Dubai: Saudis and Britons

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?

22 thoughts on “Dubai: Saudis and Britons

  1. Dubai welcoming? Try going there if you don’t have a GCC passport or if you are a third world citizen. Between the Kafala system and the zero-naturalization policy, the place is the hippest modern slavery center.

  2. Saudi Smith, most of Saudis in Europe and the US are students who will come back and therefore I don’t count them as “living abroad.” This might be incorrect, technically, but you get the idea.

  3. It is an interseting point you have there, we are not devils, and they are not saints. The opposite also holds true.

    The main concern that I gather from your posts, is that you dislike the vaugeness of the law; in that it makes everyone a criminal in same way. Is this correct?

  4. I’m not surprised at all!
    so many are thinking of moving to Dubai. It pays better, it has a well structured society, its growing by the minute, its a tourist attraction, women can DRIVE , women basically have equal rights as men, etc !!

    Why stay in Saudi anymore?
    What can Saudi offer?


  5. a saudi friend of mine lives permanently with his family in u.a.e., sharjah, specifically. he says, it’s more conservative than buraidah, and more liberal than san francisco. you are free to choose.

  6. Yup..we have a right to choose where we want to live..I for one will never leave Dubai!!…It has become my second home after Jeddah

    Broken Wing …well said..As a Saudi I felt restricted and trapped..( Dont get me wrong I Love Saudia ) But it doesnt offer what Dubai does..I cant drive…I cant travel freely..Everything I do there has to be my guardian to sign me over…

    You can choose your Lifestyle here ..Be it Conservative ..Moderate or Extreme Liberal…

    Regarding this Britsh couple it`s an isolated case…
    Its amazing how Emaratis are tolerate to other cultures while preserving their culture and Identity..

  7. There is a price for everything, If you decide to open up the country for a successful foreign investments and companies, you’ll have to cope with foreign cultural demands and life styles, which at many cases conflict deeply with our own vision of a safe and respectful society… I had a ride once with an ex-navy personnel who kept on telling us how wonderful Dubai was not because of its modernization and higher living standards but because of the easy access for the sailors and military personnel to night life, drugs and women of all Nationalities…So you see, there will be always another side of the coin to consider!!!

  8. It would be interesting to now how many Emiratis are living in Saudi Arabia to compare.
    Regarding Britons going wild you should see them in the beaches of Spain (and by the way also some Saudis in Marbella). Nothing that a nice police patrol would not be able to control, though.

  9. There are an estimated 30 000 South Africans living in Dubai, so in contrast to the number of Saudis you quote, the Saudi population over there is rather small. What attracts South Africans there? Keep in mind that South Africa is a liberal society and markedly different to Arab culture so Dubai’s social freedoms are not a particular drawcard. Everybody wants a slice of the Dubai pie. And why not? A British lawyer friend has also just signed a contract to work in Dubai for a hefty raise in pay, tax-free. Living and working in Dubai offers real pragmatic, down to earth advantages. Just recently an expat from Dubai wrote in one of our local dailies of the challenges she experiences living there but also the benefits. South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world and many our emigrants are leaving in response to it. What I mean to say is, every country, big, small, liberal, conservative, Arab, Western… we all have our individual problems. The UAE is no exception as you point out in your post. In my pithy opinion, the UAE is an artificial society. For Saudi to progress, I believe that it should not take Dubai as a model to aspire to, but rather should look within itself, to bring forth the best it can be.

  10. Southern California has the largest Saudi community in the USA. I think there are over 10,000 Saudis living there. I read that number somewhere.

    Northern Viriginia is the second largest Saudi community in the USA, but I havent heard any numbers on that one.

    Many of them would work at the Saudi Embassy, military offfice and the cultural mission here.

  11. My next door neighbour is a Saudi. He relocated to Dubai becuae of new job. He left that job but refused to leave Dubai – mainly for the same reasons mentioned above.. I don’t blame him. I’ve been to KSA many many times.

