with many picking up on his insistence that: I dont think we made any mistakes.  Our (future) strategy will be really the same but things will change a little bit because of this crisis and we will be more careful now.  These reassuring words appear to have shifted the media perception of Dubais future from negative to positive.  Moreover, other Dubai leaders took their cue and have continued to build a picture of a future Dubai that is bright, if a little more conservative.  The worst for us and for that matter, Dubai, is over, the Chairman of Dubai World, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, insisted to Gulf News on 21st September.
Two building projects may bracket the history of the emirates financial crisis and credit crunch: one symbolising the end of an era and a second marking the start of a new one.  The first, the wildly extravagant opening of The Atlantis Palm Hotel, became a totemic display of Dubais wealth and appetite for excess.  The news stories that ensued were filled with statistics concerning the tonnage of lobsters consumed by most of the worlds A-List celebrities.  At the moment that the world seemed poised for a Great Depression, Dubais Neros were fiddling as the fireworks burned.
Twelve months on the gently muted opening of the Dubai Metro symbolises a very different, perhaps chastened but still determined emirate.  Scarred by reports of plunging property values, unsustainable debts, and rumours of a fire-sale of assets to neighbouring Abu Dhabi, Dubai appears to be being a little more careful.  A fresh media narrative captures this in a new refrain: the first signs of recovery are clearly discernible; debts are likely to be repaid; and the world welcomes the consolidation of Dubais plethora of trading entities. 

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