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[Dubai is] a schizophrenic place because you'll walk down the beach and see Muslim women wearing hijab... then you'll see European men in speedos. You'll see a mosque, and right across the street from the mosque, there's a nightclub!
Ahmed Ahmed, The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour

Quite simply put, Las Vegas on steroids. Lots of steroids. With mosques. A Boom Town and a half, it now possesses the tallest building on the planet (not finished internally), the Burj Dubai Burj Khalifa[1], which is 828 metres tall, along with the Burj Al-Arab (a sail-shaped, self-proclaimed 7-star hotel), the Palm Islands (three massive, palm-shaped artificial islands that will be the site of major development -- or at least, were intended to), and The World (similar to the Palm Islands, but the archipelago is in the shape of Earth's continents, and is nine kilometers wide).

Considering the place was mostly desert just 20 years ago, it's some achievement. This boom seriously couldn't last.

And it didn't. Thanks to the economic crisis, workers are fleeing (to avoid debtor's prison), luxury cars are sitting abandoned, and towering skyscrapers are going empty with nobody to move in. Despite massive financial offers, it also proved impossible to find any world-class chefs that wanted to open restaurants there. Which goes to show, obscene wealth can't compensate for a total lack of fresh produce (such absurdities include a bag of lettuce being sold for around US$10). There's a very high likelihood that, in a few years, Dubai will be looked at as a symbol of the Turn of the Millennium -- an entire metropolis built upon a mountain of debt, where everybody (apart from the peons who built the place, that is) lived like King Louis XIV, until the debt was finally called in, and the whole thing came crashing down. The state-owned investment company Dubai World looks like it's about to default on $60 billion of sovereign debt and the state got a large bailout loan from Abu Dhabi. (Their crowning achievement, a 2,717-foot-tall office tower, is now named for Abu Dhabi's ruler.) It's an entire city becoming Deader Than Disco, going from the ultimate Boom Town into a real-life, desert version of Rapture... minus the Big Daddies and general anarchy (and any genuine devotion to actual market economics; the city's boom was, after all, funded by government debt), of course.

Or maybe not. It remains to be seen whether the debt crisis will be a temporary and relatively limited affair or set off a long term decline for the city state. Other cities have gone through similar experiences and ended up okay in the long run, so it may be jumping the gun to suggest the city is going to go the way of Atlantis. Just look at L.A., it went through numerous boom-bust cycles and it still isn't supposed to collapse into the sea until 2012.

Some of us would like to know whose idea it was to build an area of a huge shopping mall with 300 jewelry shops.

In fiction

  • Features in the Iraq War drama Occupation.
  • The game Escape From St Marys is set in a Dubai school. A Dubai Catholic school.
  • Upcoming game SpecOps: The Line takes place in Dubai after the city is wrecked by a disastrous sandstorm.
  • The upcoming game Ace Combat game Ace Combat: Assault Horizon will feature Dubai and the Tower ingame.
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol set the second quarter of the plot (and 90% of the trailers) inside (and just outside) the Burj Khalifa.
  • The "Hotel Oasis" in Modern Warfare 3 is pretty much ripped straight from the Burj Al Arab.


  1. Named after the ruler of Abu Dhabi, who bailed the place out
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