Shame on Vanity Fair

Shame on Vanity Fair for their publication of Dubai on Empty.  Having lived in the UAE, I find the article to be offensive and untrue.  It presents one negative stereotype after another and its clear the author fails to possess any understanding of Emirati culture.  Just because the author doesn’t get Emirati culture, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.  The article does state some facts about Dubai, like the roads changing frequently, etc., but his broad judgments about Emirati culture are disturbing.  I wonder if he did his research surveying drunken expats in a bar that don’t even know any Emiratis.  The most disheartening fact is that there is great prejudice against Muslims and Arabs in the western world and an article like this is likely to perpetuate such hatred.  Would Vanity Fair publish an article re-enforcing negative African American stereotypes?  I would imagine that an article inferring that African Americans are lazy criminals wouldn’t be approved by Vanity Fair’s editors but somehow it’s ok to criticize Arabs. Here are some points in the article that I find to be unjustly biased:

  • The sexual tone of the article with its references to viagra are particularly unsettling.  Given Muslim’s conservative view of sexual relations, the article starts off with a derogatory tone.  I wonder if the author does this on purpose because he is a douche or he is just ignorant about this aspect of the culture.
  • Yes, Dubai had a financial crisis.  So did a few other countries around the world if I recall.  Like the U.S. and other European countries, Dubai made reckless, bad investments. At least Dubai got a few buildings out of their financial crisis.  What did Americans get out of their financial crisis other than a larger deficit?  By investing in buildings Dubai couldn’t afford, the author says Dubai has a “national inferiority complex” which seems like a double standard.  Americans always want to be the best at everything but does that mean we have a national inferiority complex?  No.  Also, when the author uses the term national, he seems to be forgetting that Dubai is part of the UAE, 80% of which is Abu Dhabi who is financially doing fine and showing no sign of a national inferiority complex.
  • The article refers to wealthy Emirati families as “impervious to any economic reality”, which I don’t really understand since rich people around the world act the same.  Rich Emiratis are no different than affluent people from any other country.  During the U.S. financial crisis, rich Americans kept shopping like Emiratis.  In fact it’s economically better for rich people to spend money during financial crisis. The author’s view is clear when he quotes “Carnegie’s warning about wealth: ‘There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else.’ Emiratis are born retired.”  The fact that the UAE government decided to redistribute the oil wealth to its citizens is one of the reasons that the UAE is one of the only Middle East countries not having protests.  Emiratis get money when they are born, have access to low interest loans for investing, real estate opportunities, free education at all levels, affordable healthcare, the list goes on and on.  Emiriatis created a society that benefits its citizens.  Isn’t that what everyone wants in their home country?
  • When the article started talking about greed, I was certain that the author knew nothing about Emirati culture. My experience is that Emiratis are very hospitable, generous people.  Not only are they generous on a personal level but UAE leaders give a lot of money to charity.  Giving to those less fortunate is an important tenant of Islam and is taken seriously in Emiriti culture.
  • The article’s portrayal of the “drones” and “mercenaries” borders on funny.  The fact is that many drones and mercenaries do have families in the UAE because they can’t afford to do so in their home country.  These people are not living in the UAE against their will.  They are there because they are better off than they would be in their home country and there is nothing wrong with that.  Americans should be able to understand that given their history.
  • The author’s comment to Emirati ghettos and youth violence is an exaggeration.  Like most rich people, some Emiratis live in large compounds probably because they want privacy from ignorant expats like the author who only want to judge. Emiratis tend to have large families and live together.  Family is extremely important in Emiriti culture and spending time with family and friends is a major past time.  Regarding youth violence, there maybe some isolated cases but there is no statistical evidence that supports the author’s claim.  The statement is quite shocking given how much safer it is in the UAE than in the U.S., which has a much more serious problem with violence among teens.

It’s clear in the article that Dubai just didn’t meet the author’s expectations and I don’t know if any society can live up to his standards since many of his points seem to be double standards if applied to other countries.  It’s unfortunate that the author seems to have had no positive experiences with Emiriti culture, but generalizations should not be made based on such limited experience. The article continually refers to Dubai as not being real or lacking culture, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  My experience is that Emirati culture is not easily seen by non-Emiritis since they would prefer to maintain a level of privacy from certain foreigners (and after reading this article, it is for good reason.)  Emirati culture and society is changing fast and there has been a remarkable transformation the last two generations from their bedouin society to one of the most modern nations in the Middle East.   The Vanity Fair article could potentially create more distrust of expats and make it less likely for Emiratis to share their culture.  It saddens me that the article could make expats look ignorant and shallow in Emirati’s eyes.  The truth is that Emiratis are made up of bedouin tribes with a rich culture and history that occupy Dubai as well as other emirates and they will continue to be there regardless of how their buildings look or how many workers come and go.  Emirati culture will continue to flourish regardless of money even if it is not so obvious to the drones, mercenaries or magazine writers.


