Dubai's Dark Side

| You may have read about the glut of cars abandoned at Dubai’s airport as expats fled the country in the wake of the global financial crisis. Journalist Johann Hari digs deeper and tells the story of a Canadian woman who moved to Dubai with her husband. He got into debt trouble in the emirate and was sent to prison for it. His wife hasn’t abandoned her car; she’s living in it, in a hotel parking lot. It’s the dark side of Dubai, though at least one Dubai-based blogger thinks the piece is overkill. [%comments]


As someone who has been to Dubai, I agree that article is a bit of over the top journalistic freedom.
With that being said, there still are a lot of things that need to be changed there, particularly their use of construction workers from other countries who are essentially enslaved. I think its pathetic that it takes a financial collapse for all the news media to start focusing on their treatment instead of the next big project that isnt financially viable anyways


I've been to Dubai many times and also worked there last summer on an internship. I such much of what Hari talks about in the article: ignored labourers living a pitiful existence, obvious lack of press freedoms, ridiculous building projects that seem so ill-advised that they would never be commissioned in any other city, and - perhaps most importantly - a state of denial from most all of the expats there. And to be honest, if I were not of South Asian descent myself perhaps I would not have noticed the labourers or felt personally affronted by their treatment (which has been well documented by various human rights groups).

Much of what the writer says about the expats there rings true. I was working in finance there and had spent years prior working in the hedge fund/private equity work in New York. And as annoying and pretentious as some of the hedge fund types in New York can be (and they are), I always used to say that the ones in Dubai were half as impressive but twice as cocky. There is a culture of showy ostentatiousness in the Gulf that extends clearly into business culture - no one wants to think about the downside and once they make a bit of money view themselves as superhuman...



We lived in Abu Dhabi for close to 6 years, and my husband worked for a British company. The article is spot on regarding the attitude of expats, particularly those who ventured out there after "our little secret" became a boondoggle. Sorry to say, but these people all had dollar signs in their eyes. They are living the life of "The Crown", with their "fancy dress" parties, belonging to the British Club, and dismissing those who work for them as subhuman. These expats are bottom feeders! As for the comment that "poor Egyptians are dreaming of one day working in the Gulf": Ask an Egyptian and he will tell you, "We were tying our shoes when they were still wandering around the desert!"

James O'Hearn

While I thought the article was well written, and a great read, it was undeniably yellow journalism, and I took great exception to the article, particularly for what the article omitted.

Regarding the woman and her story... I feel quite the cad about this, but I'm sorry, to me this is one of those cases where you have to step back and wonder about personal responsibility. They'd lived in Dubai since 2005, and didn't know about the debt laws? They didn't keep a single foreign credit card or line of credit for emergencies, nor set aside any cash for contingencies? Then they leveraged themselves to the hilt, and when the husband decided to resign, he took no precautions to ensure for a proper fallback position? Any sane person in a similar position would have grabbed all their cash on hand, sold their car, hopped on the next flight, and then resigned from the safety of their own country.

The debtors prison is no secret here. It's widely known. And over here you never, never leave financial matters to chance, and you never fully trust your contract. If you think you will be cutting it close, then you can be sure that third parties will intentionally make sure you don't make the cut. The couple found this out the hard way as the bank seized all of their assets, including their properties.

To top it off, this woman is living in her Range Rover. That's a 200,000+ AED car, which, if sold, would provide enough money to pay for an apartment for a couple years, pay for a self-sponsored visa, and pay for their flight outta Dodge.

What happened to the husband was a tragedy, But what happened to the couple was of their own making.



I recently figured that if British journalists such as Johann Hari (Tuesday, 7 April) who come to Dubai don't send back something sensationalist it won't get printed and they won't get paid. After all, sleaze sells.

I called a British journalist friend of mine and said: "I'm going to write an article about London, the same way your compatriots write about Dubai." By the time I was back at home I had come to my senses, it's not fair to London, a city so dear to my heart, or Londoners to be judged by the actions of a few. It's easy to generalise about a country when figures are manipulated to sensationalise and sell papers.

Say for example that I had written an article that states that, in wealthy first world Britain there are 380,000 homeless people, many of them mentally ill, starving and abandoned in sub-zero temperatures to live on the streets.

Say then that I wrote an article that states that Britain, the so called "jail capital of Western Europe" sentenced in 2006 alone a staggering additional 12,000 women to prison and that up to seven babies a month are born in jail where they spend their crucial first months.

I could have written an article that stated Britain, victor in the Second World War, had given refuge to 400 Nazi war criminals, with all but one of them getting away with it. Or one stating that the number of Indians who died while serving the British Empire, to build your Tube and grow your tea, is so large it is simply unquantifiable by any historian.

Or say I write an article about the 2.5 million-strong Indian volunteer army who served Britain during the Second World War, where 87,000 of them died for their occupiers' freedom and yet until recently those who survived continued to be discriminated against in pay and pension.

I could have written an article that stated that, in civilised Britain, one in every 23 teenage girls had an abortion and in 2006 more than 17,000 of the 194,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales involved girls below the age of 18.

I could have written an article stating that Britain, the human rights champion, not wanting to get its hands dirty, had resorted to secretly outsourcing torture to Third World states under the guise of rendition by allowing up to 170 so called CIA torture flights to use its bases. Or that Britain's MI5 unlawfully shared with the CIA secret material to interrogate suspects and "facilitate interviews" including cases where the suspects were later proven to be innocent.

I could have written an article that stated that the Britain of family values is the only country in the EU that recruits child soldiers as young as 16 into its Army and ships them off battlegrounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting it in the same league as African dictatorships and Burma.

