Johann Hari: A morally bankrupt dictatorship built by slave labour

Friday 27 November 2009 01:00
Comments

Dubai is finally financially bankrupt – but it has been morally bankrupt all along. The idea that Dubai is an oasis of freedom on the Arabian peninsular is one of the great lies of our time.

Yes, it has Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts and the Gucci styles, but beneath these accoutrements, there is a dictatorship built by slaves.

If you go there with your eyes open – as I did earlier this year – the truth is hidden in plain view. The tour books and the bragging Emiratis will tell you the city was built by Sheikh Mohammed, the country's hereditary ruler.

It is untrue. The people who really built the city can be seen in long chain-gangs by the side of the road, or toiling all day at the top of the tallest buildings in the world, in heat that Westerners are told not to stay in for more than 10 minutes. They were conned into coming, and trapped into staying.

In their home country – Bangladesh or the Philippines or India – these workers are told they can earn a fortune in Dubai if they pay a large upfront fee. When they arrive, their passports are taken from them, and they are told their wages are a tenth of the rate they were promised.

They end up working in extremely dangerous conditions for years, just to pay back their initial debt. They are ringed-off in filthy tent-cities outside Dubai, where they sleep in weeping heat, next to open sewage. They have no way to go home. And if they try to strike for better conditions, they are beaten by the police.

I met so many men in this position I stopped counting, just as the embassies were told to stop counting how many workers die in these conditions every year after they figured it topped more than 1,000 among the Indians alone.

Human Rights Watch calls this system "slavery." Yet the Westerners who have flocked to Dubai brag that they "love" the city, because they don't have to pay any taxes, and they have domestic slaves to do all the hard work. They train themselves not to see the pain.

But Dubai's bankruptcy does not end there: it is ecologically bust. This is a city built in the burning desert, where everything shrivels up and blows away if it is not kept artificially cold all the time. That's why it has the highest per capita carbon emissions on earth – some 250 percent higher even than America's. The city has to ship in desalinated water – which is more costly than oil. When it runs out of cash, it will run out of water.

Today Dubai will be bailed out by the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich country of which it is only one state. But the oil will not last forever. More importantly, there is no Bank of Morality that could provide a bailout for this sinister mirage in the desert.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in