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In the swankiest new constructions – like the vast Atlantis hotel, a giant pink castle built in 1,000 days for $1.5bn on its own artificial island – where rainwater is leaking from the ceilings and the tiles are falling off the roof.
There are countless buildings half-finished, seemingly abandoned.Johann Hari reports The wide, smiling face of Sheikh Mohammed – the absolute ruler of Dubai – beams down on his creation.His image is displayed on every other building, sandwiched between the more familiar corporate rictuses of Ronald Mc Donald and Colonel Sanders.He would build a city to be a centre of tourism and financial services, sucking up cash and talent from across the globe. Until a few years ago they were shuttled back and forth on cattle trucks, but the expats complained this was unsightly, so now they are shunted on small metal buses that function like greenhouses in the desert heat. Sonapur is a rubble-strewn patchwork of miles and miles of identical concrete buildings.He invited the world to come tax-free – and they came in their millions, swamping the local population, who now make up just 5 per cent of Dubai. Hidden in plain view There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other. Some 300,000 men live piled up here, in a place whose name in Hindi means "City of Gold".They were largely illiterate nomads who spent their lives driving camels through the desert – yet now they had a vast pot of gold. Dubai only had a dribble of oil compared to neighbouring Abu Dhabi – so Sheikh Maktoum decided to use the revenues to build something that would last.
Israel used to boast it made the desert bloom; Sheikh Maktoum resolved to make the desert boom. Every evening, the hundreds of thousands of young men who build Dubai are bussed from their sites to a vast concrete wasteland an hour out of town, where they are quarantined away.
This man has sold Dubai to the world as the city of One Thousand and One Arabian Lights, a Shangri-La in the Middle East insulated from the dust-storms blasting across the region.
He dominates the Manhattan-manqué skyline, beaming out from row after row of glass pyramids and hotels smelted into the shape of piles of golden coins.
Suddenly it looks less like Manhattan in the sun than Iceland in the desert.
Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out.
They named it after a local locust, the daba, who consumed everything before it.