In Dubai, thousand and one night come out from the dunes

 (Excerpts translated from Paris Match, Special Anniversary Issue (November 2006)

The only limit: the heavens.

In Dubai, even the sea shrinks in the desire to build always farther, always taller. Forty years ago, it was only a small fishing port. The discovery of oilfields, in 1967, changed the card, transformed this territory of 4,000 sqkm into a wealthy city and decided to spew out from the sand buildings and ultramodern highways. Out of the seven united Arab emirates, Dubai is the only one who had anticipated, very rapidly, that its reserves of black gold is not eternal. And to prepare its reconversion into an incontrovertible economic crossroads. Day and night, workers construct towers, tourist complexes and shopping centres that never cease beating all world records of luxury and excesses. Expatriates from all countries of the world are there, constituting 85% of the population. In Dubai, there is the sun, the sea, all the comforts of a western city, and no taxes. Millions of tourists flock there. To witness what became of a plain desert out of the craziest dreams of the capitalists.The portraits of Dubai change so rapidly. Faster than mobile phones. The city of world records transforms itself faster than we write.

The airport for example.
Planes of nearly 100 airline companies from all countries of the world touch down there. Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport easily passes off as a domestic terminal. One comes out exhausted having to walk around as many corridors and to parade infront of as many boutiques. But then, Dubai Airport is already obsolete! Soon, an expansion will make it the biggest airport in the world, 120 million passengers, surpassing that of any American hub or London Heathrow.

Another example? Last autumn, the Mall of Emirates, the world’s first shopping center (550,000 sqm) was inaugurated with 7,000 parking spaces. But today, it is already outmoded. The future Dubai Mall has already promised to be the biggest with parking space for 16,000 cars. Its opening is already planned for 2007 but hardly the drawing plans for this project are put in place that is has already been surpassed by the Mall of Arabia, much bigger, a pharaonic project, set in Dubailand. Five billion dollars and 45 theme parks. Extending to 186 sqkm, just the parks alone will double the entire surface of the city. There will be a real mountain, real ski slopes, real polar bears, under one dome.

Under construction is the tallest building in the world…Burj Dubai…height is still secret but talks are rife that it will reach 800 m as against that of Taipei101 of 509 meters… 18 months to its completion, it is already an icon, at least by the speed of its construction. An entire floor is added every four days, there are already 160 with an elevator capable of reaching the 138th floor in one go. It would have taken only 5 years from conception to completion. Night is like day where 3,000 Asian labourers are like ants continuously working in shifts to erect this building.

After the towers of Babel built in the sand, the tallest skycrapers in the world of which we still dont know up to where it will rise. The city and its port are permanently under construction.

In 30 years, this small emirate has invaded the sea to become the Las Vegas of Arabia. The Palm Jumeirah, extension of Dubai to the sea, started construction 5 years ago and will be welcoming, starting December, its first residents. The biggest artificial island in the world, its shape ressembles that of a date palm. It is visible from outer space.

In this small area of only 4,000 sqkm (4/5th the size of Cebu), it has to find a place. The sea. Again a record. Dubai possesses the biggest artificial port in the world. And artificial island as residence of the ultrachic… the Palm Jumeirah, a project of 1.3 billion usd. Villas priced at 1.3 million usd each were sold in just three days.

But the most beautiful will have to see the light of day in 2008: The World, 300 artificial islands, for a planisphere reproduction of our planet, 8 km in length and width. Each island has the contour of a country. Half of them have already been sold, majority to foreigners – who didn’t have the right to own properties in Dubai until 2002. Price of each between 15 and 40 million USD. The price of the villa is not yet included in the price. Rod Stewart has already bought the island of Great Britain for 33 million dollars. The small countries are badly represented but it’s normal. who will struggle to buy Rwanda? Obviously, there is no trace of Israel (You don’t enter Dubai with an Israeli passport)

Dubai houses the entire world. Here, one can gaze at the skycrapers which dwarf those in New York, ski like in the Alpes even if it’s 50degC outside, play in luxurious golf courses in the middle of the desert, gamble in casinos the Las Vegas way – even though Islam prohibits gambling.

Built of glass, steel, solar panels, all the buildings are competing in height, if not, in ingenuity… From the clouds, it’s a halo of unbelievable lights. By comparison, Las Vegas is a mere 60 watts!

And soon, Falconcity of Wonders putting in one place the reproductions of the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the hanging gardens of Babylon, the Pharoah of Alexandria, the pyramid of Giza…

One of Dubai’s pride is still the Burj Al Arab, the tallest hotel in the world, 127 floors at 321 meters. Its 230 luxury suites has given it the right to proclaim itself 7-star. The smallest room measures 170 sqm and the biggest…800 sqm. Bathrooms in marble and water faucets in gold are obviously obligatory. All this has a price.. from 1,200 to 10,000 euros per night. A stone’s throw away, another palace, the Madinat Jumeirah which extends to 43 hectares.

This complex of Arabic style comprises two 5* hotels, villas at 6,500 usd per night, a souk with 75 boutiques, restaurants, theatres. Three kilometers of canals allowing the circulation of “Abras” (traditional boats). To refresh, one of the biggest swimming pools ever dugged at 2,500 sqm. Dubai is also equipped with eleven 18-hole golf courses which are sprinkled with million cubic metres of desalinated water. Moreover, Dubai absorbs 4 times more water than the global average.

At the turn of the century, Dubai had only 10,000 habitants. Now it totals more than 1 million, 85% of which are expatriates. And its objective is to attract 15 million tourists each year.

The aim of Dubai is clear: to become, not the Las Vegas of the Middle East but more the Monaco of the desert. …… Dubai is certainly a city, vast and eccentric, but there is nothing much to do there.
The night clubs…. Prostitutes are more numerous than the dunes. And liquor is only prohibited one day per year, that of the birthday of the Prophet. And only from 6am to 6pm.

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