19 February, 2008

Most Anti-Dubai Article That I Have Seen

In Australia's The Age: Dubai's rags-to-riches miracle built on the toil of exploited foreign workers
[The laborers] live in a slum called Sonapur, hidden in the dunes between Dubai and Sharjah. Without Sonapur, Dubai's architectural bling, its spas and tax-free splendour probably wouldn't exist. It's a Middle Eastern Soweto, where as many as 500,000 foreign labourers — mostly illiterates from the impoverished rural villages of the subcontinent — that build Dubai are housed in some of the most depressing conditions I've witnessed. Its a Hogarthian dystopia that should shame Dubaians, if they knew much about it. Or cared...

Its wretched sprawl of workers' filthy dormitories is an anonymous slum hidden from the Dubaians whose apartments its residents built. The best way to find Sonapur is to follow one of the worker buses that shuttle between Dubai's many building sites. About 90 minutes later, you'll be deposited in a sand-swept plain of four-storey dormitories sprawled as far as the eye can see, punctuated by the occasional provisions store selling ghee, naan and curry powders. Dubai gleams with world-class infrastructure but Sonapur didn't get much of it. Many of its roads are gravel and sand with no kerbing and few footpaths. Open sewers are common...

It is almost as if Dubai's employers have scanned the world and zeroed in on the poorest 20 nations to staff their projects. Promised riches but paid salaries well below the poverty line, they've been found jobs by unscrupulous middlemen charitably described as "employment agencies" who wouldn't have been out of place in 1780s Atlanta.


Robert said...

It's not by any means positive towards Dubai, but are you suggesting it's somehow inaccurate? I saw a few facts that I didn't agree with, but they were relatively minor. Are you suggesting that the laborers are not in fact treated treated like slaves and crammed like sardines in terrible conditions?

Dubai has a lot to be proud of, but it's also got quite a lot needs fixing, too.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

who wouldn't have been out of place in 1780s Atlanta.

At that time, slavery was coercive.

There is no coercion in Dubai, as far as I know...

Female Chauvinistic Pig said...

Nothing that UAE residents do not know about already. Except that one of the rare occasions when the definition is right: slave labor.

Brn said...


I wasn't trying to make any comments on the accuracy, just on the tone. It seems pretty accurate, from what I know (I live in Al Ain and say Alhamdillah every day because of that), but the tone is the most viciously anti-Dubai news article I've read.

This is the mirror image of the "golly gee, look at this latest mega-project" story that is much more common. Neither is an accurate picture because it is incomplete.

alexander said...

I do get a little depressed at these pieces, of which there have been approximately a zillion, written by journalists who fly into Dubai on 3-day trips, characterise a complex and often virtually unfathomable set of inter-relationships with a few flip and glib simplifications and then write with an assumption of authority that goes way beyond their understanding.

No, I'm not defending Sonapur's awfulness. But we should all, surely, have accepted the deal or left by now: we're here on the back of Sonapur. All of us.

But then there's more to it than just that. Sonapur chooses to work, to stay, to bring family to enjoy the benefits. They're not prevented from leaving. So is the fault Dubai's or the desperate economies that make it possible? And is Dubai actually providing an alternative to a worse thing?

It's a great deal more complex than a blog comment, or a formulaic 'Expats loll as labourers toll' piece could possibly manage to do justice to.

What's amazing, to me, is that nobody has yet bothered to do it justice...

Kyle said...


I’m amazed at the term you coin ‘desperate economies’. What’s a desperate economy to you? You make it sound with your veiled attack, like those ‘economies’ push or shove their citizens to take up these miserable assignments?

Look, I’m not here to start an argument, and I couldn’t care less whose side you or anybody that’s well off in this country, is on.

There’s right and there’s wrong and what’s happening to those people is wrong. And no, it’s got nothing to do with that ‘desperate economy’ theory of yours. Those people, even if they were mislead with a promise of paradise in this hellhole by unscrupulous recruiters, do not deserve this slave labor misery that is wholeheartedly condoned by the Government of this country. A major responsibility lies upon the Government to take care of these people that’re building their future, not you, nor I. It is these people whose blood, sweat and tears that make this wannabe utopia sparkle.

And is Dubai actually providing an alternative to a worse thing?

I guess, you and I would never know unless we were in their shoes, now would we?

And one last thing, I’d say to you. If you want to vent your anger or frustration against this zillion and one article, go take it out on a punching bag instead of a journalist doing what he knows best: REPORTING FACTS!

Proud Emirati said...

no such thing called slavery ......

DXBluey said...


"journalist doing what he knows best: REPORTING FACTS!"

Sorry - this is a very naive comment.

Kyle said...


If you think, mine is a naïve comment, then this whole label and its content is hogwash because, hey – we’re in utopia where everything is pristine & bliss!

Robert said...

It is somewhat naive. It implies complete professionalism and judgement out of the journalist, where here we have a rehash of one of the 2 main Dubai stories: the "downtrodden laborers" and the "Dubai as growing paradise and wonderland, look what their building now!" angles that have been done over and over. This is just evidence of a story that sells is all.

DXBluey said...


Sorry, but no that doesn't follow at all. More like Robert's comment all I am implying is that to have 100% faith in a journalist being a transparant truth communicator is a misguided faith.

I'm not picking a fight with you...

Kyle said...


