Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
They are without doubt thinking big, and the article gives their effort a strong positive spin. However, this quote seemed significant to me:
If Dubai’s future is as a knowledge hub, it will have to fulfill the dreams of more than just the Emiratis. With rare exceptions, only they are allowed to be citizens, and since visas are based on employment, deportation isn’t so much an extreme consequence as an everyday worry. That may have mattered less to the Emiratis when labor was expendable. But to compete for global talent, Dubai needs to transform from a transitory polyglot society to a permanently cosmopolitan one—an ambition that has become a talking point of Sheikh Mohammed. “The uniqueness of Dubai is the fact that it is a melting pot of the world’s cultures, ethnicities, and minds in one city,” he said in a statement.
Al Gergawi acknowledges the challenge of that transition in his own vague way. “I’m saying we’re not perfect,” he says. “We are young kids on the block, if you look at the block as the world. Every day we say: ‘How can we improve? How can we move to the next step in every single aspect?’”
Maybe it is necessary to grade Dubai on a curve. By the standards of a liberal democracy, Dubai remains retrograde. There is no democratic representation, poor freedom of the press, and homosexuality remains illegal. But compared with the rest of the Arab world, Dubai is a beacon of openness and modernity. Thirty percent of the cabinet members are female (compared with 0 percent in Saudi Arabia and 6 percent in Jordan), as is 66 percent of the government workforce.
Then there was this quote, by Sarah Amiri, the 30-year-old science lead for the UAE’s Mars mission, dubbed Hope.
“We get told by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed that the most important part is the scientists and engineers who are going to come out of this,” she explains. Accordingly, the mission staff skews young. Everyone is under 35, the average age is 27, and 30 percent are female. Amiri speaks passionately about inspiring the youth of the Arab world. “We need to give them monumental challenges to solve.” [emphasis mine]
“Get told.” This is still a top-down society. Sheikh Mohammad might have wonderful dreams, but such dreams cannot easily be imposed on a society by one man. I remain skeptical, though I readily admit that they have done remarkably well in a very short period of time.
At the same time, I cannot help wondering if they would welcome any Israeli scientists or engineers. Somehow I doubt it, no matter how much they claim that they are a melting pot.