What is the purpose of Dubai?

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A friend of my fatheru2019s once reacted with total surprise when he found out Iu2019m in Dubai.

Heu2019d been there during the war, flying Spitfires.

u2018What the hell do you want to live there for?u2019 He asked me, all bushy eyebrows.

u2018Itu2019s just a few mud huts on a creek!u2019,And so it was, a lively enough little trading port but lacking even the most basic infrastructure.

A British protectorate, one of the u2018Trucial Statesu2019 of the Arabian Gulf, so named because they had entered into a maritime peace treaty with Great Britain, Dubai didnu2019t get any significant British development aid or assistance.

It was merely allowed to carry on as a rudimentary, often impoverished, little coastal trading town.

There was no running water, no electricity and the most basic healthcare and education resources.

The people were so poor, in fact, that they would eat locusts.

,Then, in 1958, the ageing sheikh died and his dynamic son took over as leader of the people of Dubai.

Sheikh Rashid embarked on a whirlwind of development.

He borrowed money to dredge Dubaiu2019s creek so larger shipping could come into the port, reclaiming land with the dredged silt and selling it to offset the cost.

He built roads and bridges across the creek, started electricity and water companies and gave land to local businessmen so they would develop on it.

This was funded on loans and financing, but also on a thriving gold trade through to India.

As the infrastructure grew, the cityu2019s traders grew and Dubai developed into a dynamic entrepot.

,A defining moment came in the late 1960s, when oil companies found a limited amount - but an amount nonetheless - of oil offshore of Jebel Ali.

Rashid embarked on an accelerated program of development, building a 21-berth deep sea container port (Port Rashid), a World Trade Center (at the time, the tallest building in the Middle East) and driving development as fast as it would go.

Port Rashid was a huge success and so Rashid built Jebel Ali, a bewilderingly advanced concept at the time, a u2018free trade zoneu2019 that allowed anyone to come in and establish and operate trading facilities, importing and exporting goods without tariffs.

It still stands today, some 47 years later, as the biggest man-made harbour in the world.

,Rashid also built an airport in Dubai, something the British were dead set against (there was already an airport in neighbouring Sharjah and they didnu2019t think Dubai needed yet another one!) but which Rashid eventually escalated until he got his way.

The airport, as well as the oil company and also the two ports, were managed by Rashidu2019s just-as-dynamic son, Mohammed.

,It was Mohammed who, in 1985, launched an airline against the then-giant Gulf Air after a dispute threatened to disrupt Dubaiu2019s fast-growing passenger traffic.

With an investment of $10 million and five months to launch, Mohammedu2019s airline was called Emirates.

You may have heard of it.

,As the city grew, so did its trade.

Jebel Ali languished for the first few years, but soon started to fill up and then, to the amazement of its detractors, expand.

The ports management company that Mohammed ran is today known as DP World, one of the worldu2019s largest ports operators with operations under management in some 80-odd countries.

Jebel Ali is one of the worldu2019s largest ports, linked by bonded corridor to the worldu2019s largest planned aerotropolis, Maktoum International and the logistics, housing, leisure and entertainment zone of Dubai South.

At capacity, it will have more passenger/plane capacity than London Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Stanstead and London Luton airports combined.

Itu2019ll be bigger than Hong Kong island and itu2019s already operating.

,Maktoum International is in addition to Dubai International Airport, BTW.

Thatu2019s already the worldu2019s busiest international airport.

,In 2006, Mohammed became Dubaiu2019s ruler on the death of his elder brother.

The pace was stepped up even more.

Mohammed used the revenue from Dubaiu2019s successful state enterprises to drive even more visionary development, including a range of specialised free zones supporting information technology, media and other industries.

He launched luxury hotel brand Jumeirah, and consolidated many of these businesses into a super-holding company, Dubai Holding, which is responsible for some 300,000 jobs.

He built the Palm Islands, part of a massive real estate and tourism expansion program (the UAEu2019s airports host some 100 million passengers each year) that saw the iconic Burj Dubai and then the worldu2019s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa - itself the anchor of a $20 billion real estate development that includes the worldu2019s largest shopping mall by area.

,This isnu2019t about oil - the sector now comprises under 2% of Dubaiu2019s GDP - itu2019s about trade - arguably untrammeled capitalism.

Dubai offers you bling, because people have clearly expressed a desire to buy bling.

If people want it, Dubai delights in letting them have it.

Want sumptuous brunches? Done.

Want shopping malls piled on shopping malls? Done.

Want five star luxury lifestyles and fast cars? Done.

Want a ski-slope with real snow in the desert? Done.

,But the city is also maturing.

Dubaiu2019s literature festival is an internationally celebrated event and thereu2019s a huge emphasis from the government on wellbeing, fitness and building a balanced lifestyle.

Since he became Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE (at about the same time as he became ruler of Dubai), Mohammed has reformed the UAEu2019s federal government totally from the ground up.

The Emirates has a Minister for Youth, as well as Ministers for Artificial Intelligence and Tolerance - Dubai is a city where people of over 195 nationalities live and work in safety, security and peace.

Weu2019ve got gardens and walkways, cycle tracks and yoga centres, art galleries, museums and organic farms.

We have waterways and mountain retreats, desert eco-resorts and leafy parks.

Weu2019ve got one of the worldu2019s lowest crime rates and womenu2019s rights are, contrary to some peopleu2019s perception, paramount and enshrined in law.

,Weu2019ve also got a space program - Dubai launched its first home-grown satellite in 2019 and the Emirates Mars Missionu2019s u2018Hopeu2019 spacecraft is currently orbiting Mars and gathering important new information on the Martian atmosphere that has already seen key findings made.

Autonomous transport systems pass by centres dedicated to defining the future, accelerator programs put together startups and government bodies to define innovative solutions to everyday problems of governance.

Thereu2019s a u2018Museum of the Futureu2019 about to launch, a centre that aims to become a home for innovation and IP from anywhere in the world to come and be developed in Dubai.

Expo is well underway, literally the wonder of the world as 192 nations gather to display their attractions and promote their tourism and commerce in a huge purpose-built site with arenas, huge stands, hotels and pavilions that will become a commercial and residential centre when Expou2019s done.

Bloomberg has named the Emirates as #1 in the world for its recovery from Covid and the city is busy, bustling and thriving once again.

,From a few mud huts on a creek, in one manu2019s lifetime (Mohammed was born in 1949 in an adobe house by the creek which had no running water or electricity), Dubai has been transformed into a global city.

Sure, there have been mistakes and growing pains on the way: the financial crisis of 2008 was just one of a number of setbacks the city has faced in its development - this is, after all, a tough neighbourhood and weu2019ve gone on growing through the Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Syriau2019s civil war and so on and so on.

,Mohammed is still driving as hard as ever.

Heu2019s outlined a stated aim of making the UAE the best country in the world.

So maybe thatu2019s your answer, u2018to be the best city in the worldu2019.

,Part of the reason for the very long answer is to explain that this sort of aim might sound crazy, but when you look over the track record, youu2019d maybe not want to write u2019em off quite yetu2026