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An Arabian fantasy

Dubai has transformed itself from a dusty trading outpost to the self-proclaimed leader of a resurgent Arab civilisation. It is undemocratic, and relies on an underclass of immigrant labour—but so far has avoided internal strife. Will its luck hold?

I met Abdulkhaleq Abdulla in a café in one of Dubai’s gleaming new air-conditioned shopping malls. This being the middle east, I had taken the trouble to dress modestly, although I didn’t wear a headscarf or mantoux. Abdulla, a professor of political science at Emirates University, was clad in an immaculate dish-dasha; but all around, girls wandered past with their heads uncovered, wearing crop-tops and skintight jeans. Then Abdulla took me by surprise by shaking my hand—many Muslim men shy away from such contact with female non-relatives.

“I am mighty proud of Dubai. It is a trendsetter for the region.…

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