By Steve Kelman

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The Lectern: Random Dubai impressions

* Thanks to the director of executive education at the Dubai School of Government, I went on a "desert safari" last night, tagging along with a group of 25 George Washington University MBA students and two faculty members who are on a 10-day visit to Dubai. The motion sickness-inducing trip resembled a roller-coaster ride as much as anything, as we careened along in a Jeep with deflated tires at impossible angles across sand dunes. Afterward, we were treated to a camel ride, a barbecue and a performance by a belly dancer who turned out to be from Russia (!).

* There are roughly (or ROM, "rough order of magnitude," to use the DOD phrase) 200,000 native Dubaians and 1 million expatriates living here. Some of the latter are rich businesspeople and professionals, but the majority are blue-collar workers -- mostly from Pakistan and India but also from elsewhere. As a response to my recently posted notes, these people have low wages and lead rough lives. But almost all have come voluntarily (although there is a trafficking problem here) and generally from a long distance, and they have stayed. This suggests that their conditions here are better than at home.

* The local English-language newspaper actually divides up foreign news with one page marked "Americas," one "United Kingdom," one "Pakistan," one "India" and one "Asia" to allow the expatriates to more easily locate news from home. Recently, Dubai changed its law to allow expatriates to become citizens after 25 (!) years of residence, but a debate about multiculturalism still belongs to the future.

* A few days ago, the local paper ran a story headlined "Dubai to get its own French city." According to the report, a private developer will build a community that is designed to look like parts of the French city of Lyon, which the developer adores. Stories such as these promote the Disney World-like ambience of Dubai.

* Today (Thursday) is the Muslim New Year's Day, so it's a public holiday. The exact beginning of the new year is proclaimed each year by the mufti (senior-most Islamic religious leader) in Saudi Arabia not long before the day itself. I had planned to take a break from teaching last Tuesday and teach today but had to rearrange my schedule when New Year's Day was announced.

* According to a recent report, Dubai's economic growth rate in 2007 topped 16 percent.
* I am staying in Deira, the older, somewhat more downscale part of town to the east, which has a  bit more of a traditional Mediterranean feel (low-slung buildings, tan and white facades).  The fancier, ultra-modern Western-style architecture parts of the city, which dominate the television pictures from Dubai, are to the West, where the city has expanded. Further west it's still another 40 miles or so of desert to the border of Abu Dabai, the oil-rich emirate next store, so there's still room for expansion.

* Following up on my last post, this morning's paper has a story about the federal United Arab Emirates cabinet (Dubai is one of seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates) having an extensive discussion on the proposed system to manage the performance of federal governance:

"The system will...focus on ensuring satisfaction of the customers who deal with various federal government departments, providing the public the best services as per global standards.... The proposed system also makes it imperative for each federal entity to follow up the smooth implementation of the various stipulations in the federal strategy and to evolve plans to guarantee best results and high quality, as well as to maintain accountability and transparency in governance."

* President Bush will visit Dubai for a day next week for a day. His visit will feature an event at the Dubai School of Government, where I have been teaching.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jan 10, 2008 at 12:09 PM


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