Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dubai Desert Classic - Study In Contrast

If one were to handicap the world's latest mover and shaker countries, you couldn't overlook Dubai. One of the seven Emirates in the United Arab Emirates, it's rising like a rocket in the leisure, entertainment, and rich person shopping worlds. Now home to the Burj Al Arab, seen in the photo, the world's largest freestanding hotel, pristine Persian Gulf beaches, and huge upscale shopping malls that make ours look like Wal-Mart also- rans. In 2002 the Emirate decided to recreate the skyline of Dubai City. Recreate they did. Oil money has been flowing since 1966, but not in the volumes of the Saudis or other Arab neighbors. So, it seems like a little diversification was in order. Holding the Dubai Desert Classic is but one gem in the crown. This year's field includes Tiger Woods and Ernie Els as the main drawing cards. Woods seems to be making this tournament a regular on his schedule, no doubt in part to the fact that he's designing his first golf course here. Curiously, the winner this week receives $416,000 USD. Last week at the Buick Invitational, Ryuji Imada pocketed $561,000 for second place. Fewer travel expenses I would assume, though I'm certain the top players in Dubai are lavishly comped.

Luxury aside, keep in mind that Dubai is a Muslim country. To be fair I would describe it as "Muslim lite" in comparison to some of their neighbors. Alcohol can be consumed by visitors. Beaches and the requisite bathing suits for tourists are all the rage. Night clubs abound and spending copious amounts of cash in palatial malls is encouraged. Other religions seem to be well tolerated. With Islam being the official state religion, preaching in public, distribution of literature regarding other religions is strictly prohibited and subject to criminal prosecution, imprisonment, or deportation. Though in effect, these penalties aren't really a common occurrence.

All this progress in such a short time means massive amounts of human labor are required. Upwards of 250,000 foreign workers, most from India, have been living in conditions that Human Rights Watch describes as "less than human". They typically live eight to a room. Changing jobs or leaving the country means almost no chance of recouping lost wages. The BBC has reported that many aren't paid for months at a time amid the squalor. I suppose that's one way to increases the bottom line. Reduce labor costs.

In a stunning story recounted by The International Herald Tribune, a 15 year old French national boy named Alexandre Robert was brutally sodomized by three Emirati men, two of which were ex cons. Dubai doesn't recognize "the rape of men", only the vague term of "forced homosexuality". If convicted, the prison terms are a few months to two years. The boy fled to Switzerland, rightly or wrongly fearing prosecution. Dubai officials withheld the fact that one of the men had tested HIV positive while in prison four years earlier. Apparently they didn't deem this information as important to the young victim.

Here's a little something I picked up from the Dubai City website;

Women in many Arab countries wear a black cloak and may also be veiled ( in purdah ). In other Arab countries however, women dress in the European fashion. In any case, women are viewed in a special way in Arabia. One might for example, enquire after the health of the family of an Arab but not specifically of his wife.

Gee, sure sounds "special" to me. I hope Tiger and Ernie's wives are healthy through the weekend, or at least brought their own emergency rooms.

No conclusions from me, just observations. Observations about a country with one foot in the future and the other in the Middle Ages.

Til' next,


  1. This is exactly where I would expect Tiger Woods to build a course in a country like this. Our new ambassador of golf (according to the press) I don’t think Arnie would like the situation there. Tiger is for Tiger, and then Tiger.
    As for the groups such as The Human Rights Watch, and the BBC, I wonder about what they report sometimes. But if this stuff is true, then the countries that these people come from should investigate. And if the reports are true they should not allow people from their country to go work there. And maybe we shouldn’t visit there, or play golf there. Until the people stand up and say no, it won’t get done.
    As for the laws and customs of other countries, well I hate to throw stones when we have laws that we put to use such as, allowing the killing of babies, and laws we don’t enforce like the borders, or how we can take someone’s home and land, and give it to a developer to build a hotel. People from other countries must think we are nuts when they read our news. Imagine reading the news for the past year, all the crap the politicians’ are saying about each other and what they would do, and what they have done. If you read it all, and were from an other country, and neutral to our politics you would have to know someone is lying, and at least flip flopping all over the place,spin,spin, and more spin.
    Well now a whole bunch of reasons not to watch the Dubai Desert Classic, one Tiger Woods, 2nd the poor conditions for some of the workers, and what seems to be the lack of respect for human rights.

    I would also guess Tiger is getting paid just to show up, why? he has so much money now. Guess Tigers more about the almighty dollar than we would hope our new ambassador would be. Hey Tiger you can help here, bet you don’t.
    For all you people who have jumped on the Tiger bandwagon, sit down read a book about Mr. Palmer, or Mr. Hogan, or any of the past greats from the PGA tour. You will find humor, humility, courage, and honor.Something lost on our new Tiger tour. I don’t think Mr. Hogan ever teed it up and thought he would have no chance to win. Can you picture the reporter asking him how far behind Tiger he expected to be after the first round.Sorry can't like Tiger.

  2. Mr. Hogan was not considered the nicest of guys. I admire his approach to the game. Keep in mind the tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars the Tiger Woods Foundation has provided for disadvantaged youth and the 2 learning centers he's built. The foundation has a 4 star, (top), rating from Charity Navigator, a leading charity watchdog group. Just a little balance. I agree with you on Arnie and Jack. Who wouldn't? Times have changed though and money is king, whether we like it or not. Incidentally, the PGA Tour has raised more money for charity than any other professional sport.


  4. Be assured he'll pay all required taxes. I have no idea what they are, if any. He'll pay similarly to Mark O'Meara, 2004, and Fred Couples, 1995, when they won that tournament.

  5. The countries of the Arabian Gulf are just developing now...albiet at an extraordinary speed. In the '70s that area was still just empty desert and nomadic tribes. The progress they've made in just three decades is amazing. Of course there will be things that still seem primitive to us but give them a little more time to get things straightened out. Human Rights come when a culture has matured a bit and we should certainly encourage it but should understand the context.

    As far as Tiger Woods building his golf resort there. I think it's a great business decision (though it could also be a great risk in such a geographical area. He's an excellent brand ambassador and I think it will be good for golf in that regiion.

    As far as the treatment women in these cultures. They have different religious and cultural beliefs and I don't think we should necessarily be trying to impose ours on them. I have this argument frequently with people because I know many, many Arabian women and the vast majority of them and of Arabian women in general are happy with their way of life and find ours to be ....barbaric. We tend to hear the sensational stories about the exploitation of women in their culture and they here the outrageous ones from our culture. Thus on both sides there's a fear and loathing of the other culture which doesn't reflect the reality of how we all live. I feel fortumnate to have traveled extensively in the middle east and spent time with the local population, and I really wish some of our leaders and their leaders would do so as well.

    Great post BTW. These issues are so interesting and I think we'll be discussing them more in the future as the world becomes more open globally.

  6. All your points are well taken. Progress is a slow train. We'd be remiss not to realize though that in many Arab cultures women are considered to be second class citizens. The Information Age will remedy many of these issues. Otherwise, why would China be censoring their citizen's use of the internet?

    Thanks for your enlightening comments.