How Dubai Came Through 2010

The UAE -- and Dubai in particular -- has been an utterly fascinating place to be in 2010. Obstinate denials of the recession not having an iota of impact gave way to a tacit admission that the model of ostentatious ambition needed a re-think.

2010 saw many a hack float their way to Dubai and magnanimously assure us they knew us, and our cauldron of greed, our city built supposedly on sand, our modern day interpretation of Shelley's Ozymandias. They said they were sorry but we were all doomed to extinction. Yet, to mangle Mr. Twain beyond forgiveness, the reports of Dubai's death have been greatly exaggerated. What has emerged is a new consciousness, where residents and citizens have combined in a genuine understanding of what it means to choose live here.

Sultan Al Qassemi, a columnist for UAE English daily The National, says that politically, 2010 could be summed up as the year of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed, the UAE's President. Not only did Dubai name the world's tallest tower after him, but the UAE celebrated its 39th National Day on the theme of "We are all for Khalifa." The autocracy seems to have a groundswell of support from both citizens and voluntary residents.

On the entrepreneurial side, 2010 offered a mixed grab bag, according to entrepreneur and Xische founder Danish Farhan. He thinks it has rapidly became en vogue for entrepreneurial stories to be celebrated across mass media channels. In Dubai, there was an unprecedented re-emergence of the city's beginnings as a business hub with the promise of a new breed of entrepreneurs. However, there's still little space for those who aren't traders: artists, writers and musicians still get regularly sidelined in a system of work permits system that doesn't recognize them. Yet they exist nevertheless, albeit in various hues of grey.

Paul Castle, a technology writer, argues that 2010 was an eventful year for tech-savvy consumers in the UAE, with boon and bane in equal measure. Speedier Internet combined with capricious censorship, resulting in hilarity and sometimes frustration. Mobile penetration passed 200 percent, but the Android App Market remains unavailable, while RIM was embroiled in a furore over data privacy where the government wanted snooping rights.

Local arts and culture received a welcome boost, with individuals and institutions combining. Yet they continue to pull in diverging directions- with institutions such as Abu Dhabi's Louvre and Guggenheim wanting to import influences, while local artists try to create their own semblance of identity. Poet and film-maker Hind Shoufani is optimistic. She believes a grass roots movement has certainly commenced to produce as well as import ideas and influences. Yet she believes quality, not quantity, is what is important. Novelty of one's own culture should give way to an appreciation of excellence. There is some way to go, she says.

Ahmed, an architect and writer, is of the opinion the UAE has come through with more resilience than prior. Cities like Dubai are adjusting expectations of both themselves and the world at larger and the chalky limelight has moved from ostentatious growth to risk management.

So much for 2010. The year ahead promises to be saner, yet hopefully progressive. The government has realized that economic recovery starts at ground level and is trying to make things easier for community businesses. The media remains paralysed by self-censorship, but anecdotal evidence suggests more freedom of expression than ever before. Of particular significance is a growing body of bloggers, writers, poets and scribblers who are documenting the region first hand. Yet, we must guard against complacency, and a celebration of mediocrity. There seems a trend towards self-congratulation in the community for ideas that would make not a ripple in other places. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the UAE can live up to their billing as laissez faire trade hubs, cultural cauldrons and possibly the world's most successful peace experiments. But it is by no means a fait accompli yet.

This is an abridged version of what was originally a collaborative piece by five writers. The full version can be found here.