The Middle East @ Work

From Cairo to Dubai

Meaw Mar 10, 2008

To go from Cairo to Dubai is to go from the horizontal to the vertical. The Arab sky replaces the Arab street. Skyscrapers go up like flags on a flag pole. Construction cranes are everywhere. So is the noise from jackhammers. This is a city that has never said no.

It is like being invited into a brainstorming session. You are told, “Don’t think about the cost or the time or the staffing needs. Just imagine what you want to do. How you would plan this project?” But, at the end of the brainstorm, practicality sets in. You take your ideas and prioritize. What can we accomplish given our limits? Dubai doesn’t operate that way. They are the brainstorm. And then they execute their ideas. New coastline — check. Seventy five skyscrapers in a four-block radius — check. Ski slope — check. The more impractical, the more probable it is. It feels like the grand experiment in the Middle East, the globalized city state. A professional gold rush, a place where ambition and adversity live in the same frame. Migrant workers are building the monuments that soon will become Dubai’s legacy.

You’ll notice one big difference between Dubai and Egypt: How they talk about their history, their legacy. Unlike Egyptians, Emiratis prefer the background. You will meet lots of ex-pats who will tell you they love Dubai. They have lived there for years and yet they have never been inside an Emirati home. Egyptians will talk about the past, the pyramids. They’ll point to ancient buildings as proof that the present day matters. This is what we gave to the world. In Dubai, they are inventing their history now. History is being written by those who can build, build, build. They don’t have Egypt’s wealth of ancient artifacts, but they do have something they consider more valuable — family. And in a country where citizens get free housing, free college education, and free health care, you can understand why the family concept still matters. They have the time and the income to preserve their bonds.

— Nancy Farghalli

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