Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A city without people-Dubai: Building a Corporatist Paradise

History is littered with imagery and symbolism. To encapsulate the raw power of the Soviet Union in 1930s one needs only to look at the city of Magnitogorsk, with it’s brooding smoke towers, streamlined streets and dark factories. It is the perfect embodiment of industry and state authority. Similarly to appreciate the heights to which the British Empire reached in India, at the beginning of the twentieth century. The enormous palaces of New Dehli represent a decadent monument to imperial power and wealth. However these urban metaphores often defy the reality of their period. It is important to understand that much of the economic achievements of the soviet project were illusionary and built upon a mountain of bodies rather than economic progress. Similarly the imperial strucutures of New Dehli where a far cry from the isolated beachheads and rugged hinterlands that made up most of the British Empire. Nevertheless these examples are significant because of what they represent. This begs the question, is there somewhere today, that fully represents the modern world? Somewhere that truly symbolises the essence of the early Twenty- First century? I argue that there is such a place, and that place is Dubai. Since the 2008 financial crisis it could be suggested (and many have) that Dubai represents to worst excesses of capitalism. The slave labor, the uncontrolled market forces and the thinly veiled social divisions. Yet, this article seeks to explain that rather than describing the modern world explicitly Dubai provides an adequate lens through which to view the early Twenty-First century.
Founding the Corporatist Paradise

Arguably Dubai represents the indulgence, violence and horror of our time. It’s shimmering glass towers and sprawling slave labour camps are the perfect magnum opus of corporatist power. If you want a clear picture of how historians will look at the early Twenty-First century than Dubai is the best place to look. Until the 1990 Dubai was little more than a small fishing town, based on the pearl trade. Yet in the space of 20 years, it has grown into a modern metropolis. The story of Dubai provides a fitting narrative for the modern world. Oil, warfare, state power and exploitation, Dubai has it all. Since 1990 many have seen Dubai as a genuine capitalist success story. Independent and modern. Despite suffering a financial crisis, still growing at around 4% per year. Yet under the surface is a dismal reality of slave labour, US imperial expansion and catastrophic amounts of debt. It is an even more grotesque story for those that live there. No notion of rights and where government actively promotes exploitation and slavery. All disguised under glitzy fa├žade of a modern functioning, capitalist economy.
Firstly we must asses the nature of Dubai’s history and how it cannot be called a free-market, but a crapitalist autocracy. It is a widely accepted myth that the building of Dubai is the fruits of Sheikh Rashid II bin Saeed Al Maktoum and his grand vision. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Dubai tried to market itself as a great place to do business. The Jebel Ali free zone was established in 1979. In attempt to attract western business. Even throughout the 1980s a period often described as a neo-liberal renaissance, Dubai remained little more than a small desert town. It was only till the UAE sent funds to support the USA and its allies in during the 1990 gulf war against Iraq that Dubai really started to boom. Arguably this fact shows that although domestic economic policy is important in the development of a nation. What was really significant for Dubai and many other developing countries, is that being supportive of western imperial policy is a pre-requisite to prosperity. Furthermore, as is the case worldwide, what development really means in the Twenty-First century is not the growing of native industry, but making a state open to economic occupation by western transnational corporations. It was only after Sheikh Maktoum III bin Rashid Al Maktoum cemented himself as a western ally that the city expanded rapidly.
