World's Tallest Tower. World's Poorest Tower. Dubai's Pride.

by Martin Peretz | January 6, 2010

Actually, Dubai can have no pride left. It borrowed and borrowed and borrowed. And spent and spent and spent ... and then spent some more.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who runs Dubai or at least the parts that are still operating, had wanted to call the humungous apartment erection Burj Dubai. I suppose that means Dubai Tower. No more.

In any case, the sheikh was made to have another thought. His little principality is so in hock to lenders that he can't pay Dubai's debts. Of course, some of the reasons are that nobody is buying houses and apartments, building has stopped, (mostly Asian) workers are fast escaping, the streets are empty. Ditto the restaurants. This whole escapade was a mirage in the desert. If Arabs can't see a mirage in the desert, they can see nothing.

So what was Mohammed's other thought? Well, it probably wasn't his thought at all. I'd guess that the grand idea to rename the tower Burj Khalifa came from his cousin and neighbor, the ruler of the Khalifa clan, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan. The fact is that they hate each other, and Khalifa's very partial (and really chintzy) help with Dubai's debt is a way of having the assets become his own. Frankly, I don't know why anyone would want Dubai. An old classmate of mine told me it looked like a used car lot—but with Mercedes and Aston Martin the autos left behind.

A Parisian doctor friend who went there for a conference on cystic fibrosis, seeing the panoramic choice of swimming pools in front of her, thought to herself, "Why don't I try the sea?" It was far too hot. Water, water everywhere, and not a drop in which to swim.

If you want to see a very evocative photo of the tinselly Burj, take a look at this color photo on the skyscraper's official website.

And, if you want to read some more of my fixation on this and other centers of advanced civilization in the Emirates, look at my two blog posts--one recent, the other from a while back--on higher education in the Emirates.

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