  1. Sam · March 28, 2011

    By: AmyAus82 ..

    I’m so sick and tired of this junk.

    It’s the same story ‘locals are rich, lazy and stupid’, ‘westerners (whites) are ‘drunks here for the money living lives they couldn’t in their own country’, and the ‘poor unfortunate workers struggle through every day more humble than the last’…


    Let’s call it as it really is, shall we?

    Locals: living a country that developed around them so have known nothing other than living the way they have and are trying to enjoy it, They value education and love their family but enjoy active social lives, whether it be with friends or just their family.

    Whites: offered better deals so came here to get forward because 1) they would have the chance to move up a level, and 2) they would return to their country with cross cultural experience, extra bonus for future jobs. Don’t love everyday, but work hard to get to the next because they are living in a mixed bag of cultures and it IS tough so YES they do enjoy those nice five star events because, while away from their families and friends, they do tend to substitute the sadness with ‘things’- but still hard working and do it every day because that’s life

    Drones: Not always as ‘woe as me’ as the papers make them. They came here for the same reason the whites did, the money is better than in their country. Many of them suffer, but let’s face it, they suffer in their own countries regardless and it’s not an issue of ‘UAE treating them bad’ it’s an issue of the world declaring some countries are third world and have poor passports so don’t have education/quality to first world standards. Don’t be fooled into thinking they are all in need of help, many will stab you in the back if they get the chance – because they’re born evil? No. Because they were born and taught from birth that survival is battle of the strongest. Not everyone with a sad face is a victim.

    That’s a better stereotype. One our ‘learned’ friend didn’t bother to find out about. He flew in, stayed for a day or two and flew out. He wrote a high school newsletter article and left.

    The same insulting article could have been written by me about holidays in the US, UK, Asia, Africa… many countries… if I chose to look at the things he chooses to look it.

    ‘Deafening journey to loud mouthed, narrow minded America’
    ‘Who will England whinge to next?’
    ‘Australia: Are you sure it’s not Asia or the Middle East?’

    You can angle anything you want from anything you want.

    It’s a case of whether your journalists really wants to write or just wants to make a word count.

    We can see from his opening paragraph that rattled off possibly four or five metaphors, wasting even more of our time, that he had a word count that needed to be filled and to have filled it with ‘real’ information would have required references, the time for which he did not want to spend.

    Boo to you AA Gill.

    I will never read an article by you again.


  2. Iqbal Mohammed · August 22, 2011

    I’m sorry but I completely disagree with you. I am from the UK with a huge interest in travel and the middle east. I never ever thought I would go to Dubai but I did and I, in fact, loved it. However, it was a profound and surreal experience best summed up by the author as follows:-

    “Dubai is the parable of what money makes when it has no purpose but its own multiplication and grandeur… Dubai is a place that doesn’t just know the price of everything and the value of nothing but makes everything worthless.”

    I totally agree with every observation made and I have to say, I found myself slightly smiling given that I had made each observation myself and felt slightly guilt (especially about the white mercenaries and the lazy fat Emiratis).

    Yes, Emiratis are welcoming and hospitable but when they are the hosts. When they are out shopping and being served, they are rude, arrogant and reek of special treatment and favours.

    I found Dubai to be a hallucination almost, of material and man. Though, I found this a remarkable and unique experience. I have not been to the US and in particular LA and Vegas. It seems to me that Dubai is literally an import of these two cities but without the history and authenticity.

  3. Iqbal Mohammed · August 22, 2011

    Sorry I meant that I have NOW been to the US, LA and Vegas.

  4. Speedy3000GT · October 12, 2013

    I respect that person’s opinion. For the very least, Dubai gave him that impression. Funny I don’t see a lot of foreigner’s in Dubai expressing how wonderful and culturally enriching the Dubai experience is.

    Here’s another person’s opinion:

    Hmmm…I have friends who actually lived in Dubai for a number of years and say the exact same things. Well, not everything as was enumerated in that website but a good deal.

    Humor me, why? It’s a question. I’m not criticizing you guys but why is a stint to your country leaving such a bad taste on people’s mouths? Are you that misunderstood? If that’s the explanation, then why, if you guys are supposed to be so hospitable and all?

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