I could have written an article that states that Britain either recently did or has yet to sign the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict or the UN's International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families .

I could have highlighted the fact that liberal Britain is responsible for the physical and racial abuse of hundreds of failed asylum-seekers at the hands of private security guards during their forced removal from the country .

I could have written about the countless cases of slave-like working conditions of immigrant labours such as the 23 Chinese workers who lost their lives in 2004 as they harvested cockles in the dangerous rising tides in Morecambe Bay.

I could have written about how mortality rates from liver diseases due to alcohol abuse have declined in Europe in recent decades but in Britain the rate trebled in the same period reflecting deep societal failures.

I could have written about how in "Big Brother" Britain maltreatment of minors is so serious that one in 10, or an estimated one million children a year, suffer physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect.

Or that according to Oxfam 13.2 million people in the UK live in poverty – a staggering 20 per cent of the population in the sixth richest nation in the world.

I could have written all that, but out of respect for Britain, I decided not to. Because when you stitch together a collection of unconnected facts taken out of context, you end up with a distorted and inaccurate picture: something that Britain's Dubai-bashers would do well to learn.



UK distances itself from slanderous stories on Dubai

Dubai: The British government has distanced itself from the slanderous stories carried by some British newspapers that target Dubai in relation to the effects of the global financial crisis.

British Foreign Office Spokesman John Wilkes described the criticism waged by the British press as "over exaggerated".

"Dubai is not the only place that is affected by the global recession. The whole world is suffering," Wilkes said in a press conference organised by the British Embassy and Dubai Press Club in Dubaion Tuesday

John B. Chilton

The overkill is in the sheer number of times "Dubai" and "dark side" appear in the same headline.

The documentation is in this post at UAE Community Blog.

David Earl

Newspapers, TV and Books publishing have for YEARS been exposing injustice and inequality in the West. [New York, LA, London, wherever....] Nobody has EVER said that the "West" was perfect folks!

None of what the journalist said was really "new" or "shocking" to anybody who has ever truly done any research on Dubai. What is new is that a MAJOR newspaper published it. As expected the Dubai PR brigade has come out in force claiming it was slanted and prejudiced. What they do NOT do is provide feedback which shows the story is UNTRUE.

For these people "journalism" is press releases the Dubai authorities give them to print.

The truly sad part is no major newspaper or TV outlet in the Middle East could develop this very TRUE report!
If the reporter were South Asian or from Africa would the report still have been "racist"??? I think not!

It IS very hard to look squarely at yourself nude in the mirror when the lights are fully turned on? Apparently so


AbdulHamid Saeed

Brilliant article from Johann Hari.
Remember that all germans are not nazis.

As a emarati many of us are ashamed of the way in which Dubai treats its people.
But do we have a choice - we would be banished or worse - made to vanish....

Times are changing with the help of brave journalists like Mr. Hari.
Can we all nominate Hari for Pulitzer or smillar journalistic prize.


I was brought up in Dubai living there for 10+ years.
The article is spot on but the funniest thing is how defensive people are getting when they read it.
Dubai is my hometown and I grew up there and I can safely say that it is by far one of the most racist cities I have been in with clear lines of segregation drawn and highlighted by socio economic class levels.
With all the money in the world the Sheikhs do not invest in something that will stand the test of time- no production- hardly any industries - just trade.

Dubai is all about the biggest mall, the tallest building and it is truly a city which does not have a character.
Its like Dubai grew upto be the age of 21 from 12 by surpassing the teenage years. It is a concrete jungle now and to be honest Dubai as a city has always tried to present itself as a very western savvy metropolis. Look at the adverts and a subtle sense of desperation to attain an identity that shines in the eyes of the western world.

Having said all that one has to keep in mind that whatever the city tries to portray itself as it is a part of an islamic kingdom where penalties are extreme and harsh for certain crimes. So if you live in Dubai or visit Dubai just be reasonable and you should be fine but please dont expect it to be Hawaii or some sort of getaway paradise because there is a lot that doesnt meet the eye about Dubai.



My comments may come about as being harsh but it is true that you will not see a lot of mingling of various nationalities with varying soci economic statuses. Having said that I am comparing Dubai to DC where I live and it is only after coming to the United States that I realised that Dubai is a racist place. Atleast Unites States makes an effort to realise and recognise racism and to be honest for every borderline racist individual I have met her ( i have met very few ) there are a dozen levelheaded people who judge you by what you say not what you look like.


Canada is the only civilization worthy nation in the world. They have issues, problems and failures but I never met people so honestly trying to improve things for the better. The rest of the so called developed nations are just in it for the greed and benefit of their ruling classes. Sadly, Canadians tend to be naive when confronted with the rest of the world.
This article points out how money does not solve problems in the hands of the incompetent.

jay kay

This 'so-called' article is pure speculation. For example, the author says that he was greeted by a billboard showing the 'smiling' face of the current ruler of Dubai; I have worked in a newspaper and I can safely say that the ruler in question NEVER smiles in any of his photographs; the Canadian woman quoted in the article claims that she was sleeping in her car - the temperature in Dubai are so high that there is NO way that you can stay in your SUV without roasting onec the internal AC stops; oh and NO Phillipinno will EVER complain about the place that is currently giving them employment - they are more likely to complain about the corruption and cronyism in their own country - oh yeah, the guy (Johann Hari) who wrote the article has been previously been accused of plagiarism and of making stuff up in his articles - I wouldn't tust im (or any of these other shills) trying to act all 'high and 'mighty' in bringing down Dubai's name!