Dubai is a gleaming cityscape of towering skyscrapers.
In the 1950’s Dubai was just a sleepy port on the Persian Gulf.
But in recent times it has become a magnet for foreigners wishing to set up home and do business amid luxurious surroundings.
The man behind Dubai’s move into modernity is Mohammad ben Rached Al-Maktoum. He wanted to create a symbol of Arab renaissance an idea still very much alive.
“Why not overtake New York as the best centre in the world of finance, why not overtake Italy in terms of culture, why not overtake Singapore or Hong Kong in terms of trade and export? Why not, we can do it, we’ve been doing it and I believe we will continue to do that,” says Dubai businessman, Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi.
The dream seemed on course, investment flooded in along with thousands of foreign workers, most of them involved in construction and real estate.
Then on November 28th, 2009, the dream turned into nightmare as the emirate was unable to honour the huge debts of the conglomerate Dubai World.
Phillippe Rey is an estate agent in Dubai: “A year ago, everything here was sold within three days. Now, since the financial crisis, money is hard to find, buildings remain empty, projects are no longer funded and prices have dropped by as much as 50 percent.”
Abu Dhabi moved to aid its fellow emirate with a 7 billion euro loan to help Dubai World with its crippling 3.1 billion euro debt, racked up by its real estate arm Nakheel.
The days of Dubai’s extravagance appear over with a public debt running at some 70 billion euros.
However, the world’s tallest skyscraper the Burj Dubai, also known as Khalifa tower; is now open and there is hope that the project planned in a different time will signal a change in fortune.
Emaar Properties chairman Mohammed Alabber, which built the high-rise, offered this optimistic appraisal “crisis come and go,” he said.
That remains to be seen.