Traveling to the Middle East can be a disconcerting experience. One day you feel as if you’re journeying into the future, the next day into the past.
The futuristic part of our recent trip— undertaken with a bipartisan delegation of American policy wonks, and organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies—was our visit to Dubai. A mere decade ago this city perched on the edge of the Persian Gulf amounted to a single office tower and lots of sand. Today it looks like a Hong Kong, Shanghai, or Singapore in the making, with elements of Miami and Las Vegas tossed in. A drive into town along a traffic-clogged highway takes a visitor past glass-and-steel skyscrapers too numerous to count. Some are complete, others still under construction. Giant cranes are everywhere: Dubai is estimated to have up to 25 percent of the world total.
The ambitions of this parvenu city seem limitless. Old showpiece projects are constantly being superseded by new ones. An eight-year-old hotel built in the shape of a sail and a two-year-old indoor ski slope are old news. The buzz now is about the silvery Burj Dubai (“burj” means tower in Arabic), which will be the tallest building in the world. With 156 stories completed, it has already far surpassed the previous record-holder, the 101-story Taipei tower in Taiwan. The ultimate height is a secret, but it will exceed 160 stories, or twice the height of the Empire State Building. Numerous other, slightly shorter buildings are going up around the Burj, along with what is being called the world’s biggest mall, exceeding in size the nearby Mall of the Emirates which at one time claimed that title. The Burj is estimated to cost $1 billion, the whole multiacre project $20 billion.