Dubai is finally financially bankrupt – but it has
been morally bankrupt all along. The idea that Dubai is an oasis of
freedom on the Arabian peninsular is one of the great lies of our time. Yes,
it has Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts and the Gucci styles, but beneath
these accouterments, there is a dictatorship built by slaves.
If you go there with your eyes open – as I did
earlier this year – the truth is hidden in plain view. The tour books
and the bragging Emiratis will tell you the city was built by Sheikh
Mohammed, the country's hereditary ruler.
untrue. The people who really built the city can be seen in long
chain-gangs by the side of the road, or toiling all day at the top of
the tallest buildings in the world, in heat that Westerners are told
not to stay in for more than 10 minutes. They were conned into coming,
and trapped into staying.
In their home
country – Bangladesh or the Philippines or India – these workers are
told they can earn a fortune in Dubai if they pay a large upfront fee.
When they arrive, their passports are taken from them, and they are
told their wages are a tenth of the rate they were promised.
end up working in extremely dangerous conditions for years, just to pay
back their initial debt. They are ringed-off in filthy tent-cities
outside Dubai, where they sleep in weeping heat, next to open sewage.
They have no way to go home. And if they try to strike for better
conditions, they are beaten by the police.
met so many men in this position I stopped counting, just as the
embassies were told to stop counting how many workers die in these
conditions every year after they figured it topped more than 1,000
among the Indians alone.
Human Rights Watch
calls this system "slavery." Yet the Westerners who have flocked to
Dubai brag that they "love" the city, because they don't have to pay
any taxes, and they have domestic slaves to do all the hard work. They
train themselves not to see the pain.
Dubai's bankruptcy does not end there: it is ecologically bust. This is
a city built in the burning desert, where everything shrivels up and
blows away if it is not kept artificially cold all the time. That's why
it has the highest per capita carbon emissions on earth – some 250
percent higher even than America's. The city has to ship in desalinated
water – which is more costly than oil. When it runs out of cash, it
will run out of water.
Today Dubai will be
bailed out by the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich country of which
it is only one state. But the oil will not last forever. More
importantly, there is no Bank of Morality that could provide a bailout
for this sinister mirage in the desert.
To read Johann's full report from Dubai, click here.
Johann hari is a writer for the Independent. To read more of his articles, click here.