|Guardian UK article
||[Nov. 9th, 2007|10:58 am]
Hello new and old readers. I haven't posted in a while, and since many of you will have come here via Monday's Guardian article, "You must come with us" (Nov 12), it is time now to make amends and recap. That article is a polished version of a post I put on this blog right after my stay with the fellows in white. You might enjoy the comments at the end. The (presumably) locals who posted anonymously did so with incredible vitriol and bile. I was amused; my wife was not. In any case, the comments from these people are very interesting. My January 8 post got interesting reactions too. The blog was originally intended as a log of my research and living experiences while I was there. Some of it is funny (my first discrimination experience in Dubai), some of it is not. You might find it a useful waste of fifteen minutes. Or you may just find it a waste of time and cyberspace.|
Anyways. I am a sociologist at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY. I did research in Dubai last summer/fall on expatriate workers in Dubai. I'm working on a book now that examines how professionals and lower level workers make their way in Dubai. I focus especially on professionals born and bred in Dubai. Unlike in western countries, merely being born in Dubai grants you no rights of residency, let alone citizenship. So these people are on the same visa situation as other workers who come in tomorrow.
The book is going to be called "Iron Chains, Gilded Cages: Expat Workers in Dubai." It is a critical examination of the living and working conditions of workers high and low. The book is not a gratuitous slam on Sheikh Mohammed (Sheikh Mo as he is often affectionately called in Dubai), or on the administrative apparati, or even on my friends in the secret police. (On the contrary, I think American secret forces could take a lesson in manners from these fellows.)
Every adult expat in Dubai is there by choice. For professionals, they can lead the good life -- no shortage of bars, clubs, restaurants, outdoor activities. Household help is cheap. Many people I hung out with lived in the US or UK, but went back to Dubai because the living is easy. Professionally, most people told me the opportunities for advancement, and the pace of advancement is much greater than in the US, UK and even India. For laborers, even with all the horror stories, there is still the promise of the good life at home being sponsored by hard living in Dubai. Live in an all-male world in cramped quarters, often filthy quarters, but that will build the house, buy extra land back in India or Pakistan. Or so the promise goes.
That's the carrot. There's of course a stick. Which is, lay low. No politics, no criticizing the Sheikh, no drugs, no worker agitation. Maids being beaten, construction workers not being paid -- put up with it quietly or leave. Any resistance to the state, and you get deported, which is the worst thing really that can happen to an expat. People do of course end up in prisons for all sorts of crimes. There are stories of a jail for political prisoners near the airport in Abu Dhabi. It's probable that nasty things go on there (it's autocratic rule after all), but doubtful it's anything like Iran, Syria, or the US. But in the end, it's deportation I would say that people fear above all else.
The UAE is a country that, surface-wise anyway, pays lip service to being Islamic. Legally prostitution and alcohol are not allowed (by law to drink you are required to have an alcohol permit, which few people have). But these are freely available, even during Ramadan. In fact, me and my friend Wilbur were struck by how prostitution seemed to be even more intensified during Ramadan, since the clubs didn't play music, there were no distractions from the work at hand. I bring this up as alcohol and prostitution are very big attractions for expats of all stripes and religions. These twinned vices are part and parcel of the success of Dubai, and go some ways to explaining Saudi's lagging, even though their population is huge and should be a boom site. But not many western expats especially would want to live there.
Dubai, in short, is a dizzying experience. Consumer culture is excessive even by western standards. The good life is the goal; western notions of "rights" are dispensed with -- who needs the right to vote when you can live like this? Worker exploitation is the norm. The state has the power and money to nip it, but they do not. Why would they? And if these workers are not willing to do the work, there are millions more who are willing to come and take their place. The wonders of globalization find their perfect expression here. The world's tallest building (glitzy) contrasts with the world's largest labor camp (squalid). Welcome to Dubai.