Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Manufacturing Hope: The new Dubai Dream

By Tala Al Ramahi

In 1931, James Adam coined the term The American Dream to describe the quest thousands of men and women started upon reaching American soil: to develop themselves to their fullest potential, without the barriers erected in older civilizations. While the American Dream was not purely about gaining monetary riches, it was certainly was an undebiable constituent of the pursuit.

The Dubai Dream may share something with the American version: it certainly brought thousands to our shores to write their own ‘rags to riches’ biography, or a moderate riches to incredible wealth one.

Unfortunately, the dreams of many who did arrive to Dubai lacked the “soul” of advancing anyone else but themselves. Concern for the advancement of their direct community, let alone the larger nation, was not part of their pursuit. That may be one of the critical problems of Dubai’s so-called fall from grace.

But as the “dark side of Dubai” stories litter our news feeds, those “check in, check out” reporters who visited the Emirate for their best shot at unraveling “the dark side” missed something integral to the advancement of this Emirate: hope, and the propensity for change.
While ‘hope’ for a better future may have been more implicit in Dubai’s Dream in the past, it will now be, or at least should be, one of its biggest driving forces for self improvement, recovery, and a new sucess story for the Middle East.

Dominique Moisi, a senior adviser for the Institute of International Affairs and author of a newly published book: The Geopolitics of Emotion, argues that such hope is one of the key drivers of incredible development witnessed in India and China. A culture of hope in social and economic empowerment he writes, also drove similar growth in the West in the past.
In contrast, a culture of constant humiliation, especially one lacking any hope, is a key driver of extremism, especially one we have witnessed in the region.

If anything, some of the recent attacks on Dubai through the Western press share something very similar to some of the men and women who arrived here: they wanted nothing more than a shot at fame and fortune; it was all about self interest. I am not arguing against hiding our ills underneath the table.

On the contrary, we must address the very real problems that plague our economy and social sphere. However, using sensationalist and sometimes, humiliating narrative to unravel such ills is just as fruitless as turning a blind eye to them.

Humiliation without hope, Moisi writes in his book, “encapsulates a sense of dispossession toward the present, and even more so toward the future.” However, “good humiliation”, one that is coupled with hope for better circumstances and a promising political and economic future acts as a rally and a driver for more competition.

The Dubai Dream may not be perfect, and it will certainly evolve to encapsulate more substantial components than just monetary riches, but without its essential element of hope, we cannot continue to become the beacon of hope for our neighboring region. In fact, even in the U.S., the 'American Dream' was not about the 'life, liberty and happiness, as much as it was about the never ending pursuit of it. The ability to pursue such hope and what comes as a consequence of hard work is something Dubai has done fairly well in comparison to other similar nations.

There are already many regions in close proximity to ours who constituents cannot afford to even hope anymore because of the dire economic and political circumstances, the constant humiliation from local and alien forces, and the lack of confidence in national leadership.
On the other hand, the global economic downturn, and the subsequent reports on Dubai’s lost dream actually has a brighter narrative. Those who were interested in advancing the nation (in addition to themselves, of course) are probably the ones who stayed put in spite of shaky times. The others who were in search for a “dream of material plenty” probably packed their bags in search for the next opportunity.

Dubai is not without its ills. Stories of construction workers in the sweltering unforgiving Gulf heat to abused domestic helpers are very much real. But so is the Emirate’s propensity to change and do something about it.

The Dubai Dream is not about superlatives, glittering skylines and stories of incredible (sometimes unbelievable) wealth anymore. It is about hope. It is about rising above the ills, downturns and economic mishaps with a sense of humility and grace. But most importantly, with a sense of hope for constructive change. We cannot afford to have another city in this region embittered, underdeveloped, and losing the one emotion that allows us to look forward to something better.

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