Crisis, what crisis? Debt-laden Dubai just shrugs

DUBAI/ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Glitzy Dubai may face a debt crisis that has sent a shudder through global markets, but you wouldn’t know it from officials or local media.

A man does his laundry in the Satwa district behind Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, November 29, 2009. REUTERS/Steve Crisp

World leaders have commented on the crisis -- but not those in the United Arab Emirates itself, where authorities have said little as UAE markets fell and the central bank opened an emergency facility to shore up the banking sector.

Local newspapers, which initially ignored the gravity of the crisis, have begun praising Dubai and its leadership -- and criticizing foreign media for blowing events out of proportion.

“Dubai is exemplary for investment destinations,” was the headline in the Arabic-language Al-Bayan. The English-language Gulf News offered: “Global outcry over Dubai World restructuring is exaggerated.”

Conspiracy theories floated to the surface.

“This is not the first time Western countries attack Dubai’s successes,” wrote a contributor to the Gulf News letters page.

“Dubai has changed the global trade concepts. People behind this furious campaign are against the success of the sons of the desert who transformed the desert into a dream city.”

Dubai shocked creditors on Wednesday when it asked them for a standstill on billions of dollars of debt issued by the Dubai World conglomerate and its property subsidiary Nakheel, builder of luxury homes on three man-made, palm tree-shaped islands.

At Candylicious, a gigantic emporium that says it is the world’s largest candy store, some customers reckon Dubai’s boasts of “biggest, tallest, richest” have lost their allure.

“Dubai has taken advantage of people,” said Australian school teacher Terry Swain, 43. “The way the government generates money is wrong. The cost of living is extreme. Immigration fees are extreme. It’s not safe to keep your money here any more.”


But for others among the tiny emirate’s mainly expatriate population of 1.7 million, the dream lives on.

“I feel excited, I’m happy to work for this tower,” said Ishaq Bhuiyah, a Bangladeshi laborer on the construction site of Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building.

“I dream to live in one of the apartments up there, in the sky,” he said through a protective mask keeping out the dust.

Bhuiyah said he and his mates earn 800 dirhams ($218) per month, including food and accommodation allowances, of which he sends half to his family back home.

In Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest of the UAE’s seven emirates and source of 90 percent of its oil exports, the mood is harsher.

“Let them ride out the storm,” said one Abu Dhabi citizen running on a treadmill in a gym, who asked not to be named.

“Abu Dhabi is not responsible for bailing out Dubai whenever it falls,” he fumed. “Every action has its consequences so they should learn and realize. Otherwise they will always be leaning on Abu Dhabi to help them out whenever anything goes wrong.”

Masud Mohammed Said, a 49-year-old Dubai taxi driver from the Indian Ocean island of Zanzibar, worked for 18 years for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company before moving to Dubai.

“I listen to my taxi radio and they talk of a new financial crisis, but I don’t understand its scope,” he said in Swahili.

“For the moment I keep driving. Until my tank is empty.”

Additional reporting by Rania Oteify; editing by Thomas Atkins and Alistair Lyon