“Why build 40 mosques for 1000 persons each, if you can also build 1 big one for 40.000? Look around, space enough!” I’m in the 6th largest mosque of the world in Abu Dhabi, where the guide answers my question why it was necessary to build such a huge building like this and not divide it up into smaller, more spread version. His answer was characteristic for everything I’ve experienced in the two weeks I’ve visited Dubai and Qatar. While Dubai itself has no money, but is heavily sponsored by the United Emirates capital Abu Dabi, it’s skyline, projects and infrastructure is, just like Doha’s, breathtaking. The growth which both the United Emirates and Qatar are experiencing, seems unstoppable. While a few years ago, Dubai was faced with a heavy burst in their property bubble, it looks like it was quickly repaired and is already forgotten. Everything needs to be bigger and fancier, from the fastest roller coaster and largest shopping mall to the largest tower in the world. Inhabitants are paying no taxes and several things are even subsidized. Besides the guarantee of a minimum salary, the whole education system is free until PhD level. “A play garden for the richest people in the surroundings”, as a friend told me.
When entering the Burj Khalifa, the highest tower of the world, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s openings words became visible on the wall; “The word impossible is not in leaders’ dictionaries. No matter how bit the challenges, strong faith, determination and resolve will overcome them“. Driving through Dubai / Doha, it seems that the inhabitants are taking this quote very serious in their construction plans. But all the growth and welfare also has it’s negative counter side. While 25% of the worlds building cranes is situated in Dubai alone, approximately 50% of the office spaces in all these prestigious towers is empty. This not only resulted in halve completed towers, but even complete craters in the middle of the city, waiting for money… Proud or grandiloquence?
The first Palm island was world news and also quickly sold-out, the second is one big disaster, just like the project ‘The World’, where no single island is sold yet. not even talking about all the other ‘island projects’ for which ll the building materials are already waiting in the storages. When having dinner with some friends from the Sandbox Network, I got the remark “we don’t value our resources here”, when throwing away two third of the food. This was confirmed during the opening night of the TED Summit, where it became also clear that Qatar is the country which has not only the highest water consumption in the world per capita, but also the largest spillage. So many signs that something is going wrong and has the potential to get worse in the near future, but there is hope.
Barring all the side effects, it was an eye opener to listen to the local speakers on the TED stage during the summit, talking about all the projects which are running right now, fighting against all these negative side-effects of the extreme growth. Ranging from the prevention of the huge water spillage (for which friends of mine also developed a very interesting product) to the construction and running of the stadiums for the World Cup of soccer in 2022, which is completely environmentally friendly.
The kindness, hospitality and openness of the people was a welcoming addition to this, already fabulous trip. It was complemented by all the richness of the Islamatic culture and history, from which I got a totally different and especially, more positive impression.
With all the huge investments made in education and tourism, I’m wondering how the region will look like in a couple years, when the oil is gone. Thinking back about all the experiences I’ve had during the two weeks in this impressive upcoming economy, I’m definitely returning back soon! 🙂