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?