“Dubai is booming. Economic activity is everywhere. The city centre is a construction zone with international hotel chains competing for sites. Hyatt, Hilton, Ramada and Sheraton are already represented; Marriot and Holiday Inn are on the way.”
Ron Gluckman, Hong Kong of the desert?, 1992
Furthermore, when looking at Dubai it becomes immediately obvious that the state is an omnipresent entity that seeps into all aspects of life in the concrete oasis. Johann Hari described Dubai in his 2009 article The dark side of Dubai. “The wide, smiling face of Sheikh Mohammed – the absolute ruler of Dubai – beams down on his creation. His image is displayed on every other building, sandwiched between the more familiar corporate rictuses of Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders”. As historians begin to assess the Twenty-First century, the grotesque abuse of state power will be a factor that they cannot ignore in trying to understand the modern era. This is true not just of Dubai but of the entire western world. However the most disturbing aspect of Dubai, is that the ethnic Emiratis are rapidly forming an impenetrable class of self serving public officials. The identity of the Emirati elites that dominate Dubai, is inseparable from the idea of public service and respect for the monarchy. In relation to the Arab Spring “The UAE has seen a trickle of dissent amid a regional torrent. Emiratis are largely well cared for by their oil-rich government and seldom question policy” Financial Times, Arrests in UAE show Sensitivity over reform. “UAE residents pay prices well below the cost of production for electricity, water, food and petrol. Government hand-outs for Emiratis extend this generosity, as do an abundance of well paid government salariat. Per capita gross domestic product (GDP) averages about $40,200” Protests Fail to Garner Support.
This displays how the Sheiks who rule Dubai have little incentive to provide for those at the bottom of society. They are much less the champions of the capitalist society that they are often described as. Arguably they demonstrate how political elites form a close group of powerful allies and pander to their interest. On a superficial level the rapid development of the Dubaian skyline was not build through a process of allowing a free industrial society to flourish. Its rapid construction is the result of debt and political repression. Ahmed Kannah, professor of International Relations at the university of the Pacific describes how in the Emirati community, working for the private sector is stigmatised. Allegiance to the state has become an integral part of their national identity. Even Adulla Abdelkhaleq Professor of political science at Emirates University, an influential supporter of the monarchy states that the middle classes “ are the forces of change, but are also in bed with the regime,” says Abdulla. “They benefit from another and reinforce each other. The middle-class is usualy not revolutionary, they are a moderate kind of people” Protests Fail to Garner Support.
Yet despite the powerful presence of the king. Like the entire Twenty-First century world, his creation is built on top of a colossal mountain of debt. In 2000 two new ‘ free zones’ opened. The Dubai Internet City and Dubai Maritime City. Both allowing for the inflow of more foreign corporations and state run businesses. Countries from around the Middle East have come to describe this method of growth as the ‘Dubai’ model. However it is necessary to stress at this stage that altough every city has a dark past. Most of the urban world today has been build from profit and the success of industry. This is one of the key differences between Dubai and the west. Martin Hvidt of Southern Denmark University shows that in contrast to most western cities Dubai’s authoritarian state is in part, the key to it’s success. “From a statist perspective, democratic or participatory forms of governmental leadership might endanger development in its initial phases because it might divert investment and political focus away from key factors in economic development”. Martin Hvidt, The Dubai Model:An outline of key components of thedevelopmentprocess in Dubai, 2007. To conclude, it is an unfortunate fact, that in the Twenty-First century the state holds the key to success.

