It was October 2003; the setting was the recently opened Madinat Jumeirah, its lobby strewn with even more rose-petals and incense-bearers than usual. For the weary Dubai hack pack, lured there by the anticipation of free Jumeirah International catering and yet another laser-etched paperweight or pleather business folder, it was clear that Sheikhliness was afoot.
Sharpened pencils and reporters' notebooks were readied as the crowds descended the elevator into the press conference room. It was packed to the rafters. As well as journalists there were endless VIP guests, businesspeople and white-robed members of the royal retinue.
This was an era of great works of Vision - from Dubai Internet City and Media City to Dubai International Financial Centre. The emirate was growing, it was the start of the boom. People were excited about Dubai, they were anticipating great things. So far everything made sense. The direction was clear. Trade, commerce, technology: all areas that Dubai already did or likely could excel at.
And then a lengthy video played, introducing Dubailand
. Endless CGI scenes of housing developments were intercut with stock footage of theme parks and shots of Dubai. It was more bewildering than impressive. As it went on, it made progressively less sense. The accompanying speech
was no more enlightening.
As the media shuffled out, and started swapping notes, one thing became clear. Everyone had been left with a strange, prevailing sensation of tackiness. (According to one source in a production company that didn't win the bid, the video was made on the cheap in Asia). Nonetheless, this was an era when everyone believed in Dubai, and when everyone - local or expat - wanted to believe in Dubai.
But no one understood Dubailand. Other than that it appeared to be connected to tourism
, it didn't seem very well defined. And its history has been one of cancellations, cover-ups, shifting goalposts. There was this article by ITP
(link goes to archived pdf): "Projects worth billions of dollars have been shelved on the massive Dubailand development"
- it was hastily pulled from the web, despite containing quotes from a senior official. Its assertions were never corrected or denied. As one source says in the banned article: "Many [projects] were unfeasible and impractical - the numbers just didn’t work, and they were simply shrouded by the glitz of the idea."
Looking back, Dubailand is perhaps the defining moment when the Vision first faltered. Let us not forget what we were told that day, these are the words
of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum:"I would like to tell capitalists that Dubai does not need investors, investors need Dubai and I tell you that the risk lies not in using your money but in letting it pile up. It is dormant and dead if it is merely a figure in an account. I tell them not to hold onto it and kill it in safes, let it breathe and be active because money is like water - if you lock it up, it becomes stagnant and foul-smelling, but if you let it flow, it stays fresh. If it does not flow, it will become stagnant and its colour will change. When I encourage you to invest, I am not asking you to put your money into a fire - I guarantee that your money will be invested in carefully studied projects. I want to be frank with you - I have the courage to take decisions and to bear the responsibility for the consequences. Do you have the courage to be frank and decisive?"Comments
Labels: business, madinat