I was surprised when I read earlier this week that there are 5,000 Saudis living in Dubai. I’m not sure if this number is big or small, but I don’t think there is a larger Saudi community living abroad anywhere else. I can understand why, though. Beside the booming economy and the glitz, it is a place where they can lead a more normal life compared to the stifling, restrictive one back home. It is also just next door in case they needed to visit or return.
Many people in the Gulf feel that their countries are trying to catch up with Dubai, but not everyone is keen on remaking the Dubai story. A Saudi columnist recently wrote that we should not compare ourselves to Dubai because it is “too open” and we simply cannot — and should not — do the same.
However, many Saudis who live in the rapidly growing emirate quickly responded to him, passionately defending their new home and saying it could be true that Dubai is welcoming the world with wide open arms, but it is also offering choices their own country did not give them; better opportunities and much, much more freedom: no one would force you to live your life according to their whims and wishes.
The Daily Mail ran a long piece yesterday on the bad behavior of British expats in Dubai and how it could cause a backlash and a rise of religious extremism, suggesting that an act of violence would burst the D-bubble. So between the Saudis who want to enjoy a normal life and the Britons who move there to go wild, how can this city keeps its leadership in the region, economically and socially, and how its rulers will deal with the pains of growth?