Succes story or megalomania? The rapid transformation of Dubai from a dusty fishing town in the sixties to the ultramodern metropolis of today, fascinates both supporters and critics. With its prestigious shopping malls, artificial islands and iconic skyscrapers, the little emirate at the Persian Gulf is a world player when it comes to tourism and business.
Dubai’s excessive entertainment industry has a big impact on Emirati society. 90 percent of the population in Dubai are expats, only 10 percent are local Emirati citizens. Their traditional islamic values are being challenged by Western lifestyle, imported by expat workers. Entertainment and tourism are main economical pillars of Dubai, that have been promoted activily by ruler Mohammed bin Rachid Al Maktoum. He acts as the CEO of the ‘Dubai-brand’, and spares cost nor effort to promote his city worldwide as a place of complete economical freedom, unlimited possibilities and big fun.
Dubai is the perfect example of a ‘capsular society’: A dual society, in which the first world is an archipelago of shielded islands or ‘capsules’ where it’s pleasant to live; the second world is all the rest: an ocean of poverty and chaos. In a capsular society public space becomes privatized. Capsular architecture – such as gated communities, malls and theme parks – simulates public space on private ground. The new urbanity is characterized by artificial inner spaces.
The process of urbanization in Dubai strikingly resembles the phenomenon of capsularization. On a local scale there is the segregation between the wealthy inhabitants/expats and the exploited migrant workers. On a global level, the United Arab Emirates can be considered as one big ‘capsule’, a safe haven in the unstable Middle East.