Tuesday, 17 February 2009

A Strange Feeling

I'm currently in the grip of the strangest feeling. I'm actually feeling sorry for Dubai.

Lalaland is taking the most enormous pasting in the international media right now. The Israeli tennis player ban story and the British author book banned story are flying around and media are picking them up faster than discarded dollar bills. The 'conversation' on Twitter is universally negative and violently anti-Dubai, buoyed up with links to the New York Times piece that asserted 3,000 cars have been abandoned at the airport, Dubai's Wikipedia 'human rights' entry that details drug convictions at Dubai International Airport and stories on the tennis and book scandals.

The ban on Shahar Peer has led to an international outcry and the situation doesn't look as if it will get any better, with The Guardian reporting that a second Israeli player, Andy Ram may also be denied a visa - and that Dubai could lose the support of the WTA and the ATP as a consequence of the ban on Israeli players.

The banned British author story has also gained a lot of traction. Nobody has thought to question why a writer that had previously lived in Bahrain for five years would think that a book of that nature would go down well locally but the coverage has been another howl of anti-Dubai sentiment. And no matter how much you suspect it all of being an elaborately managed publicity stunt to get an unpublished book 'out there', the tone of coverage and sentiment is universally negative.

I do wonder how much of the outpouring of hate is about people giving someone else a kicking to help manage their own frustrations and fears in our straightened times. All of this comment, mostly based on little direct experience of the place and more direct experience of over-simplified and jazzed up media reports, does rather seem to position Dubai as the poster child for mindless excess and crassness.

But then Tinsel Town has hardly been tasteful or modest in its promotions, has it?


a-hem said...

I'm surprised that they haven't quite jumped on how a certain local newspaper provides a platform for Holocaust denial.

It's been mentioned in passing on one of the blogs on the Guardian, but I expected a bit more coverage considering Holocaust Denial is a crime in parts of Europe.

Or is it that nobody takes the newspaper in question seriously at all anymore?

The Wizard of D said...

I think the more important point is the way the administraton is managing this.

While the specific events mentioned have certainly provided fodder, Dubai itself seems to have lost control of the situation. One may not be able to control the bass press. However, there must be some way of countering this..either through subtle 'good news' stories or more transparency on the situation

Tom Gara said...

everybody loves a flashy young glitterati, hence the media bubble of glowing dubai stories in recent years.

but even more so, everyone loves a good flash-git-gets-cut-down-to-size story, hence the current oh how the great have fallen stories happening now.

The Spear said...

It is a conspiracy I tell you!


Keefieboy said...

Dubai was always a case of 'too much, too soon.' When Sheikh Mo had just announced the Palm Jumeirah and some other daft stuff, he said something like What has been announced is only a small fraction of what we are planning. I knew it was time to leave, then, and would have done but for family commitments.

Aedan Lake said...

Hi Alexander, I actually work for the festival and want to thank you for your measured response to this situation. I'd also like to link to Isobel Abulhoul's official response here:


Any questions, we're on facebook and twitter and are doing our best to respond under difficult circumstances.

All the best,

Aedan @ EAIFL

Anonymous said...

This has just been issued by tournament director Salah Tahlak. He has a point I think...

17th February 2009

Tournament Statement from the Dubai Tennis Championships:

"The Tournament is a longstanding and loyal supporter of women's tennis and the WTA Tour and respects the rules and regulations of the Tour.

"The Tournament also respects Ms. Shahar Peer as a professional tennis player on the Tour and understands her disappointment.

"There were several elements to be considered concerning her participation:

"Public sentiment remains high in the Middle East and it is believed that Ms. Peer’s presence would have antagonized our fans who have watched live television coverage of recent attacks in Gaza.

"Ms. Peer personally witnessed protests against her at another tournament in New Zealand only a few weeks ago.

"Concern was raised about her wellbeing and her presence triggering similar protests. Given public sentiment, the entire tournament could have been boycotted by protesters.

"We do not wish to politicize sports, but we have to be sensitive to recent events in the region and not alienate or put at risk the players and the many tennis fans of different nationalities that we have here in the UAE."

rosh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mockingbird said...

I thought the book thing was actually entirely reasonable. My view has always been that if you live in a place, getting along with local customs and not trying to treat the place as though you are somehow superior and have the right to do as you please, is the way forward. The woman has lived there, she therefore must have known that local reaction to her content wouldn't be particularly positive. It smacks of a serious attempt to garner publicity for something, as opposed a genuine attack on freedom of speech.

Dave said...

Just because the Govt tries to limit negative coverage by the media in the UAE, it was naive to think that they could gag international media coverage. But still they went along their merry way with such events as the Atlantis Grand Opening to ensure a large spotlight remainded permanently focused on Dubai.

Now that things are not so good the spotlight remains, but for the wrong reasons,in the eye of the Govt.

You cannot have it both ways.

Lara Dunston said...

I have to admit I've felt sorry for Dubai for a while... as a travel writer, I've watched with interest over the last 6 years or so, seeing the international travel media become smitten with the glitz and glam, then the honeymoon period end, and then watched a love-hate relationship with Dubai develop, before - over the last year - simply turning to hate.

For a few years now I've been angered by cover stories appearing in Conde Nast Traveller and Vanity Fair and the like about Dubai, written by foreign journos on their first trip to Dubai, spending little more than 3 days here, and (according to the PRs who coordinated their cars and drivers) pointing to our guidebooks saying "we'll see this, that and this" and that's it, they spent more time apparently in the Burj than they did seeing the city and experiencing the culture and then they write a scathing report.

And I have to admit, it makes me angry because I have Emirati friends and I work hard to write real stories about the culture and people and the side the vast majority of expats don't see.

Tom Gara is correct: "even more so, everyone loves a good flash-git-gets-cut-down-to-size story". Tall Poppy Syndrome, as it's called Down Under - and surely we inherited it from you guys?! ;) - was one of the reasons I left Australia to move to the UAE in 1998.

I really believe racism plays a major part too. Most stories on Dubai and the UAE are laced with it.

I agree with Mockingbird too. Let's face it, we're all guests, and we need to treat our hosts and their customs and beliefs with respect, regardless of whether we agree with them or not. I'm in Australia for a few months working on some books and I know that Aussies don't like others, whether new immigrants or tourists, applying their values to this culture and lifestyle either. The Thais won't tolerate a word against the King, gets a jail sentence. And I'm sure you'd be thrown in jail for sex on the beach there too. Frankly, ungracious guests just need to move on.

Great piece, by the way! Thanks for dropping by my blog, Cool Travel Guide, too!

Seabee said...

Sorry to come in late Alex but as you know I'm on a road trip in Oz.

The Sydney Morning Herald a couple of days ago repeated the same old background stories in a piece on the Aussie Nakheel guys who are being investigated. Police have removed 3,000 abandoned cars from the airport, the entire economy is based on real estate but the property bubble has burst and prices have plunged 50% - and unlke the other emirates Dubai has no oil...

The respected ABC Foreign Correspondent prog will do a piece on Dubai but at least a producer has contacted me and said as he doesn't know what to believe from all the stuff he reads he wants to chat to get some facts.

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