Earlier this evening, BBC World aired a much publicised documentary that immediately labels itself with calculated negativity in the title "Dubai Dashed Dreams." Embedded above is the Arabic version. I will post the English feature as soon as it surfaces via legal sources.
I, for one, feel compelled to document my rant due to the unsettling nature of this seemingly objective documentary. The piece features four characters: a prominent Emirati, a bankrupt Englishman, an Egyptian architect and a Bangladeshi security guard -- all with their versions of a newly recessed Dubai.
While these 52 minutes document a genuinely sad reality for three out of the four protagonists, two sore points stand out with calculated precision:
1 - One cannot help but notice the slow, yet crafty disparagement of Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and his vision. Cynicism aside, several of his quotes -- cleverly spliced in between gargantuan footage of Dubai's most famous icons of success; the Palm Islands, et al -- gradually paint Dubai as a lost cause, and its leader, a narrow-minded dictator. It goes as far as to state that Sheikh Mohammed's ambition outweighed logic, disregarded Dubai's oldest families, and has been fueled by a singular thirst to realise his father's dream. If watched without other reference points, the feature almost caricatures him as an arrogant sensationalist, using out-of-context quotes such as "Dubai is the world," or "Dubai does not need investors. Investors need Dubai."
2 - A rift between Abu Dhabi and Dubai constantly takes centre-stage throughout the feature; glorifying an epic struggle between the cities, as if in the midst of a cold war. First, it states Sheikh Rashid's (the founder of Dubai and father of Sheikh Mohammed) apparent displeasure at 'joining the federal union' proposed by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed. It then sprinkles a few cliched references to Abu Dhabi's sensational bail-out of Dubai. The controversial Burj Dubai renaming is hypothesised to be a debt-enforced act of humiliation. Throughout the documentary, author Christopher Davidson's comments about a deep-rooted federal dysfunction as the reason for Dubai's financial woes, are especially surprising.
I do not aspire to defend this city with blind faith, either. The reality of Dubai's lack of bankruptcy laws, long-term residency, and minimum wage for its labourers, is undeniably sad. Prominent Emirati businessman Yahya Lootah's denial of the '500 Dirhams' wage that workers routinely cite, was unfortunate. The eventual arrest of the British businessman too, will resonate with more and more people amidst today's financial climate.
This is no victory for Brand Dubai. Although the BBC artfully camouflages this documentary as a balanced piece of journalism, it stings like an age-old colonial souvenir: a mine-field of artificially planted conflicts among colonial footholds of the British empire. The closing scene dramatically juxtaposes footage of Sheikh Mohammed walking away into a barren and deserted horizon, with one of his quotes -- at first questioning whether he has chosen the right path for his people, followed by his conviction, and intention to continue in its pursuit.
Perhaps my reaction has been disproportionate, but this finale, like much of the documentary, seems deliberate in its ridicule of Dubai.
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