Dubai? Du Why? Mayor Fenty's Odd Trip
Dubai? What a weird place for Mayor Fenty to go. True, it is listed in "1,000 Places to See Before You Die," but then again so is Sturgis, S.D.
The United Arab Emirates paid the mayor's way. Fenty paid for his family to accompany him. While there, he spoke about "very general" topics, such as economic development. The Washington City Paper reported that Fenty met with the chairman of Abu Dhabi's Department of Municipal Affairs. Maybe they talked about snow removal. I understand that Abu Dhabi has never had to close its schools because of snow.
Or maybe they talked about professional tennis. Washington is host to the annual Legg Mason Tennis Classic, which is just like Dubai's big tournament, except, presumably, we let Israeli athletes compete.
Or maybe they talked about crime and ways to control it. The United Arab Emirates has a zero-tolerance approach to illegal drugs, which includes some over-the-counter prescriptions. According to the State Department's Web site, "possession of even trace amounts of illegal drugs has resulted in sentences of four years imprisonment for foreign citizens transiting the UAE." Don't drink and drive, either. For Muslims, penalties include lashings. (I wonder what the punishment for not filing your tax returns is.)
I've never been to Dubai -- it's Number 1,001 on my personal list -- and I can't understand why anyone would choose it as a vacation destination. People always mention the incredible high-rise hotels and the creatively-shaped man-made islands. But what do you once you get there? As far as I can tell, there's no culture. Foreigners can drink in the hotel bar, but don't venture onto the beach in a bikini and definitely don't get smashed, venture onto the beach in a bikini and then get all "From Here to Eternity." Last year, a British couple was sentenced to three months in jail for doing that. (While I agree there are few sights more unpleasant than a pair of drunk, pasty-skinned Brits making the beast with two backs, that seems excessive.)
The wealthy emirs of the Gulf States are building Potemkin playlands with the help of millions of migrant workers who are little more than indentured servants. An acquaintance who lives in Dubai described how these workers -- from places like India, the Philippines and poorer Arab states -- are forbidden from leaving their barbed wire-enclosed work camps, lest they tarnish the city's image. Weird.
Another friend, from Cairo, lamented that his country has thousands of years of culture and is the birthplace of Arab publishing and filmmaking but has no oil wealth and thus is a shambles. Meanwhile, the Gulf States are blessed with petrodollars, which they spend on luxury cars, skyscrapers and palm tree-shaped islands.
Here's hoping Mayor Fenty invites his Arab counterpart to spend a week in Washington. Yes, it may be dirty, crime-ridden and -- this time of year anyway -- cold, but I've gotta think it's a lot more fun than Dubai.
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