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Khalid Al Ameri: Dubai is changing
February 21, 2016
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today
“Change or you will be changed. They have to undertake radical reformation otherwise their people will be disenchanted. Arabs are a smart people who are looking for a decent life. I wish peace, happiness and development to all Arab countries.”

– His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai

In the midst of the global financial crisis in 2008 the Doha Debates, sponsored by the Qatar Foundation, hosted a debate titled “Is Dubai A Bad Idea?” Tim Sebastian, the tough presenter known for being the first host of “Hard Talk”, described Dubai as a city that stands out, an icon for some, a nightmare for others. During the financial crisis the media hadn’t been kind to Dubai, in their eyes the icon was now a nightmare. What was known as a city that boasted the best and brightest, the biggest and tallest, and the richest and classiest was being targeted as the city that was about to fail, disappear, or at the least never be the same again.

Fast forward almost eight years later and Dubai is still standing, still moving forward and still an integral part of the local, regional, and global community, but something feels different. Dubai, to me at least, had always been a city with a strong focus on attracting the world; ensuring eyeballs were stuck to the TV whenever the city was brought up. Whether that was talent to support our economic growth or tourists to enjoy the wonders the city has to offer, it was about attention. Today’s Dubai feels like it has matured and is now in search of meaning, like the high-flying CEO who has reached the heights of success and now starts to look inside her or himself to make sense of it all, for a deeper purpose.

It’s been a while since I have heard the words biggest, richest, or tallest associated with Dubai, we’ve been there and done that, so what’s next? When you look at the announcements over the past year they have all been associated with giving Dubai greater depth in fields of the future rather than simply standing out today. 2015 was the “Year of Innovation, the official opening of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, and the UAE’s mission to Mars.

This year, 2016 is the “Year Of Reading” which included a leadership brainstorming session of 100 of the country’s top leaders and thinkers, and topped off with the announcement the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library would be opening in 2017 that will house over 4.5 million books.

More importantly at this year’s World Government Summit new state ministers were announced that would focus on happiness, tolerance, youth and community development of the UAE’s citizens and residents made headlines across the region.

These are all initiatives that focus on the internal fibres of our community, which will shape not just the city but also the lives of the people who call it home. The word “home” is powerful, home is somewhere you love, somewhere you stay and plant your roots, it’s where your heart is.

When I sat on a panel to discuss the future of the UAE a panellist mentioned that a country creates happiness first and foremost when people can call it home. I agree, I love the UAE, I love my leaders and people. It’s my home, it’s somewhere I will always come back to no matter where I end up.

That is what I feel has changed in Dubai, to a lot of people it’s starting to feel more like home. It is less about the short-term visitors and more about us, the people who are here to stay. It is less about glitz and glamour and more about culture and meaning. It is less about headlines and more about the words that make up the story.

There is a shift in focus towards projects and initiatives that play a big part in our day-to-day lives, ensuring communities within the city are happy and prosperous, and that youth are given a voice and a seat at the table. It’s about social sustainability, ensuring a long-term social foundation that is just as strong as Dubai’s reputation for tourism, trade, and business.

So is Dubai a bad idea? Time has proven otherwise. However I think the question was flawed to begin with. Dubai was never just an idea, it was a vision, a dream, a source of hope for the region, and those things are never bad. There is no doubt that Dubai went through hard times, that it might have built the city from the roof down with massive projects and fancy skyscrapers, but maybe that is what Dubai needed at the time, to speak up and get noticed.

However, like everything in life, things change and being able to adapt to those changes is a strength. What was important yesterday might not necessarily be important today. Will mistakes be made? I am sure they will. Will there be more challenges. Most likely, but that is not a reason to fear change, because being able to look inside ourselves and understand what it takes to build a future is what makes leaders great, cities prosper, and dreams come true.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development.

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