Dubai stands as lone beacon of human rights in Middle East

by ADITYA RAMACHANDRAN ’17Staff Writer (aramacha@fandm.edu)

Dubai’s extravagant New Year’s display of fireworks has been confirmed a Guinness World Record, with a staggering 479,651 shells successfully released in a span of six minutes. The event marked the end of a year, which had seen Dubai awarded World Expo 2020. There could have been no better finishing touch to a year in which this Gulf emirate has cemented its rising stature as the center of the new world.

In a generation Dubai has graduated from a third world village to a shining metropolis of glass and concrete, a dream destination for migrant workers and expatriates, and a global demographic microcosm of our planet.

It is the cliché of our time that economic centers are shifting southwards to emerging markets and new geographical trading hubs. Dubai, nestled between Asia and Europe, is in prime position to reap the benefits of this geopolitical sea change.

Indeed, geographical proximity is one of Dubai’s key strengths. The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE)  largest trading partners are the mammoths of the developing world: China and India. Trade has helped the city rise to challenge other prominent city-state hubs — such as Singapore — as Dubai’s geographical and economic sphere of influence expands into central Asia and Africa.

The UAE also plays a neutral game of geopolitical multi-alignment with the world’s superpowers. On the one hand, it conducts major arms deals with the United States, but it also exports large amounts of energy to China. At the same time, its sovereign wealth fund does billions of dollars worth of business with European firms.

Coupled with the vision of the city’s leadership, this makes Dubai immune to the turmoil in the surrounding region. It is when in Dubai, that one forgets that he or she are in the Middle East. It is this atmosphere that facilitates a steady European exodus to the city. As the Singapore-based American strategist Parag Khanna said in an article about Dubai “Would you rather be in Athens?”

While the UAE is a beacon of openness, tolerance, and progress in its region, all of his success has admittedly come at a price. Western- based human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, routinely criticize the living conditions of foreign workers in the Emirates, the imprisonment of dissidents, and the lack of free speech in the country.

While it is very true that Dubai can never develop to become a city along the lines of a New York or a London without advancing it’s record in the aforementioned fields, I believe that the UAE government has its eye on making the city a regional beacon of human rights — a title I think it has achieved considering the UAE’s position on the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

All in all, as one Professor Yaser Elsheshtawy, a professor at UAE University, put it, “The Dubai model might be good, it might be bad, but it deserves to be looked at with respect.” I have little doubt that as the world looks Eastward for what will undoubtedly be a revolutionary World Expo, that this will continue to be the case.

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