TEXT OF COMMENTARY
KAI RYSSDAL: It's funny how you can go halfway around the world and still feel like you've never left home. Of course you've got your Starbucks here and McDonald's. Kentucky Fried Chicken's very big, too, but fast food's small fry compared to what's on the way. Just this past week, Six Flags announced it'll be building a 5 million square foot amusement park here. Busch Gardens and Sea World are coming, too. If all that reminds you of a certain American city also built in the desert, well join the club, says commentator and Arab media producer Jamal Dajani.
JAMAL DAJANI: When I first saw Dubai from a distance, it reminded me of Las Vegas. Just like Vegas' shimmering chrome skyscrapers, everything in Dubai is so immense and so grand. Instead of casinos, there are burjs, or towers. Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the world, is still under construction. Then you have Al Burj, Burj Al Arab and so on, and just like Vegas, people go to Dubai in search of financial gain. Arab men in their gleaming white dish-dashes, Europeans in business suits, Indians in traditional clothing and women with their Gucci bags. They're all after one thing -- money.
A Saudi friend of mine complained. "I went to the bank and could not find any tellers who spoke Arabic," a familiar complaint in the States, from those who insist everyone should speak English.
Not everyone is happy with this new Babylon. More than half a million Saudis a year visit Dubai. They've invested billions of dollars in this tiny emirate, but resentment is brewing amongst the Salafi Muslims in the Kingdom next door. Many Saudis believe that Dubai is a bad influence on their conservative society. A society where women cannot even drive stands in stark contrast to Dubai, where women in bikinis sun on the shores of manmade islands.
Dubai has provided jobs and has brought in modernity into a desolate dessert, but it remains a playground for the "haves," particularly those who "have" oil.
Many wonder what impact this wealthy emirate will have. Will proceeds from skyrocketing oil prices filter to poor countries, or will it only benefit the few?
Most Arabs realize that their petro-bonanza will one day come to an end. Their future may lie in tourism, leisure, media and banking, industries that keep Dubai light-years ahead of the competition, and an envy to its neighbors.
KAI RYSSDAL: Jamal Dajani is the co-host of Arab Talk on KPOO radio in San Francisco and the Director of Middle Eastern Programming at Link TV. Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai and the prime minister of the UAE, is just as worried about the Arabic language as he is. There were big headlines in the papers here this morning. Yesterday, the sheikh and the cabinet decided it's going to be all Arabic all the time in federal offices from now on. Of course the headlines were in English.