The Dark side of Dubai

A friend forwarded me an article by Johann Hari, named The Dark Side of Dubai. Divided into 9 sections, this well researched articles tells the stories about Dubai from different viewpoints – immigrants(overpaid and underpaid) and natives. This is a very long but excellent read.

I have many friends who are dependent on this city for a livelihood. Many of them are second-generation dependents whose parents made a livelihood from this international and liberal(with respect to the region and the neighbors) city in the middle of the desert.

On one of the follow up emails after reading the article, my friend responded to my questions. What followed was an emotional and eloquent email. My friend used to work in Dubai. Now, he resides in US. I’m reproducing the email with his permission.

Ok..another long email. I usually don't forward links or write long emails. This one was close to heart. So deal with this :)

Having lived there for a long time, I have personally seen most of the labor issues mentioned in the article. Sonapur is a hell hole. I have driven through that place once and it is mind numbing. If the western human rights groups see what happens there, they will just go crazy. If you have seen the movie "Arabikkadha" (an awesome movie by the way), you will see what really happens there. It is the same story in 99.99% of the cases. Most people who end up there were promised a great life and they get stuck with such slavery and decide to carry on somehow.

I used to work for an Indian company (a guy who is worse than any villain you would have seen in any Hindi or Tamil movie) and he used to keep my passport. Everyone who works in the U.A.E (and most arab countries) need only carry the work permit (Pathaka). So the employer has the right to keep employee passports if needed. Big companies don't do that.

When I was going for my US visa interview, I had to jump through hoops to get the passport from him. First, I needed a letter from my employer confirming that I am an employee there. So I told my manager that I am applying for a liquor he gave me one. Then I had to get the passport out, so I told him it was up for renewal. He said he will give it close to the expiry date. I had to come up with lies to get it out and then go for the US interview. Once I got the US visa stamped, I left copies with a lot of my clients to make sure that I have proof if he ever tampered with my visa. The day I was supposed to leave Dubai, he didn't give me my passport and I missed my flight. He gave it to me the next morning saying he couldn't get it back from the labor department. Imagine if someone with an engineering degree working as a "Senior Network Engineer !!!" has to go through all this to get back the passport, what will a person working construction do?? It is really sad and I don't think those things will ever change.

They need cheap labor from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. No other people will work in 50 degree heat for 10 - 12 hours and get paid peanuts! I have seen people collapsing with heat stroke at construction sites. My company had lot of clients who were into construction and I used to go there to setup their remote networks etc. I am sure there are others who must be witnessing all this first hand.

The comments from the British and Australian ladies really made my blood boil. Some of them cannot find a decent job in their own countries and once they come to the middle east, they get treated as the best of human species for reasons unknown to me. Some of the locals fall for that. Almost all of the big firms in the middle east will have either a European or an American at the top. It is the same for Emirates airlines or any big company. They live a good life. They treat hard working people like crap. I used to work 6.5 days a week and at least 10 hours a day. I have gone through hell in Dubai. I didn't care much that time because I knew I have to go through the grind at some point in my life, and early in the career the better. After going through all that, nothing shakes me up anymore.

And that is one thing I really like it here. People (most of them at least) treat you with respect and appreciate the hard work you do. You have the flexibility to manage work and family together. Can you imagine staying alone in a different country, working like a slave and not even seeing your family.. your kids for years together?? I went crazy when I went to take classes in Pittsburgh for a week and not able to see my daughter everyday.

Reading that article brought back lot of memories and it really struck me. All of a sudden I remembered many people I met who have gone through such misery. It is really sad. But the Dubai world knows is the one where they are building the tallest building, palm shaped housing colonies etc.

The lady at the Pizza place said it right when she said everything there is fake. They don't make anything. They have money, so they buy everything. One thing we have to admit is that, they have done a good job at marketing themselves. They just target the rich westerners who can spend money there. I am sure if they cared well for the people who work hard to make it happen, things won't be as "prosperous" as it is now. They cannot have it both ways. The rulers are open minded and compared to other gulf countries, Dubai is as free as India and the US. But there are these companies who abuse the laws and fearing loss of business they are not doing enough.

Hope they recognize this before its too late and things start to fall apart. Once they do, they may go back to being just another middle eastern place and that would be sad.


  1. that was an excellent post..and the link was sad too see the plight of average gulf malayalee..people back home only seem to see a rosy picture of it..

  2. @Mathew
    You are right! We only see the things they bring home and seldom realize/appreciate the hardship they go through.


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