Enslaved by the state
It is important to understand that many of the institutions that are fundamental to Dubai’s success are not products of the western world. However to fully understand the conclusion historians should draw about the modern era from assessing Dubai. We must study the role that the state plays in perpetuating the misery of those the work there. Unlike Europe and North America the social institutions of Dubai bolster and support the slave labour system. Yet Dubai demonstrates how when the presence of an authoritarian state exists. There can be no free- market. It is often that case that those who decry the free-market often associate it with the untold sorrow that large portions of the worlds population live in. Yet after careful analysis it becomes immediately apparent that it is in fact the government that allows for the virtual slavery of thousands of migrant workers in Dubai. Dubai is anything but a truly free-market. Dubai is often regarded as the epitome of the diversified economy. However in reality, it is a cluster of state run businesses and foreign firms that make the lions share of economic growth. Respect for contracts, the right to collectively bargain, the rule of law and competition are all fundamental prerequisites for a truly free-society. None of these exist in the Hong-Kong of the desert.
The Emirati elite stress that these migrants, often of South Asian origin came here of their own free will and can leave at any time. However upon arrival in the UAE, migrants have their passports confiscated, making it virtually impossible to leave the country. Furthermore their earnings are often much less that what was promised or in some cases non-existent. Far from being a meritocracy Dubai’s migrants are often paid according to race and nationality. “The merchant state’s knowledge of them- their country of origin, their health, their capacity for work, the extent of their geographical mobility within the boundaries of the state. Is thorough and sufficient to the task of control” Dubai in a jagged world . Essentially any respect for free-market principles is decidedly missing in Dubai. However, in relation to the desert city’s historical significance it is not unique, “None of this is to say that Dubai or the UAE are peculiar in their exploitation of migrant workers or in the use of nationality, ethnicity and even race to categorize and manipulate the workers. One sees exactly the same arbitrary discrimination and selective imposition of “legibility” on various groups in the supposedly advanced countries of Europe and North America” Dubai in a jagged world. Supposedly slavery and human trafficking are illegal under Islamic law, however those that are exploiting these virtual slaves, are almost always the members of the government. Almost all companies that operate in Dubai are government owned or have close links with the king. As well as construction workers that often die on the job or commit suicide in the sprawling slums of Sonapur, domestic slavery and prostitution is rife in Dubai and actively promoted by the state. “Domestic workers are routinely abused by their employers. From beatings to rape” Nicholas Cooper, City of Gold,City of Slaves: Slavery and indentured servitude in Dubai, 2013. However far from being able to flee such a situation, as would be possible in a free-society. “When women act in response to their abuse they are charged by the government with crimes themselves; effectively women in Dubai face an environment in which they are punished for speaking out in abusive situations.” City of Gold,City of Slaves: Slavery and indentured servitude in Dubai.
Far from being a problem of unregulated capitalism. Dubai’s shameful human right record is the responsibility of its ruling class. “Dubai remains a dangerous place to even report rape. After reporting rape, some women have been arrested for “illegal sex acts,” and women who have been sexually assaulted face the possibility of being punished themselves” City of Gold,City of Slaves: Slavery and indentured servitude in Dubai. Ultimately it is apparent that the depravity and exploitation that exists in Dubai lies in that the state is complicit in these crimes. This is the case around the world. Historians would do well to take this into account. Furthermore it is worth mentioning that when the ruling elite of Dubai are challenged. They often say that without their presence, the country would descend into the hands of bloodthirsty Jihadists. The similarities between the rulers of Dubai,and the rulers of the western world is astonishing.
To conclude, it appears that just like Magnitagorsk or the palaces of New Dehli. Dubai is the perfect representation of its time. Built from nothing to a sprawlig metropolis in just over a generation. Dubai truly shows the awesome power of the forces that are shaping our world. The cataclysmic debt, the pervaive fist of government authority, exploitation of the people by a bloted ruling elite, tall glass buldings occupied only by wealthy CEOs and state officials and the threat (however real) of terror from an invisible yet persistent enemy. It does not explicitly demonstrate the rest of western civilisation, yet as a historical reference point Dubai has it’s use. Not free in any sense of the word, as we are led to belive. There will be those that will argue that it is one of many examples of the devestating effects of capitalism. But they will be wrong, the overarching presence of the monarchy will ultimatley prove that Dubai was anything but a unhampered free- market.A similar conclusion should be drawn about the rest of the western world. Yey most of the western world has no slave labur camps and we are mostly free to do as we wish. Be that as it may, Dubai’s historical significance as a lens through wich to view the modern world ensures its place in history. Dubai is truly a corporatist paradise.
Additional Reading

