Saturday, April 17, 2010

My thoughts on Foreign Policy's Dubai Goes Legit story

I have been casually bothered by the quality of coverage Dubai has received for many years now. The same publications, and some of writers, who blatantly paraded it as the beacon of hope of not only the Arab world but, frankly, the world, are now calling it the manifestation of all things wrong with Islam, capitalism and anything that comes in between. I’ve been casually bothered by it because, as I’ve said before, that the world is run those who show up; and we have failed to show up. This is all the more poignant when you think of how comfortable we were at promoting ourselves as the city of all things which I still believe we are meant to be: a culturally diverse, socially tolerant, economically diversified progressive emirate.

So when the Sun and or the Independent say Dubai is finished this lends itself to morning tea (with milk) ‘edutainment’. I say this because, save the Economist, British journalism has reached a state of disillusionment that is so senile that one can no longer expect objective coverage from it; everything has become tabloid.

When Foreign Policy (FP) magazine does the same my reaction is significantly higher than bothered and I assure you it is not casual either. My bias is by driven the high regard I hold the FP. Moreover, it was very unsettling to see how wrong they had gotten Dubai and how much of inaccurate picture was drawn.

After quoting Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi’s recent article calling clarity on public behavior and Dr. Abulkhaleq Abdullah’s calls for preserving national identity, they go on and quote that the National has said that ‘many‘ Emiratis are moving back to the desert because of the number of foreigners in Dubai. The National’s story doesn’t even come close to insinuating that the number of Emiratis moving to the desert is significant, let alone state that they are ‘many’. Alas, the average North American reader who relies on the FP for accurate ‘foreign’ analysis now thinks that Emiratis are deserting (all pun intended) their houses in Jumeirah for tents in Al Lisaili.

The story moves on to demystify the shift in power in Dubai Inc. They start off well, saying that astute members of merchant families of Dubai are taking over the helms from Western-educated Emiratis in public entities. Then they go on to state that those very merchant families are poorer but politically stronger than the Western-educated civil servants. How can the traditional merchant families be poorer than civil servants?! Even the corrupt ones. Then they site the replacement of Sultan Bin Sulayem as chairman of Nakheel with Ali Lootah as proof to that. What does Sultan Bin Sulayem’s American education have anything to do with his removal? Why isn’t Mohammed Al Abbar removed as well then? Could it perhaps be due to the varying levels of financial and managerial health Nakheel and Emaar are respectively in?

I especially enjoyed the drawing of Sultan Bin Sulayem as the young progressive Emirati and Ali Lootah (do they even know what he looks like?) as the epitome of all things conservative.

After this the story attempts to flirt with the possibility of Dubai becoming as conservative as Sharjah. They liken Dubai’s current financial troubles to Sharjah’s financial woes in the 1980s which allegedly called on Saudi for financial support and in return, by banning alcohol sale and consumption and enforcing a dress code, it became the UAE’s most conservative emirate. They quickly dismiss it as a far fetched scenario of course siting Abu Dhabi’s commitment to Dubai. FP Tabloid?

FP comforts though, saying that the Burj Khalifa name change is so far the only interference by Abu Dhabi in Dubai’s affairs so far. Let’s see, you provide a $20 billion bailout and you ask for a name change? Does anyone believe that a phone call came from Abu Dhabi ask for the tower's name to be changed? Petty analysis.

The Iranian analysis is probably the only interesting part of the article though it is too general and fails to understand how much more complex the UAE(not just Dubai)-Iran relationship is.

Only significant difference from the usual Dubai bashing article was the closing that Dubai will improve the manner by which it conducts its affairs and quoting three others analysts of Dubai beyond Professor Christopher Davidson.

I expected more from Foreign Policy, much more.


Anonymous Adnan Dawood said...

well i dont blame them. after what dubai has been doing lately in terms of laws and random arrests, even i, as a resident all my life cant seem to know which way it is going.

cities like any brands, need to be predictable. thats when they become comfortable for all involved - citizens, expatriates, tourists, investors, businessmen, journalists, etc. Dubai is experiencing what any brand experiences when it breaks a promise repetitively. And that opens it up for some great speculative journalism, and then anything is fair game - as we have seen in the recent press.

So while there may be inaccuracies in the FPs commentary in reading between the lines, they arent unwarranted as we all dont know which way Dubai is going !

Saturday, April 17, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...
My thoughts on your critique..

Sunday, April 18, 2010  
Anonymous Conor Purcell said...

Thanks for your thoughts, my rebuttal:

Sunday, April 18, 2010  
Blogger Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

Is the FT not on your reading list?
Very factually correct in my experience and not at all suffering with dementia!

I endorse your other points and wonder what FP writers would make of the desert around Kuwait City during winter!

Sunday, April 18, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. This kind of sloppy reporting is not acceptable from any media, but much less so from FP.

However, that said, it is beholden upon Dubai and indeed every other place, entity or individual, to ensure it tells its own story accurately, credibly and in a timely fashion.

While no-one disputes the inaccuracies, assumptive nature and one sidedness of this article and others like it, nor can anyone dispute that Dubai could be more timely, credible and accurate in the telling of its own story to the world.

This is perhaps changing now in the light of the world financial crisis and the increased responsiveness and transparency now required or demanded by the world's investors / media / commentators (who were once only too delighted at the perceived lack of rules & regulations and the "easy going way")and Dubai is beginning to tell its story a little better.

Institutionally however, the emirate needs to overcome the fear of failure. All greatness, whether individual or at a country level, is achieved through not only learning and effort, but also through reflection and study of the things that do not go well. Dubai is undergoing a period of transition which involves this reflection and study - perhaps imposed by necessity rather than choice - and this is helpful.

IF the emirate can then balance its communications and aim at dialogue rather than monologue then there is a good chance that the great things about this place and its leadership can be communicated with lasting effect and create the goodwill and understanding that cushion the difficult times and the bad news that inevitably comes with them.

So if you want to put an end to Dubai bashing, then fill the vaccuum that is currently there in communications terms with real news, analysis and context - warts and all.

And - importantly - if you want to avoid Professor Christopher Davidson becoming the authority on all things UAE, then provide a Emirati spokersperson from the Government who is empowered to talk, who speaks with knowledge and who is prepared to answer questions, both easy and difficult.

You have identified the issue very well. Maybe you can use your name, position and intelligence to persuade people to take the solution as seriously as the problem.

Sunday, April 18, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mishaal, Are you getting FP confused with Foreign Affairs? FP has always been pretty crappy.

Monday, April 19, 2010  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home