November 21, 2005 3:17 PM PST

Dubai: 'Like Singapore on steroids'

DUBAI--The Burj Al Arab, one of the world's premier luxury hotels, doesn't have Wi-Fi.

It does, however, feature a personalized butler for each of the 202 rooms (suites, actually, which cover a few hundred square meters each), a helipad and Rolls Royce service to the airport. The hotel's 1,400-person staff includes a team of aquarium specialists from Britain who tend to the hotel's decorative fish tanks. Rates start at $1,250 a night.


It's only one of the many audacious buildings in Dubai, the latest frontier for Wild West investing. Another company, Emaar, is constructing the Burj Al Dubai, which could become the world's tallest building in a few years, while rival Nakheel is constructing man-made islands in the shape of palm trees, called the Palms, and another set of islands shaped like a map of the world. Add to the mix one of the world's biggest indoor ski slopes, which just opened, and an 8-million-square-foot amusement park opening in the near future.

You also see work by Bin Laden, the father of the al-Qaida leader. This explains the "Sorry for the inconvenience--Bin Laden" signs at detours.

A staggering rise in oil prices, combined with a fear that oil reserves may slow in the next few decades, has transformed what was a somewhat regional hub into what some believe could be the world's next megalopolis. The excitement is attracting an army of snazzy visitors, as well as an army of expats. Every day brings something new.

A few nights ago, Rabea Ataya, chief executive officer of, a Middle East version of, spotted former U.S. President Bill Clinton in the upper lobby of the Burj. On another occasion, while riding an escalator, Ataya spied Sir Richard Branson of the U.K.-based Virgin Group holding court about the Virgin Megastore that just opened here (and perhaps bringing space travel to the United Arab Emirates). Tennis player Roger Federer had passed through a few days earlier.

Stock market fever is in full swing. Growth of about 70 percent in the price of a stock in a single year is considered normal here. Some investors crowding into banks to buy shares in the IPO for Dana Gas erupted into a fistfight last week.

Though the country is pinning part of its future on developing a tech economy, oil is the engine behind the growth. Oil revenue from the Gulf Coast countries, or GCC, is expected to reach $240 billion to $250 billion this year, according to the Gulf News, a local newspaper. Every dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil represents $5 billion of income for the GCC. Petroleum profits feed directly into the ongoing projects to diversify the economy.

The results are easy to see. Roughly 22 percent of the world's supply of construction cranes is here. In all, $224 billion in construction projects are under way in the UAE, the federation of states that includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with most of them occurring here.

Benefits for Westerners
Besides the abundance of white-collar jobs, Western expatriots are drawn to benefits like no income tax, sometimes subsidized housing and a chance to get in on something big.

For Westerners thinking of jumping into the froth, be warned that local circumstances take some getting used to.

Undercover police agents, for instance, are everywhere. "You can criticize the government in a bar, but watch out what you say in a grocery store," said one Western ad executive. Another source recalled how a friend got into an argument in line for movie tickets--the friend hurled an insult and his antagonist kicked him. Seconds later, a janitor dropped his broom and brandished a badge. So did about four other bystanders.

"Dubai is like Singapore on steroids," said James Adams, a marketing manager for Dubai Silicon Oasis, a tech park for silicon designers that's currently under construction.

A broad range of activities can lead to jail time. Living with someone of either gender who is not your spouse can lead to a sentence, though the authorities prosecute only in rare instances. Public displays of affection can lead to legal trouble. Giving the finger to another driver can also draw a warning from the police, one source said. In a letter to the editor, one person was recently incensed that American pop star Michael Jackson didn't get prosecuted for accidentally walking into a woman's bathroom on a recent visit.

"Maybe that sort of thing goes on in Western countries," the person wrote.

On the other hand, street crime is nonexistent and no terrorist attacks have occurred. "I am glad (undercover police) are there," said one British consultant who moved here after stints in the U.S. and Europe.

Also, the country isn't necessarily cheap. Until recently, landlords were regularly raising rents by 100 percent or so a year. A four-bedroom villa can go for 180,000 dirhams ($50,000) a year, while a two-bedroom apartment can go for about half that. The government this month announced that rent increases would be capped at 15 percent a year, but locals expect landlords to devise workarounds.