For a similar ‘microcosm’ arrproach to history. Microcosm: Portrait of a central EuropeanCity, by Norman Davies & Roger Moorhouse takes the example of Wroclaw in Poland as a means to asses European history.
If anyone has a more general interest in western civilisation and the role historical forces have play in creating he twenty first century Niall Ferguson’s Civilisation is a great place to start. As is Unfinished Empire by John Darwin. Also The Untold History of the United Staes by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick provides a merciless critique of the conext of U.S imperialism.
Critical views about Dubai can be hard to find. As most commentators are transfixed with the economic transformation of the desert city. However Dubai, The City as Corporation by Ahmed Kannah gives a compelling critical analysis of the nature of Emirati society and culture.


Tosh, J (2010) The Pursuit of History, 5th edn., London: Picador.
Cooper, N, City of Gold, City of Slaves: Slavery and Indentured Servitude in Dubai, Journal of Strategic Security, 6.5, (2013), 65-71, [accessed 4 April 2014].
Hari, J, (April 2009) The Dark Side of Dubai, Available (Accessed: 4th April 2014).
The Third Estate ( Owen) (February 2013) Dubai is an Autocracy Built on Slave Labour. Why Would You Go on Holiday There? (Accessed: 4th April 2014).
Kanna, A, (Febuary 2010) Flexible Citizenship in Dubai: Neoliberal Subjectivity in the Emerging ‘City-Corporation’ (Accessed: 4th April 2014).
Lacey, R (2009) Inside the Kingdom, 1st edn., London: Hutchinson. (Closest equivalent linked to)
The Economist (January 2013) Dubai’s Renaissance: Edifice Complex, (Accessed: 4th April 2014).
Gluckman, R (April 2013 ( Written 1992)) Hong Kong of the Desert, (Accessed: 4th April 2014).
Hvidt, M (2009) ‘The Dubai Model: An Outline of Key Components of the Development Process in Dubai‘, Center for Contemporary Middle East Studies, 41(12), pp. 391-418 [Online]. (Accessed: 4th April 2014).
Kerr, S, Peel, M (April 2011) Arrests in UAE Show Sensitivity Over Reform , (Accessed: 4th April 2014).
Abdulkhaleq, A (July 2007) The Best and Worst of Times, Financial Times, (Accessed: 4th April 2014 via Kingston University).
Neuhof, F (May 2011) ‘Protests Fail to Garner Support‘, Middle East Economic Digest,55(21), pp. 32- 33 [Online]. (Accessed on EBSCO 4th April 2014).
Kanna, A (2007) ‘Dubai in a Jagged World’, Middle East Report, 1(243), pp. 22-29 [Online].
(Accessed via Kingston University 4th April 2014).

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Forget the Wars on Drugs an Terror, the War for Health is Coming.

Recently, MPs in the UK voted in favour of banning smoking in cars where a child is present. The shadow health minister Luciana Berger (Lab) addressed the house of commons claiming that 'This is a simple measure that would make a world of difference to hundreds of thousands of children right across our country. Reducing the misery afflicted by passive smoking. Saving millions of pounds for our NHS and protecting children who do not have a voice, and do not have a choice. Who in 20 years time, will wonder how this was ever allowed in the first place'. This amendment passed 376 votes to 107 (please see link at the end of this article). The most fascinating thing about the passing of this new law ( set to be active by 2015) is the lack of attention it received in the media, after a few days of coverage the issue disappeared. This piece of legislation follows in a long line of piecemeal policies that can only be defined as 'moral' or 'safety promoting'. Another recent example of this is David Cameron's 'opt-in' system of viewing pornography. Whereby in order to have access to adult material online, users must actively contact their internet service provider ( again set for implementation in 2015). Far from being an angry tirade against 'Health and safety gone mad', this article will seek to identify a worrying trend in politics, whereby it is increasingly the government defines how best to live. And by doing so, adds to the already byzantine state structue. This, of course has a long history stretching back to the birth of the modern nation, but arguably as a result of two large-scale public wars over the past ten years it has taken a characteristically 21st century tone. The War for health is the third public war.

21st Century Tone

'Liberalism has to an increasing extent adopted the
policy of dictating the actions of citizens, and, by consequence,
diminishing the range throughout which their actions remain free' - Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State

