Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success

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Dubai has a remarkable success story. Since its origins as a small fishing and pearling community, the emirate has steadily grown in strength to become the premier trading center of the Persian Gulf. It is also the locus of an exciting and innovative architectural revolution. Despite its lack of democratization and a genuine civil society, Dubai is now a booming metropolis of more than two million people, most of whom are expatriates benefiting from the city’s incre… More >>

Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success

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5 thoughts on “Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success

  1. Davidson takes the reader behind the scenes of Dubai. Roughly a third of the book is about the history of the UAE. The rest of the book covers such topics as economic diversification, organized crime, and the challenge of developing a federalist mentality.

    If there is a theme to the book, it is the dilemma of the “rentier pathology.” In this term, Davidson is referring to a citizenry who are, in a word, spoiled. If they have jobs at all, they are no-show sinecures in the public sector. Many of these citizens have never had to work, have never had to pay taxes, and depend on imported temporary workers to do the grunt work. Such largess has allowed the emir to maintain power as an absolute monarch, but can this arrangement survive an economic downturn?

    Davidson is appropriately critical of the Dubai monarchy without being sensationalist. There are times when the professorial tone becomes annoying, as when names of numerous minor historical figures are thrown at the reader. All in all, it’s an excellent book for someone with a serious interest in Dubai.

    Those who have an interest in Dubai should also read Jim Krane’s “City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism,” which is lighter in style of writing and puts a greater emphasis on day-to-day life.

    Rating: 5 / 5

  2. The title aptly sums up the Dubai phenomena and even anticipates Dubai’s current post-crisis travails. Full marks to Davidson for his well-researched and objective study of the rise of a phenomenal and plucky little emirate. Academic writing aside, this book is what every serious student of Dubai and of the Gulf should read and re-read.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  3. This is essential reading material for everybody living and working in Dubai. Remarkebly this book has now appeared on the bookshelves in the bookstores of Dubai which surprised me! I thought it would not pass the sensorship of the local government. This account is very detailed and well documented and critical. I am hoping that the current financial situation in Dubai will add some additional chapters to this historic document.
    Rating: 5 / 5

  4. As other reviewers have pointed out, this book is full of information and facts, and is a very good introduction to Dubai/UAE. However, I didn’t give it a 5-star because some sections were written a little too matter-of-factly; I found myself having to put the book down for a couple of days before picking it back up again to finish it.

    Nevertheless, it is a good read overall for anyone who’s interested in knowing more about what Dubai has been through.
    Rating: 4 / 5

  5. Despite the myriad of articles and sound bites about the latest achievements of Dubai, works dedicated to an in depth analysis of the city state have been extremely sparse. Search Dubai in Amazon and nearly all the books published were travel guides, with the exception of the book Dubai & Co.: Global Strategies for Doing Business in the Gulf States. There is a smattering of outdated literature about the UAE, but this does not little to illuminate the underlying trends and contradictions of the Emirate. Therefore Christopher M Davidson’s academic work is particularly interesting and timely. Titled the vulnerability of success, this book has become the `go to’ for a history of the Emirate and the ability to put the current achievements in context.

    Upon starting the book, I immediately skipped from the 19th century tribal histories to the last chapter on the eponymous `Vulnerabilities of Success’. I was disappointed to find little that had not already been discussed in further detail elsewhere. For example, the subsection: `Present threat of Terror’ merited only 2 pages, and the dynamics of the economy in the last few years seems largely neglected. For those looking for an up to date picture of Dubai politics and economics, even The Report Dubai 2007 contains more depth. But lacking any other reading material on Dubai, I flipped back to 19th century tribal politics.

    Despite his title, Davidson’s work on the history of Dubai is the core of this book, and where he certainly has the most to contribute. Through his narrative it becomes clear how far back the tradition of capitalism and immigration extend, exemplified in the anecdote that “Some of the earliest motorcars imported into Dubai were purchased for the expressed purpose of bringing Pakistanis across the mountains from Fujairah so they could work without the need for visas or time consuming paperwork.” (91) Davidson also gives satisfactory answers to some of the most vexing questions about demographics, such as stating authoritatively that nationals account for only 4% of the population, and that 75% of the population is male. (168, 192) Finally, he manages to provide a complete picture of Dubai’s role in the UAE and the gulf. One revelation is that the UAE actually convinced Saddam to leave power:

    The UAE also tried to head off the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq by offering Saddam Hussein and his family sanctuary on the condition that he respected Bush’s ultimatum and left Iraq. Although it would appear that Saddam actually accepted this proposal, only for the Arab League to later force the UAE to withdraw it on the grounds that it represented interference in a fellow member’s internal affairs. (p. 168 from Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed in 2005)

    Another is the recent integration of Dubai’s forces into the UAE network, and the Unions attempts to cozy up to numerous western powers.

    In sum, this is the reference book that lays the groundwork for further research on Dubai’s history. While weak in analyzing emerging trends, Davidson’s is valuable due to a thorough and interesting investigation into the context of the phenomenon that is Dubai.

    Rating: 4 / 5

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