Comparing Beirut To Dubai

An American writer for the Huffington Post wrote an article today titled: “Thank you, Beirut. Your Friend, Dubai” in which she basically paralleled the rise of Dubai to the gradual decline and possible near-demise (never ever?) of Beirut.

The writer’s opinion of the Lebanese capital was favorable – even favorable of the go-to Lebanese scarecrow for Americans Hezbollah, trying to explain its popularity among many Lebanese and the reason for its increasing political strength.

In typical fashion, Lebanese across the internet have been sharing the article fervently. It’s about Lebanon. It’s about Beirut. It’s by a very prominent publication. Click, click away.

However, the question I want to ask is the following: is comparing and contrasting Beirut to Dubai warranted?

I, for one, think drawing similarities between the two cities is comparing apples to oranges for the following reasons:

1) Beirut was never made out of money. When you talk about Beirut, you don’t talk about an economical hub for a region or a city made entirely because they discovered oil beneath its soils. You talk about a city which made itself by itself and who, when the factors leading to its prosperity are affected, undoes itself by itself.

2) Beirut has never had poured into it the same amount of money going into Dubai daily. The Lebanese economy – even in its heyday – has never been as strong as the Emirati economy is (or was if we’re accounting for the recession). Up until a few years ago, we didn’t have oil. We won’t see any benefits from that oil until 2018 at the most optimistic expectations (link) and I’m sure the economy driving Beirut won’t be nowhere near comparable to that of Dubai anytime soon.

3) Beirut and Dubai have two entirely different experiences to give their visitors. The joke goes “I’ve never been to Dubai but I’ve been to Zaytounay Bay.” Many moguls are sure trying to turn Beirut into a new Dubai. But I believe their attempts will end up futile. They can build as much malls as they want and spend copious amounts of money into flashy projects that pale in comparison to any developments in more developed countries. They can build the fanciest hotels and the most hedonic of night clubs. But the fact of the matter remains, and it shows in the point the article’s author tried to make: Dubai is for show and Beirut is for heart, however tacky that might be. Can you compare both?

4) By comparing Beirut to Dubai, the comparison can be extended to the countries holding the two cities. Is the “Lebanon” experience of tourism compared to the “UAE” experience? I highly doubt it.

5) The governing bodies behind Beirut and Dubai are highly different. On one hand, you have an iron-first ruling with a twist of enough liberalism not to step on bigger political toes. On the other hand, you have a state barely keeping it politically together as everyone fights for a piece of the Lebanese cake.

Beirut is a city with woes. There’s political instability at every turn. Civil strife can erupt at any moment. The city is that of 18 sects trying to live together while working for their communitarian benefits, some of which are mutually exclusive with those of others. But don’t you think that for a city as chaotic, with a serious lack of infrastructure and urban design, to be compared to Dubai at every point is poignant enough to tell which city has more promise? And If Dubai’s oil reserves ran out tomorrow and its economy started going down the drain and the expats in it decided their futures better be spent elsewhere, would it still be the mega-brilliant city everyone makes it out to be today?


11 thoughts on “Comparing Beirut To Dubai

  1. i agree with your points in comparison, but it should also be noted that Dubai’s share of oil revenue is actually less than 6% and they do only rely on business and tourism for the biggest part….Abu Dhabi is the OIL GIANT…


    • I understand oil is no longer their major source but wasn’t it when they first started building the city and working on investing the oil revenues in more sustainable and constant developmental means?


    • You cannot deny that Dubai was a city historically built on oil. They made plans for when the oil revenues started to dip and it worked for them: bringing investments, etc.
      The point is: comparing a city build on oil (regardless of whether you like it or not) to a city that – until recently – was in an oil-less country and comparing a city in a country ruled with a tight-fist (you can say whatever you want about this) to one where communities roam free and clash with each other more often than not.

      And for that, my points remain valid. The article’s premise wasn’t only about potential, it was comparing and contrasting the rise of Dubai with the demise of Beirut and those things, to me, are not comparable.


      • We might not argue that initially it was built on oil…or at least its infrastructure was, but the Dubai you know today was made less than 10 years ago and boomed from business investments and tourism…..


  2. Pingback: Thank You, Beirut. Your Friend, Dubai. - Abir Ghattas Abir Ghattas

  3. As an outsider, I must say the article does do Lebanon a great deal of favor. Basically what I learned (pretending I didn’t know anything beforehand), is the Lebanon is a country with thousands years of visible history, plus you can eat well and party. In stark contrast, Dubai is city-state-sized shopping mall void of culture. The latter sounds like a horrific tourist trap to me.

    How nice he suggests Lebanon to have a train track. But that is not ambitious enough. Why stop there when you can build a TGV from Beirut to Berlin, it would be like the Baghdad Railway :).


    • I know the article puts Lebanon in positive light. But why make the focal point of that Dubai? You can contrast and compare Beirut to most cities across the region and it’d still come out winning as a go-to hub. And agreed – if only we can go to Berlin without a visa 😛



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