The Smackdown: Dubai or Abu Dhabi?

Students are gaining an appreciation of how the UAE's two largest cities differ.

“I like Dubai better,” says Kyler Robinson C’10, in an informal class discussion held in Associate Professor of Political Science Carlos Yordán’s hotel room one evening during the Drew International Seminar in the UAE. “Abu Dhabi is 10 years behind and you don’t have international businesses. You have government money. While this emirate has more money, I don’t see it being spread around.”

Fellow DIS student Cristina LaBrutto C’11 was also impressed with the city that has captured the world’s attention: “I have to give it to Dubai to take the risks they did [to build] without all the oil wealth that Abu Dhabi has.”

But more of the students leaned in favor of the capital, Abu Dhabi, namely for what they perceived as a more comfortable pace and better quality of life, as well as for the assumed sustainability of its development plans compared to those in its showier sister city.

What I heard raised most as an example of Abu Dhabi’s greater planning ability is Saadiyat Island, that will soon house major international museums and performing arts centers and tens of thousands of new homes, giving visitors and prospective residents an alternative to Dubai, the home of the world’s tallest building, a hotel shaped like a sailboat and a ski slope inside a mall. “Dubai put on the glamour, but when you dig deep, it’s underdeveloped,” says Curtis Fornarotto C’11. “With Abu Dhabi, they’ve planned it out.”

You’ll do well to talk about the UAE with any of these students, who will soon return to the United States having met with a far more varied group of executives, economists and academics here than most researchers who study the Middle East, says Professor of Economics Nora Colton. But know this: They also have much to say about the nation’s seemingly befuddled taxi drivers—and it’s not pretty.—Renée Olson, Editor, Drew Magazine

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