Rafia Zakaria in The Baffler:
THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES has worked long and hard at looking like the West—even better than the best. The world’s tallest building, with its glistening spire, looms over the shoreline of the gleaming city of Dubai, proof of the Emiratis’ technocratic zeal. The streets are clean; a brown or black person is always nearby to pick up any errant piece of litter. For entertainment, there are bars and clubs where liquor flows much like it does in New York or London or any place that draws the young and the affluent. Blazing lights shine from malls full of wares from around the world: perfumes that cost hundreds of dollars, couture houses that make their own statement by refusing to pin prices, cars that cost more than a small suburban home in the American Midwest.
There are many takers for Dubai’s performance of modernity, gussied up as it is in the wrappings of unfettered abundance. You can see the glee on the faces of Western travelers as soon as they arrive, as they roam from one duty-free store full of candy and makeup and watches and so much else to the next. Here they can play and buy and evade taxes and gather up goodies like never before. Whatever the condition of the consumer markets of their origins, here capitalism rules, and lays before them all the status symbols, all the gewgaws and gadgets, that their hearts desire. There are multiple Apple stores, and Tesla dealerships too. If you’ve brought the cash—and the corrupt grifters and former dictators and dynastic rulers have—you can pour it into all this, or into Dubai’s internationally appealing real estate market.
And even while the world, particularly the world still romancing liberal democracy, knows that Dubai’s dalliance with modernity is a farce, the UAE continues to get a free pass.