One young developer trying to live cheaply in a 28,000 dirham ($7,800) per year apartment recently got a notice that the apartment would now be furnished (though he already has furniture) and rent would climb to 40,000 dirhams. Shoddy construction and poor maintenance are common complaints.

The lure of being on the ground floor of possibly the next big thing, though, is tempting.

"I kept seeing the ads for Dubai International Airport on CNN," said one employee at a multinational consulting firm, "and figured I must be missing out on something."


Join the conversation!
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Jobs in Dubai
I have been wondering about jobs in Dubai for a while (have not done anything about it). Any thoughts on how one would look into this?
Posted by mlwhall (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Singapore with no undercover police
There is no undercover police in Singapore at all. In fact there is a lack of enforcement of certain laws althrough we do have certain ridiculous laws still in place left behind by the British.
However if the comparison is made due to the economic similarities, it has to be said Dubai has definitely move streets ahead of Singapore. In fact Singapore is learning from Dubai.
Posted by pjianwei (206 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not News
Dubai has been a metropolitan trading hub offering tax advantages to the manufacturing industries for the past fifteen years. In any event, it's encouraging to see CNET, a leading technology publication, catch up with the reality that's been well discussed in manufacturing and supply chain publications for a decade and a half. For people looking to emigrate and work in the UAE, I wouldn't recommend it unless you already have a job contract or, like the pop star Michael Jackson, are wealthy enough to afford the life style.
Posted by i_made_this (302 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dubai is beautiful .. but
built by the sweat of poor Pakistanis, Indians and bangladesis. I lived there for years and saw the exploitation. They are harldy paid 600-700 dhs (163.35 U.S. dollars) a month and forced to work and live in extreme conditions. There are no proper labor laws to protect the immigrant workers. I was an IT consultant for 4 years , but decided to leave the dubai for good. You need employers permission for everything including credit card, drivers license etc. You are not allowed change your jobs unles you are an exempted category(luckily I was one). Probably westerners see only tall glass buildings and dollar goes a long way. I can consider dubai as a fine place only if they have more human right considerations and labor laws.
Posted by PaulWallen (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Oil Rich Despotism - Gimme a break
In Dubai -
You go to Jail for living with someone not your spouse
You go to Jail for holding hands in public
You go to Jail for honking at other drivers
You go to jail for offending the UNDERCOVER SECRET POLICE
The country is ruled by a KING!!
Wow! What a way to live !!!
Posted by jdoe2247 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
In the US...
In the US -
You can get shot for living with someone not your spouse (esp. if someone else's spouse!)
You can get shot for honking at other drivers
You can get shot for offending the Police
The country is ruled by a TERRORIST!!
Wow! What a way to live !!!!
Posted by John__Smith (28 comments )
Link Flag
Doe Stuck in some Medieval Void!!!
Compared to other Gulf States, Dubai is a much more vibrant, and liberal economy. Life is more open and liberal compared to other Gulf States and the Govt. is working towards more liberal measures.

ALSO ...
* I live with someone who is not my spouse
* I hold hands with her in public
* Only a stupid person would honk at other drivers
* Only a stupid person would offend an Undercover Secret Police
* AND by the way even England's ruled by a Queen.

Also this is one of the few places in the world which offers a TAX FREE income AND world class public utility services.
Posted by chrisaris (7 comments )
Link Flag
In Dubai
In Duabi..

You can leave your yard and home doors open 24/7 and you won't report a single missing gained-by-oil-money item from your home.
Posted by AbuAnas (10 comments )
Link Flag
Dubai: 'Like Singapore on steroids' - more like Singapore on Sand
As Fdfd Dfd says "Dubai is beautiful .. but"
Yes, Dubai is built by the sweat of poor Pakistanis, Indians and
Bangladeshis. They are paid very low wages compared to
citizens of oil-rich UAE and Saudi, but many times more than
most people earn back home. So they are not forced, they
choose to live in extreme conditions, because many are
supporting their entire village. There are some labor laws, and
the Shariah, to protect the immigrant workers, but they are low

Dubai has changed a lot and gained many freedoms over 15
years, but it is still an Islamic emirate, it is still in the Arabian
Gulf and it is mostly sandy desert, so anyone who expects
western standards of free expression should look elsewhere.