My apologies, if I came down a bit hard on you!

Seabee said...

I have to agree with Alexander that it's a hugely complex issue which is always presented as a simple black & white issue. It really needs a book, not a reader-grabbing sensationalist short piece - and that applies to both the 'opulent' story and the 'slave-labour' story.

And 'a journalist reporting facts' is naive I'm afraid. Even if the facts of any story are as reported, they're selective. Facts left out are as important to the truth as facts put in. Emotive words are used to add bias to support the thrust of the story (examples in this story: UAE is strictly Islamist and the reclusive royal family). Surely nobody believes any more that 'it must be true because I read it in the paper'.

Brn said...

Everyone is right about this being a very complex subject that needs more than an article or two, but I have taken a whack at it with just a blog post anyway, if anyone is interested.

hemlock said...

Kyle: a journalist reporting fact would not prejudice a story with bias.
the fact is that for all the people who are so vocal about "slave labour" - if even an insignificant raise in their salaried was passed on to the consumer, none of us would be willing to pay for it.
no one would buy a JBR apartment for 2.6 million, if they knew 0.1 million of that was going to go in labour wages. theyd want it knocked off the price completely.

unfortunately, we, the expats only want to crib about "the social unjustice". if it ever came down to us, none of us would do our bit.

samuraisam said...

Non-member commenting is going to be moderated through this weekend; this means that if you are not a member of this blog and you post a message it will not be published until I access blogger and publish comments (on sunday). No member comments should be affected

Kyle said...


I won't dispute any thing you've written here.

I'll just quote one line. I read this line in a label on a similar topic, few months ago, which went something like this:

'But guess what, we all make them bleed, not just the Diwan'

Cheers :)

Emirati said...

What a bunch of drama queens. Slave labour is when you are held against your will. Here you are not held against your will.

Keep your emotions at the door.

Emirati said...

Meanwhile, I would suggest to our Australian friends to not play the liberator card and criticise anyone on 'human rights' until they have properly compensated the Aborigiones subjugation and suffering at their hands.

It can be said that most of our friends here, are rubbing their hands together in glee at an opportunity by the writer to condemn a city and country, while it is never EVER mentioned how many kids have gone to college, how many homes have been built, and how much has been gained by those very same people in terms of quality of life for their loved ones back home.

And this was gained in Sonapur, UAE.

rosh said...

"....while it is never EVER mentioned how many kids have gone to college, how many homes have been built.....

And this was gained in Sonapur, UAE."

If am reading correctly, how do you know, families of those at Sonapur had these opportunities? These folks can hardly make ends meet in the UAE, how are they going afford homes and education etc, where ever, for family?

Even so, do you think it's "OK", the less fortunate continue to live in sub-human conditions and terms, just because many more have been fortunate in the UAE?

Take a read at Brn's post on his blog - I think he has offered a valid counter post.

Emirati said...


I dont say that something is okay or not, im explaining why people will. Lets be honest, these workers will be able to save through their job, money which they will usually send back home. We have a man that tends to our garden. Both of his sons are in college, he has a house, he has a car. If all of these workers here, worked here and did not send any money home, then no one would work here. But billions a year are sent through remittances to home countries. We dont even tax this remittance !

And if they bribe some official for a job, and are in debt, tough luck, that is the responsiblity of the corrupt Indian/Paksitani etc. State.

rosh said...


Not sure if your gardener makes Dhs500 or 800 a month + housing, food etc or something else altogether. Most labour folks get paid give or take Dhs 800, less deductibles for food, housing, transport etc and work insane hours a week. There really isn't much to save, let alone afford a home and children's education?

My folks had a maid for almost 28 years - and her story is similar to that of your driver.

As for expats who've had a positive living - of course, no denying that. I am always the first to stand up and say so. Always been proud my folks worked hard to put us thru good schools, food on our table, provide for us -and raised us perhaps in one of the safest nation.

That said, think, it was quite different in the UAE 10 years ago. I know of people, who earn Dhs 5K, unable to save much, given the insane rise of cost of living. Of course, their lifestyle, do not fall in that of the less fortunate.

As for taxes: this is solely the UAE govt's decision. People work hard to make that income - it's their monies to dispose/save. However, you & I know, a debate on taxation without representation, could lead to other sensitive topics.

Re: bribe to state officials -totally on board. However, once these souls enter the UAE workforce - the UAE govt has a responsibility to ensure human & labour laws & rights are in place, and upheld.

A Housein said...

I would definitely agree with this Aussie snapshot of how things really are in Dubai. Anyone who says there is no slavery only has to experience the whole NOC-Employment visa which is one of the most tyrannical systems in this day and age. On the one hand Dubai is projected as this dynamic entrepreneurial state with a CEO Ruler ( who personlly pis probably all that his PR says) but how can he allow the most medieval sytems of bondage to continue in the name of labour laws. They might as well be called a slavery law. Why do you need your sponsors permission for everything from your residential phone/cable or internet application. If you need to apply for a driving licence you need your sponsor's permission - the rumor goes that you won't be allowed to use the Dubai Metro without your salary slip and your sponsor's permission!! This law will slowly be extended to visiting public loos also! But seriously this entire employment regime is a blot on the face of Modern Dubai and the UAE. This is a great country with very capable and proud Emirati locals - do they need this mollycoddling. When will enough be enough..?

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