Dubai has certainly changed over the years and not for the better. A sleepy desert outpost that struck oil in the 1960s, the United Arab Emirates is now a glitzy international destination with Dubai as its shining beacon. Although the state relies on tourist dollars (and handouts from other oil-rich states within the UAE) it is hardly foreigner-friendly with its vicious anti-LGBT laws and practices, policies that are nothing short of blatant misogyny and a judicial system that favours locals above all else.
The UAE has become increasingly dangerous for tourists and residents alike with rape victims routinely thrown into prison for adultery and consumption of one alcoholic beverage being grounds for arrest – despite alcohol being widely and legally sold and distributed in Dubai. Today the jewel in UAE’s crown, once paved with gold, is just one, big, ugly, unsustainable shopping centre – and it’s not even cheap to visit anymore.
The Vanishing Princess
One story that has dominated news of Dubai in 2018 (obviously not in the UAE’s censored media) is that of Dubai’s missing Princess Latifa Al Maktoum.
When Dubai’s totalitarian ruler kidnaps his own daughter after her failed attempt to escape then what chance to I have of getting out of there alive? Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and so many NGOs and lobby groups are up in arms about this unbelievable call made by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum came after her reports of abuse and a failed attempt to flee the country in March 2018. Stirling Haigh has the most extensive and detailed information on Latifa’s situation as it includes solicitors that were her first point of contact when she tried to escape the UAE.
Latifa released a video before her disappearance which has been a great embarrassment to the ruler of Dubai, but not enough to release his daughter from captivity. It’s been 9 months since anyone has had news on Latifa. Her whereabouts is unknown.
Read the BBC’s coverage of Latifa Al Maktoum’s disappearance here. I guess this is what happens when your dad owns Interpol and has a bad temper. The big question here is why is the rest of the world letting Dubai get away with this?
What can I say about the fascinating array of bars in each hotel of Dubai: Boring, overpriced and mostly full of sex workers. Or clubs where people dress like sex workers.
I’ve never seen so many rhinestone-encrusted white jeans or leopard print backless micro-dresses. Roberto Cavalli has vomited all over Sheikh Zayed Road and everyone seems thrilled about it. Unmarried couples aren’t permitted to hold hands because it isn’t considered to be decent but walking around almost naked is A-OK. The hypocrisy is sickening. Oh, and the clubs? The most boring I’ve ever been to in my life.
You’ve probably heard that it gets hot in Dubai. Hot as Satan’s Taint in a vindaloo – so people don’t tend to go about their business on foot. Cars are still necessary for both residents and tourists in Dubai.
So you kind of have to drive, because with all the money in the world public transport isn’t much of an option (although I must say it’s improving) and the worst option of all: the taxis. Men are brought over from India, shoved into taxis and told to just drive. They have little English ability, which makes it hard English is the Lingua Franca within the UAE. Taxi drivers work unlimited hours, are often deprived of sleep and the chance to have a shower and a break. In 2017 the Dubai Taxi Corporation generously announced that drivers are finally entitled to a day off per week. How very generous of them. No doubt this decision comes after many traffic accidents due to the conditions of the drivers. These workers have no fixed income and little rights, but many in Dubai are much worse off than the taxi drivers.
The Slave Labour
Let’s talk about the people who actually keep Dubai alive and running – the underpaid, overworked, abused and sometimes indentured migrant workers. This part of the culture stays well hidden from tourists, and even some residents are totally oblivious to the facts. The tallest, shiniest and best that Dubai offers comes at a terrible price. In a country where the native inhabitants are less than 20% of the population, foreigners are the ones who run the show. You’ll see a rainbow of people from ever corner of the world working as doctors, accountants, salespeople, cleaners, hairdressers, managing directors, teachers and airline staff. Life isn’t too bad in tax-free Dubai for some. Some are treated appallingly but are willing to work in the UAE to send money back home.
The real underclass are the migrant workers who do 12 hour shifts in the desert heat and live in labour camps that smell like stables (you’d only know if you get close enough to smell them, many don’t) and the domestic workers who have, as of 2017, been legally given the right to annual leave and the right to retain their own passports (almost like a free human being) but are still largely at the mercy of their employer’s whims. Most of these people are from developing countries such as Bangladesh and India and don’t have the resources to get out of a bad situation.
Do they get paid? Yes they do. Is it a living wage? Certainly not. Do they have freedom? No, not at all. But these days I hear that foreign workers can have their own documents and seek refuge if necessary I suppose… but I can’t say whether or not conditions have improved for them in practice.
Everything about the conditions of Dubai’s labor force is unnatural. Being cut off from all female contact means an army of creepy men eyeing off young kids at the beach – which is a normal but unfortunate side effect of such social engineering. Young Filipino and Sri Lankan maids have no legal recourse in case of abuse, which is a fact of life for many in the UAE – just ask them, they’ll tell you about it in hushed tones. It’s all pretty repulsive. If you ask the authorities in the UAE they will tell you how wonderful they are but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s really going on there.
Should You Go To Dubai?
Well, that is up to you. I don’t like being told where I can and can’t travel and I wouldn’t do that to anyone else, but as a travel expert and believer in basic human rights I certainly don’t recommend Dubai. I would regard Dubai as unsafe in light of the fact that the law does not protect travellers or workers. Locals and foreigners alike are silenced for having opinions and I don’t like places where I may be arrested for walking past the wrong person at the wrong time.
My personal choice is to boycott the rotten place myself until there is change. And that needs to start with Dubai’s rulers answering one single question: Where is Latifa? Until they answer that question and address all the other human rights abuses they don’t deserve a cent of your hard-earned tourist dollars.