Among these I count "John Doe", author of "Oil Rich Despotism -
Gimme a break" who sent the following:
In Dubai -
You go to Jail for living with someone not your spouse
You go to Jail for holding hands in public
You go to Jail for honking at other drivers
You go to jail for offending the UNDERCOVER SECRET POLICE
The country is ruled by a KING!!
Wow! What a way to live !!!

I have shared houses with other people in Dubai, I have known
couples who were not married living together, none of this was a
It is very common for Arab males to hold hands in public. This is
not considered sexual or unusual.
Arab drivers always use their car horns as much if not more than
their brake pedal.
Offending the "undercover secret police", if they exist, is
obviously not recommended.

However, the United Arab Emirates is not ruled by a King. The
ruler of Dubai is an Emir, Sheikh Maktum bin Rashid al-Maktum.
He is also the Vice-President of UAE, which is ruled by the Emir
of Abu Dhabi, UAE President Sheikh KHALIFA bin Zayid al -

Most important, however, is the fact that the UAE, and Dubai in
particular, is actually a really fantastic place to live. If your idea
of Paradise involves heavy rainfall and a five-minute stroll to
work, please look elsewhere. If you would appreciate wind-
surfing and wake-boarding during your lunch break, where else
would you choose to live?

Well of course Singapore, maybe.
Posted by Andrew Sheppard (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Dubai Internet Filter
We have offices in Dubai but you can never get ping times under 280 so your if you plan to run your operations there, be sure to factor in your Internet capabilities are terrible.. You can get E1 and above Internet, but when teh Government proxy/slash/chokepoint fills out, you can forget about performance. we also experience brownouts as well. All of the Internet is filtered like China as well. Dont go and try to pull up Britney spears too much :)
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Very appropriate and impressive...
I think the photographs here are good marketing as well as a reminder about the single biggest drawback of India - smooth cities.

India has its pluses - great software manpower, the english language, good support industry - vendors/training and huge headstart. But city and town planning and development are still non-existent. The software industry has grown despite the cities not because of it.

It will be interesting to see if Dubai can cater sufficiently to the white collar software population in India to attract them.
Posted by bmukund (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dubai -Pros and Cons
As a Dubai watcher, one cannot but marvel at its business friendly environment, relative openess , tolerance and world class infrastructure.
However, on the flip side , Dubai faces signficant challenges in the form of reforming its inflexible /archaic labour laws which prevent mobility amongst professionals,damning lack of human rights when it comes to its blue collar workers, reining in rocketing living and business cost driven by artificially hiked housing rentals - a real estate ownership market driven by suspect inflows( over 50% of the current investors in Dubai real estate hail from CIS,Russian, Iranian and Indian subcontinent countries- who seem to be parking their slush monies in this "no-questions-asked" market).
A thriving human trafficking market ( conservative estimate places about 5,000 women from CIS/Russia, China trading their wares) leading to Dubai being nicknamed the "Bangkok of West Asia".

Most important of all, how Dubai forges a competitive workforce from amongst its national population and handles/facilitates/manages the slow but sure march towards democracy and free elections of its citizens.
Sorry if i sound negative - but seasoned watchers will agree with each of my views above.
Can Dubai do it? Time will tell.
Posted by Sting340 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Jobs in Dubai
Chris, can you tell me more; I want to Incorporate in free zone, and do computing consulting business(DataWarehousing, Business Intelligence, etc ...).
Do you have advices ?
Posted by nkadavil (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Americans and Europeans are being subsidized for developments in Dubai. Recent bank bailouts in the U.S.A. included hordes of cash dumped into Dubai. Its apparent that sheiks, bankers and kings know how to spend money but DO NOT know how to earn it. The price of oil will continually increase to pay for their spending & dividends to these swindling shareholders.
Posted by GG1560 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I was happy to come across this lens while surfing a little. This is a good information source for Dubai for prospective expatriates. I lens rolled it to my Expatriate-Living lens. 5 stars from me.
Posted by saramartin (33 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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