This House believes Dubai is a bad idea
It was the first time the city-state’s financial misfortunes had been publicly discussed in the region.
Three successive panel members who agreed to speak against the motion, including Mark Beer, chairman and CEO of Dubai’s British Businessmen’s Group, had to be replaced after they pulled out at short notice, while five journalists representing Dubai newspapers and business publications also withdrew their accreditation and failed to appear.
Although most of the absentees cited “operational or health reasons” for their last-minute change of mind, those familiar with the debates said they appeared to have decided the event was too contentious.
Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was recently on record telling critics of Dubai to “shut up.”
In the wide-ranging session, Mishal Kanoo, Chairman of the Kanoo Group, one of the largest independent groups of companies in the Gulf, attacked the motion saying Dubai was where every Arab wanted to be.
The city, he said, had become a beacon of prosperity for international companies and “a viable alternative to nationalism and extremism.”
Rebutting suggestions that Dubai’s rulers should have been more circumspect in the way they ran the economy during the boom years, he asked: “When you are in a speeding train, do you stop and ask whether everything is OK?”
A member of the audience replied to loud applause,” why run a speeding train when you cannot handle it?”
Nasser Al Ghaith, an Emirati financial analyst also speaking against the motion, said he believed Dubai had taken “a wrong turn” after its construction boom but “a self-correcting mechanism” was already in operation.
“To say Dubai is a bad idea is to say the free market and globalisation are bad.”
Simon Jenkins, former editor of the London Times, suggested that Dubai was doomed from the moment its ruler conceived his over-ambitious plan to build an “anything goes” culture of capitalism.
“All over the world lie the wreckages of cities that expanded too fast. Dubai failed through lack of government control. Uncontrolled capitalism ends in tears and causes huge human hardship.
“It was a property boom based on oil money and debt. The hysteria of the past five years will seem like a nightmare. The idea for growth went far too fast and when you go too fast you fall much faster.”
Sharla Musabih, an Emirati who has been living in the US since running a Dubai-based centre for abused women and children, said the city had become corrupted by greed and the pursuit of wealth.
“I remember the Emirates 10 to 15 years ago when they were simple and life was sweet. Now there is intimidation and fear, a lot of people are afraid to speak up for themselves. The beautiful vision we once had has gone.”