Most of you know that I grew up in Dubai till I was about 16 and then moved to Toronto. I visted here 5 years ago, just as the city was beginning to undergo some of its more extravagant projects like the Palm Islands and Atlantis hotel.
Today the city is almost complete. The famous cranes still linger around, putting finishing cosmetic touches on the city. The metro line while not entirely functional is a thing of beauty, running above ground through most of the city and underground in the more dense areas.
The city is overall a lot more liberal that I remember. At the clubs girls are decked out in pum pum shorts (they call them hot pants) and many men in khandouras are sipping on blue monkey's, a sight you would almost never witness in the past.
I took a mini drive around the palm islands yesterday, most of the homes are restricted and the Atlantis hotel is gorgeous, overlooking the sea. The hotel is an exact replica of Las Vegas. Infact most of Dubai feels like Vegas, shiny, new, without all the naked breasts.
What's also new is the debt. Everywhere you go people are talking about the 60 billion dollars of debt that Dubai has racked up mordernizing its infrastructure, building its wild projects and through its recent real estate bubble. Dubai's relatively new stock market is failing and people whisper about withdrawing their money from banks amid fears that many are about to fail. The job situation is also shaky. Emirates airlines is seemingly the largest employer. Everywhere you travel in the city you find large apartment buildings specially dedicted to housing the airlines staff. Recently the company has made many cuts, however, many fear more are to come.
Also interesting is Dubai World, an investment company created by the ruling family as a finance vehicle for some of Dubai's bigger projects. Many large banks like HSBC are heavily invested. There are many good articles including this one in the new york times and Wall Street Journal.
While there is much doom and gloom, what Dubai has going for it, is world class infrastucture, worth seeing mega projects, a fabulous location, weather and above all stability. I can't help but feel that this crises will pass, and investors will come again. Yet the one hurdle remains, transparency. The Arab population is just not comfortable with full disclosure. And without it true progress is always just a dream.