  12. I was in Dubai just recently, and going there from the states I was shocked at my own disappointment. True freedom will teach people about choices and decision making but at such a fast rate, I’m not sure if anyone is actually making all the right choices.
    I’m not even referring to the ever growing underground industry, but the visible economy in day light. The level of wealth the Arab world likes to display will not last the resources and the many children that each family continues to have. Freedom or no freedom, but for how long can the Gulf continue to feed off outsiders without seriously educating it’s own people? Dubai is completely reliant on foreign none citizens who care little for the country and are only their to make fast money, while locals are busy spending what ever they got on new fashion labels,new cars,and new cell phones. Choices on the side, but the real issue rests on building more educational institutions than Malls.
    Dubai may seem more open than Saudi Arabia, but the serious issues have not been dealt with just yet! As much as I don’t agree with the conservatives, not relying on the Dubai model may be the only topic I may agree on.

  13. Saudi living in Dubai here.

    I don’t care about the proximity of Dubai to Saudi. I’m in Dubai because it is the best place Arabs have managed to build. But, for me, it is still a very bad place compared to south west United States where I lived for 5 years.

  14. Yes dubai is a beautiful cut-copy-paste image of the rest of the modernized world. But I believe it is just a transitional point for the 95% of the people who ever lived and most definitely worked there. Nothing more than an experience………good or bad depending on your citizenship, status, buying power and role or purpose of visit there. But a fine example of creativity.

  15. Never been to Dubai but we hear and see lots of it through the media…if it wasn’t built by slaves, it would be a step in the right direction for Arabs in order to get rid of this anachronist backward cultural attitude from their lands.

  16. The link seems expired, I found this and a couple of other articles:

    I must say I was very surprised reading what the reason for the arrest was. Having spent almost all of my life in Europe, I have a few times of my life seen people kiss and touch in inappropriate ways.
    I could NEVER imagine a couple doing THIS in public, nowhere on the beaches of Greece, France, Spain, Italy I have seen this (although it might happen, but probably very late.. and apparently very hidden, as no one I know ever experienced something like that).
    My theory is people who want to engage in such conduct when on a European holiday do take a room..
    so if I never came across such a story in my over 20 yrs in Europe.. how could ppl behave like that in the Emirates?
    It can only be they feel like “God in France”, as a popular German saying goes (referring to the fat, delicious food and overall “savoir vivre” of the French compared with the more restricted held back Germans).
    They pretty much must feel like they re above the law, as this article also points out, by the same newspaper:—end-rotting-prison.html

    I must say my pity is pretty limited.. I do feel horrible when hearing people with prescribed drug treatment are arrested over drug smuggling – this could happen to any foreigner, and it is horrible.No one chooses to be sick, and no one takes medication with them for fun.

    I am very angry at this woman for all European women actually – as I said I NEVER heard of anything similar in Europe. Now I fear Gulf Arabs will think this is what Europeans tend to do.
    There sadly is enough wrong-doing on the basis of such prejudice.
    An Italian artist dressed in a bridal gown as part of an art performance wanted to travel from Italy over the Balkanys through Turkey to the Mideast and Palestine to be a “bride of peace” and bring awareness and hopefully luck to peace.
    Beautiful idea. She was abducted, raped, and murdered by a local in Turkey. Foreign women have a very bad name in Turkey (my husband is from there, so I know the language). Most of this must be based on prejudice and myths, because all tourist girls I know were desperate about the avances guys made and found this threatening, inappropriate and disgusting.
    I recently read a worrying number of tourist girls disappears in Egypt s tourist regions, many are found raped and murdered, buried at the beaches.

    So I see stupid women like this, along hateful people spreading rumours on European women’s behaviour actually make their life more dangerous.
    This is what I find most worrying about this story.

    I ve been long envisaging with my husband to go to Dubai for work. my Arabic is very bad, sadly, and he would like to learn it.
    These drinking events put me off completely :(
    Does anyone know is there a nice Arab community as well?
    Our wish would be living in an Arab country, my long time wish due to my Lebanese and Jordanian heritage.. without the extreme restrictions of Saudi, but for getting the atmosphere still…
    Well these articles make me not wish to go there *sourlook*.
    And yes I agree – it has always bothered me to know that Dubai is basically built on near-slaves blood sweat and tears…

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