Herbert Spencer wrote the following passage in 1885. Lamenting the rapidly expanding state. It is difficult to fathom what Spencer would have made of the modern state, however the meaning of this passage is to demonstrate how over the course of a relatively short space of time historically speaking. The idea of government intervention has changed mostly a foreign concept to an institution that has influence over every aspect of our lives. Since Spencer’s death in 1903 social concepts of liberty and life have changed dramatically. Throughout the postwar period,the public war been a defining feature. Since the late 90s a war for health has been quietly under way. Fundamentally, already at the beginning of the 2000s we were fighting two massive domestic wars. The war on drugs and the war on terror. Both have been disastrous in terms of casualties and in terms of expense The most renowned piece of legislation passed being the US patriot act in 2001. Similar laws have been implemented in Britain such as the prevention of terrorism act (2005). Arguably this sets a precedent of state power that is difficult to counter act. In fact it is obvious that in the media, government and big business. The idea of progress is inseparable from the growth of state power. It is this context that we must assess the gradual encroachment of the state into our lives. Not as opponents to safety and well-being, but as individuals that fully comprehend the very real dangers of unopposed government expansion. Even a cursory look at the exhaustive lists of legislation passed by the UK parliament over the past 15 years reveals that the vast majority are safety related. Often minor amendments to existing laws and regulations. This backdrop of constant high intensity government action, allows measures like banning smoking in cars possible with a minimal altercation.
Ultimately politicians on all sides provide little in the way of opposition to this 'progress'. Although in the news there may appear to be very real differences between the two sides of the debate represented by the established political parties. However in reality on the fundamental 'progressive' issues there is a silent, but concrete consensus. Ultimately it would be political suicide for any politician anywhere in the western world to denounce the war on drugs or the war on terror. Fundamentally the same atmosphere is rapidly developing around the issues of public health. It is often stated that in the UK, as a result of having a public healthcare system justifies an increasingly intrusive set of social policies. Yet in the USA, where healthcare is largely private, identical health policies have been implemented for a plethora of different reasons. Several US states have already banned smoking in cars where a child is present. True healthcare issues are complex and defy simple answers. However, increasing the scope of the state to deal with these issues will only lead to disaster.
Arguably governments are right to be scared about the public's health. In the next 20 years (see Link at the bottom of the page) an increasing majority of the populations of western countries will be of pensionable age. With the bankruptcy of the city of Detroit in July 2013 fresh in our minds. Governments are already struggling to keep the money flowing to their millions of dependants. The case is more acute in the UK where the public healthcare system faces a tsunami of demand in the near future. It is therefore understandable that governments are beginning to panic. Unfortunately many will fail to act before the situation hits crisis point. Consequently the 21st century theme of unopposed government expansion and public conflict will continue. As the state will need to grow, simply to sustain itself.

Wolves in Sheep's clothing

It is clear that the war for safety is rapidly gathering in pace. It is increasingly governments job to ensure that we live safe and healthy lives. Arguably, this is a long way off from William Beverage's idea of what a welfare state should look like. Ultimately government policy is more aggressive in protecting citizens from themselves then at any time previously. Again it is important to note that this is not a tirade against those who choose to live in a safer environment, or those who choose by voluntary means to live a healthy lifestyle. In fact, common sense encourages that we live safely and healthy, to the best of our ability. This article is concerned with the process whereby, under the guise of ensuring a high standard of public health, government is advancing it's reach far beyond what any sane person could permit.
As is the case with the war on drugs and the war on terror. The vast amounts of money spent on these public wars, does not justify the threat. Indeed, the threat is elusive. Intangible to the average citizen. Those outside the elite state sphere simply are not able to identify just how much we are all in danger. Thus, we must settle for the promise of protection. Usually at huge public expense, measured not only in terms of monetary value, but in terms of the liberties we must surrender so that our government can adequately fight this 'threat'. In his 2013 book Rise of the Warrior Cop Radley Blako outline a chilling scenario whereby under the guide of the war on drugs. The police forces in America have been militarized

'Not only does the military continue to provide surplus weapons to domestic police agencies, but thanks to the Department of Homeland Security grants, military contractors are now shifting to market resources toward police agencies. Worse, a new industry appears to be emerging just to convert these grants into battle-grade gear. That means we'll soon have powerful private interests, funded by government grants, who will lobby for more government grants to pay for further militarization- a police industrial complex' Radley Blako, Rise of the Warrior Cop

Furthermore already increasing amounts of government and state affiliated contractor money is used in airports, our streets and online to fight the war on terror. As a result of what has happened with drugs and terror, it could be argued that the same is happening to health.
Huge amounts of mandatory pricing already pushes up the cost of alcohol, cigarettes and foods that are high in sugar or fat. Despite the fact that little evidence shows that this has been effective in preventing people from living an unhealthy lifestyle. It is increasingly difficult to imagine a world in the near future, whereby the state does not use its power, under the guise on the 'war for health' to further advance its power. Admittedly there will be those who believe that the governments new role in promoting health is essentially benign. However this was the case with the war on drugs or the war on terror. Small scale advances that collectively add up, to from a new edifice through which the state extends its power. Ultimately these 'public wars' have little to do with the crusade that is used to identify them. The ultimate goal in an extension of state power. Evidence for this can be seen when we take a cursory look at society around us. Terror is no less of an issue, and illegal drugs no less relevant. The policies have had a negligible effect at best.

The war on drugs and the war on terror burn on. However another war is beginning to take shape, the 'war for health'. Even those who genuinely desire a more healthy society should worry about using the state as a means of achieving their desired aims.