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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.

By John Kelly  |  February 24, 2009; 9:45 AM ET
 
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Comments

Perhaps Tiger Woods encouraged the Mayor to make the trip, since he is building a golf resort in Dubai. I'm sure Tiger's workers are well-treated, though.

Posted by: Epigon | February 24, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

I don't know how you established that you can't wear a bikini on the beach? I'm also not sure how you've determined that there is no culture? In a single sweep you have brushed aside thousands of years of the history of the Southeastern Arabian peninsula. Top notch work Mr. Kelly. More research, less bias next time...

Posted by: Casa1 | February 24, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse

As someone who's spent a year in Dubai, it was refreshing to read Mr. Kelly's views. He may not have done much research, but he got it right: Dubai is not a role-model for the Middle East or Arab world. It's just an autocratic, vulgar absurdity whose bubble was destined to burst sooner or later. Unfortunately, many hard-working people will pay the price. The actual engineers behind Dubai's 'growth' model will, of course, not be affected much. In the worst scenario, they simply buy back all their assets at low prices. The big developers are government-owned anyway.

Posted by: faysalitani | February 24, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Kelly...you're a complete idiot. Dubai is a wayyyyyyy cooler city than Washington, DC. Their discos and clubs rock. Don't open your mouth least you come out like an idiot.

Posted by: August30 | February 24, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

We may not yet know the whole truth about who paid what for whom on the Mayor's trip. Dubai has just had to borrow $10 billion to prevent default on its debt. Why would Dubai spend any money for a visit from a mayor with no political power to affect anything of interest to Dubai?

Cherchez le lobbyist.

Washington DC

Posted by: IanGilbert | February 24, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Forgive me, but I was under the obvious misconception that the Washington Post was reputed for it's high quality journalism. Today's reporters and columnists appear from this article to be a poor facsimile of those of the Woodward and Bernstein era.

Using Mr. Kelly's generalisations can we safely assume that:
(i) he is an morbidly obese male surviving on a diet of fast food;
(ii) injecting vast quantities of Colombia's finest botanical extracts; and
(iii) shooting at any similarly obese male from a moving motor vehicle, when not removing a concealed weapon to hold up a liquor store.

This article is a concoction of so myths and misconceptions taken from several Arab nations and simply thrown together to get the author's bigoted views into print. Anyone who has been to Dubai will know that it is one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world. The local people are friendly and are very keen to promote the cosmopolitan life style.

No one can deny that there are areas that need attention, but let's not forget that less than 40 years ago this city was little more than a sleepy fishing village. Many of the older generation of locals in Dubai did not receive any education.

The UAE government has recognized that areas such as workers rights need attention and have made concerted efforts to change laws and improve the working and living conditions for these migrant laborers. Vast new areas of workers accommodation have been built with improved living, cooking, and recreational facilities. A Friday spent in Dubai or any other Emirate would rapidly dispel the myth that migrant workers are caged into camps away from tourists as every free space is given over to games of cricket.

It's therefore more than a little arrogant to take the moral high ground on such issues when the author's own country openly discriminated against people due to their racial background or skin color in it's very recent history.

Maybe the author was simply jealous that Mayor Fenty was invited to visit Abu Dhabi as the guest of the UAE government. If he does ever escape his ivory tower and visit he will find a city with sufficient high-quality attractions to keep him and his unfortunate offspring entertained for years. Many are based on similar attractions in the USA and create many employment opportunities both in the UAE and USA for the author's readers.

Finally, the people of the Gulf region have a long history and diverse and interesting culture. Unlike the USA they do not need to import and steal culture from all points on the globe.

As with any country the trick is to respect the culture and different beliefs!

Posted by: mcnoodles | February 24, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Dubai is too cool and cosmopolitan for a fat stupid retard like John Kelly. He belongs in a boring crappy sh!th*le like DC, where you can't eat in a decent resturant or stay in a decent hotel.

Posted by: August30 | February 24, 2009 6:23 PM | Report abuse

I just got back from Dubai yesterday and if you can't understand why anyone would choose it as a vacation destination, perhaps you're not really cultured enough to write for the Post.

I went for the weekend - yes, a birthday weekend getaway to Dubai and it was a fantastic trip. A few questions for you John:

1. You do know that the Brits were warned by a police officer to stop or take it to their room, but they refused. When he returned to find them still there they got arrested. You knew that, right?

2. Did you tell your Egyptian friend that Iraq has probably has a longer history than Egypt and has oil, yet is also in shambles? Probably worse shape.

3. You do realize that Dubai has very little oil, right?

They may have their quirks, but do take the time to learn about a place before you choose to condemn it.

