Welcome to my ramblings. In the light of so much media hype being directed at my home of Dubai of late, I would like to offer a view of life on this side of the fence. One of the primary criticisms of the US and UK based journalists that have written in critique of Dubai of late has been the fact that they are generally jetted in, spend a week here at most, knock out 1000 wds (Or in Johann Hari's case, 9000 wds), and swiftly board the plane back home.
Myself, I have been here for years. I write for a national newspaper, based in Dubai, but covering the length and breadth of the UAE, and, whenever possible, other Middle Eastern nations. I was born and educated in several less-than-attractive areas of the UK before moving to this region some time ago, and so have seen things from both sides of the coin. Now, I would like to begin this blog, for a change, by doing as I have been told.
In response to Johann Hari's article, Sultan Al Qassemi came out punching with a spirited - not so much "defence" of Dubai, but an assault on the UK. Perhaps living by that old football manager adage, the best form of defence is attack? Or maybe he realised that there is little point in defending the indefencible, and so gave up before he had even started?
Either way, Sultan Al Qassemi instructed us, "If you think Dubai is bad, just look at your own country." And so I did, taking the first two points of Al Qassemi's most handy point-by-point diagnosis as my guide. There will be more on the proceeding points of Al Qassemi's article in my later posts.
- "In wealthy first world Britain there are 380,000 homeless people, many of them mentally ill, starving and abandoned in sub-zero temperatures to live on the streets."
In Dubai, should you happen to be a UAE national, if you marry a fellow national, the state will give you, at the very least, a plot of land, or in most cases, a villa. There is no homelessness among nationals. How can the state afford this? Because there is no welfare state. Instead, if you lose your job, through no fault of your own, and cannot pay the bank loan that you took out to pay the rent 12 months in advance, as is the norm, you will be sent to prison. There is no legal concept of bankruptcy. No state assistance.
Further, the reason why there are no mentally ill people walking the streets of Dubai, is not because there is no mental illness here. Of course there is. But the stigma attached to mental illness across the Middle East means that there is no concept of care in the community. The mentally ill are simply herded up and shipped off to some unknown destination, where they cannot stain the marble finish shopping malls, sun-kissed beaches, and plush hotel complexes.
Finally, when it comes to homelessness, let us look at the lowest earners in Dubai. The migrant labourers. Well, we all know of their standard of accommodation, do we not? The poorest construction worker or hotel doorman in the UK can live a life of dignity, thanks to this extraordinary concept they call the minimum wage. It criminalises exploitation. No doubt the UK government could introduce the concept of labour camps to house the homeless? To give food and warmth to those starving people? Hang on a sec - isn't that what homeless shelters are for?
Now, Al Qassemi, you tell me the difference between a London homeless shelter and a Dubai labour camp? Other than the fact that the residents of a Dubai labour camp actually have jobs, of course. Only no money, no dignity, no rights, no equality, no meat, or fish, etc, etc, etc.
- Britain, the so called "jail capital of Western Europe" sentenced in 2006 alone a staggering additional 12,000 women to prison and up to seven babies a month are born in jail where they spend their crucial first months.
Al Qassemi, do you really want to defend the Middle East by starting on the treatment of women in society? Maybe Britain sentenced 12,000 women to prison in 2006? Maybe this was because women do not live in abject fear of the state? I wonder how many of them were jailed for adultery? Zero. Adultery in the UAE is a criminal offence for a woman. And I should know. Not for a man, I might add.
This will have to do for now. I will be returning to the Sultan's further points in future posts. Also, let me add, Human Rights Watch is to release a report into media freedom in the UAE in a few days time. Something that will give me plenty more to write on.