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Some enlightenment from Dubai disillusionment

09:21, December 03, 2009

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By Li Hongmei People's Daily Online

The sweeping credit crunch has ripped through Dubai, A lifelike Arabic fairy tale built on sand, sending the emirate braving bitterly the worsening debt storms to prove to the world that all its ambitious blueprints are more than a fairy land and far from a mirage.

Some snapshots of the Desert Storm: Property, engine of Dubai's growth and accounted for more than half the economy at its peak and even last year, has run into the sand. House prices plummet by as much as 50%, and are expected to go down a further 20%, leaving Dubai real estate in tatters.

Tourism, 20% of its GDP last year, is now nose-diving. Additionally, multi-billion dollar investments by Dubai's sovereign wealth funds in foreign assets have also slumped. And the storm never fails to hit the market, which has already shrunk up to 70% from its 2005 highs.

Even worse, the debt of key state-backed companies and government-controlled firms has amounted to $ 80 billion, more than the city state's GDP. What is more worrisome than numbers is that, perhaps, Dubai will be facing a confidence crunch---- featuring the downcast morale with the burst of economic bubble and the bankruptcy of creating a Muslim capitalist success story.

Now Dubai dream turns sour, but would that sound a wakening alarm to those authorities who are still dreaming of creating a copycat Dubai or pushing ahead Dubai Mode by absolutely resorting to the forceful administrative hand ?

At least, Dubai exists as real as London, New York or Hong Kong, and no one would doubt it is still a great place to study the architecture, although in between the grand skyscrapers is just sand, and gaps to be filled with time and money, both of which are right now wanting to the once manmade oasis on sand. Perhaps, Dubai has a future, much the way as the emerging sun with all its shimmering rays was suddenly shrouded by the darkness of clouds just before showing its first shining beam at the horizon.

Dubai inspired people by turning out a dreamlike world, as if the mysterious island in Jules-Verne's fiction just came true and to life. Dubai disillusioned people, because in its dreamy and starlit sky, there appeared no trace of dreams released freely and willingly by the numerous dream-loving individuals. If the skyline of such a dream land is totally monopolized by powerful and high-handed dreamers, it will be nothing more than a pipe dream.

Dubai's undoing may just lie in the fact that the administrators directly act as the chief architect and forerunner defining and leading its economic tides. And those in power failed to realize in time that any flourishing economy must be built on the active and voluntary involvement of hundreds of millions of individuals and a sizable number of market main bodies.

And only when a tussle unfolds within the frame of justice and fairness, and with more interest groups and individuals willingly involved, would the dream for a real common prosperity be possibly fulfilled.

Wealth could be lock up by the "happy few", but not dreams. If the dream for better is monopolized or disturbed, and if the overflowing abundance in the hands of the elites is established totally at the cost of the others' happiness to seek their own dreams, the showy and luxurious city structure would hardly avert its doomsday.

Lamentably, Dubai Dream goes sour; but still hopefully, it is not a day dream.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Gavin Jon MowatGavin Jon Mowat

Gavin Jon Mowat, editor and columnist for People's Daily Online.

As a graduate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, Gavin came to Beijing 2 years ago to study Chinese.

Enjoying the culture and traditions of the orient so much, Gavin has since left his home in Scotland and is now living and working in China.

Gavin uses his background in writing to share his experiences of China with you at People's Daily Online.