Dubai has recently been announced as the organizer of the 2020 universal exhibition, Expo 2020. It heralds an economic and political return to center stage for this emirate that was left moribund after the crisis of 2008, proving that strategic vision and strong leadership are still cardinal values for a country.
In 2008, Dubai was on the brink of economic meltdown. Analysts waxed ironical about delusions of grandeur and the arrogance that had led the small emirate straight into the wall. In the days of subprimes and the collapse of Lehman Brothers, it was fashionable to criticize the Dubai model.
I myself was mocked when I declared on RTL radio in France that the economy in Dubai was fundamentally healthy and that its massive strategic investments (in particular investment in infrastructures) would, in time, lead to recovery and a return to growth.
It was a time of public rescue plans, but five years down the line we can see that the billions injected by the central banks have not been sufficient to kick-start economies that are rudderless and have run out of steam, as can unfortunately be seen with Greece, which lives on a cash drip-feed without any noticeable economic recovery taking hold.
Yes, Dubai was hit badly by the financial crisis of 2008. Yes, its investment strategy was ambitious and provisionally weakened the country. But what is the situation a few years later ?
While its designation as organizer of Expo 2102 is mainly symbolic, all the indicators are now set to green : hotels are full, business is experiencing important growth, the property industry is back on track with record prices, and what is undoubtedly even more significant, young college graduates and entrepreneurs are arriving into the country every day from around the world to build the country's future.
How can this success and reversal of fortune be explained ? Firstly, because Dubai never let itself be swayed by doubts and at no time (even when the financial storm was at its worst) did the country renounce its investment plans and its strategy.
Furthermore, the Emir, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's political will allowed him, in the manner of a company director faced with the threat of bankruptcy, to take draconian measures very quickly in order to kick-start the economy. What industrial power would today be capable of doing the same ?
This political will has notably resulted in reductions in numbers in the public service workforce, a new war being waged on corruption, draconian reductions in public expenditure, the renegotiation of debt and a strategic review of all of the emirate's economic policies.
While Dubai suffered from a certain kind of megalomania from time to time prior to the downturn, what is remarkable is that despite the force of the shock, the ambition and optimism of the people of Dubai never wavered. They displayed pride in and solidarity with the dream they chose to turn into reality.
The inhabitants of Dubai of all ages, religion or nationality, fervently followed the voting process for the attribution of Expo 2020. They took massively to the social networks to express their joy and pride in welcoming this major event that will create more than a quarter of a million jobs.
Dubai is far from being a perfect model and much remains to be done, in particular on a social level. But this little country can provide us with a lesson in optimism and faith in the future. It is a lesson in political and economic will that is badly needed in this period of self-denial and disillusionment.