Posted by: 1fasthoo | February 25, 2009 12:58 AM | Report abuse

Mr Kelly, first of all, I am a Brit so thank you for your charmless insult to my fellow countrymen. However, in the case of the chav pair who were caught and warned about their behaviour by the local police, I have absolutely no sympathy for them. When you choose to live in another country like they did, and benefit from the party lifestyle that Dubai offers (as they did), it usually pays to have a bit more respect for the local laws. If you have the slightest shred of common sense. Of course, if you're stupid enough to continue your illegal activities and become abusive to the law, as this pair were, if the law then comes down heavily there's no one else to blame but yourselves. I have friends who have lived in Dubai, and know plenty who have visited, some of them several times, whilst Dubai isn't my personal cup of tea, I wouldn't dismiss on the grounds that I've never been there and I've heard a few things so it must be exactly as my assumptions say it is.

Posted by: sarahjmarquis | February 25, 2009 2:59 AM | Report abuse

I have lived in Dubai since 1996. There is nothing like it anywhere between Rome and Singapore. A bridge between East and West. A model of tolerance. And an economic miracle. To detractors I say: Visit Dubai first, then write your opinion.

Posted by: ZakWehby | February 25, 2009 3:57 AM | Report abuse

As a British magazine editor who has watched DUbai develop over the last two decades, I find it disturbing that a paper with reputation of the Post allows such unresearched rantings to reach print.

Might it not have been useful, for example, to explain the difference between Abu Dhabi (UAE capital) and Dubai (tourism/business centre), for example? Might it not have been germane to the story to explain the British couple on the beach were blind drunk (offence), swearing at the police (offence), throwing shoes at the police (offence) as well as having some form of fumbling sex in public (offence). Why were we not told which of these activities are permitted in downtown Washington...

And why not explain the backgound to the israeli tennis player ban? This is not just a Dubai thing, but a whole Arab League policy that has been in place for some years.

If you don't like Dubai, that's fine. But at least explain why with some intelligence and some humour...

Posted by: dave66 | February 25, 2009 6:14 AM | Report abuse

What is WITH these people? John Kelly is paid for his opinion. And two allegedly British journalists are slamming the WaPo for an opinion column? Like the Brits don't have opinions in their newspapers. For example, the Daily Telegraph.

As for no culture, I'm glad I finally found a use for my Russian History minor because I know what a "Potemkin" playland is. And even if Dubai is a cultural melting pot bridge between East and West, the basice fact that most of it is totally artificial cannot be denied. Of course Disney World (and countless other resorts) isn't real either.

Posted by: reddragon1 | February 25, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

I am a little taken aback by this article. I'm not sure where the editorial process fell through and who approved payment for this because it's certainly not good journalism. To be honest, it's barely journalism. Apart from being highly unsubstantiated and wide of the mark, it's offensive and crass. I don't think I'll be spending much time on a publication that sets such low standards for its journalists.

Posted by: SaraRefai | February 25, 2009 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Same Old Rant that has been heard from your peers in working for other papers. But here's what makes your opinion different, you seem so confident that this is not a fun place OR does not have culture without stepping foot at the place. Do you have any idea about initiatives by the builders or government to build better housing campuses for workers?

Don't forget that these millions of workers from the subcontinent have been provided with TAX FREE Income and are able to provide for their families back home by working in Dubai. Put Dubai 10,001 on your list of places to visit for all we care about where you are going next!

No one wants to hear your reviews if you have not even been there. Look at the bright side, its a wonderful place, lots of sunshine, with a COSMOPOLITIAN and diverse culture with people from more than 100+ countries settled there.

Posted by: VB01 | February 25, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Our politicians in DC are no different than Emirs of Dubai. They have their own rules, lobbying friends and jaunts all over the world at the nation's expense. Ask Pelosi and her congress members where did they go on thelast trip with their families and staff and who covered it. Why blame this poor DC mayor?

Posted by: KemCho | February 25, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Jeez, John. It is obvious that some people are operating under the delusion that what you say matters.

You're taking more heat over this than for the poison/gun blog entry. Probably shows that gun owners are more level headed than you thought.

Or they just understand my first paragraph better.

DLD

Posted by: DLDx | February 25, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Oh and shall we also mention that this city got freedom under British Rule in only 1972?

Its an exemplery display of how proper management can get amazing results. For example: talk about thinking of building a metro system in Dubai and voila! You have more than 40+ stations under construction with the first line ready to start within 5 years of conception of the project.

And speaking of culture, I guess Mr. Kelly did not find an article to criticize the wonderful heritage sites spread across Dubai and the rest of the country.

It's not that one cannot take criticism for Dubai or for that matter any country and Dubai does have its negative points, but its his blatant ignorance and typical attitude is what was not expected of a writer from the post. Talking about Snow removal bring discussed between the mayor and municipal authorities? Crappy Sarcasm is what I call it!

Posted by: VB01 | February 25, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

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