IN THE DISTANCE, the rows of high-rise towers on Dubai’s infamous Sheikh Zayed Road glitter; ornaments on the edge of an immense plain. Closer, giant boxes – elaborate light-fringed shopping centres and business precincts – rise out of the dust. From the back of the Mercedes, we seem to be looping, the long curvature of roads crossing back on themselves like a tame sideshow ride that still manages to make me queasy. The streets are quiet, lined with orange and white barricades instead of gutters. The rain, unseasonable and unexpected, pools on the roads. It has nowhere to go. There are no sidewalks; beyond the plastic barricades, the streets just roll out into rubble and dust and are like the rest of this city, under pressure of construction, on the cusp of being reclaimed by the desert altogether.
Dubai is a twenty-first century dream city sold hard on a handful of facts, a sprinkling of spin and lashings of conjecture. Dubai’s spectacular growth is impressive, but the city-state on the edge of the Persian Gulf remains unknowable, tinged by the lingering exoticism and fear which shadow the Middle East.
Already a subscriber? Sign in here