25 Oct 2010

Consumers without Democracy: The Global Nightmare Scenario?

I remember listening to Itsy-Bitsy Romanian children's radio station about Dubai... they never mentioned any of the rest...

24/10/2010 By Rene Cuperus

The Modern Gulf States, such as Dubai, are ’Thatcher Paradise’. In Dubai ‘there is no such thing as society’. Dubai, instead, is one of the real-existing authoritarian market societies of today, according to Syed Ali in his Dubai. Gilded Cage (Yale University Press, 2010). Dubai’s limitless consumers culture attracts people from all over the world. Freedom is the freedom of consumption.

Dubai became the Middle East center of financial services, tourism and real estate, a paradise for developers, architects and construction companies. Here we find the highest skyscraper in the world, the biggest shopping mall and the most beautiful gated communities.

In Dubai exists a dual class system for ’expats’. Construction workers from Pakistan and India live in worn out camps. A huge amount of Indian shopkeepers, underpaid nannies from Indonesia and the Philippines and lawless prostitutes live in Dubai as well. Labour protest is punished by expulsion from the country.

The well-off expats, working in the financial services and real estate, share the same legal residential situation with the nannies and construction workers. They are all subordinated to the so-called kafala-system of the Gulf States: ’a system of modern slavery’, according to Syed Ali. Kafala, whose purpose is that migrants cannot profit from Dubai wealth, implies that in all companies Dubai-natives must have a majority share. Visa (3 years maximum) for foreign workers are only given to the Dubai-employers, not to individual workers. Change of jobs therefore in fact is impossible, so is becoming a Dubai national.

By the kafala-system all foreigners in Dubai (up to 90 percent) are deliberately transformed into temporary citizens, suffering from ‘permanent impermanence’. They are not allowed to engage, as citizens in political or social affairs, risking expulsion, but are restricted to be consumers of luxury only. Dubai is the wet dream of global market fundamentalism. An authoritarian state governs a market society for rootless, non-participatory consumers-inhabitants. Will Alfred Speer meet Disney in our future global world, as journalist Bernard Hulsman of Dutch NRC Handelsblad (18-6-2010) originally has formulated the question?

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