I think we live at a point of extreme darkness and extreme brightness. Extreme darkness, because we really do not know from which direction the light would come. extreme brightness, because we ought to have the courage to begin anew.
Michel Foucault in a dialogue with Baqir Parham.
Iranian Revolution, September 1978.


exploitation / imagineered urbanism / islamic banking / laundered dollars / permanent exception / slavery in the 21st century / The World Economic Forum Davos / "The world" island resort, Dubai

Christian von Borries
Berlin, February 23rd 2007, 19:30 - 20:00


When Giorgio Agamben wrote that the contemporary world increasingly operates under a regime of "permanent exception", a multiplicity of power holders imposed a new normality which we are expected to get accustomed to. Ours is a WORLD, as Agamben suggests, in which we are no longer citizens but detainees - or tourists, moraly no big difference as we will see. It is only that we might not yet have found ourselves in the WRONG place at the WRONG time.

I will take on two wrong places, which seem to be right places, Davos and Dubai.

Let me start with two lonely planet travel guide book characteristics:
DAVOS, world famous winter sports destination, has recently got a name for itself as the annual meeting point for the crème de la crème of world capitalism, the world economic forum (wef for those in the know).

lonely planet characterizes DUBAI as a flashy, fun, often surreal yet uniquely arabian city, with year round sunshine, stunning five-star beach hotels, endless shopping, bubbling nightlife, and world class sports events.

The two places have surprisingly many things in common: you can ski all year round, guranteed in Dubai's Emirates Mall. Ski Dubai uses 6000 tons of snow. The Kempinsky-Hotel offers 15 unique Ski Chalets with unprecedented views over the amazing indoor ski resort.

Perhaps you would prefer to have sportive holidays with sailing, golfing, paragliding... or maybe you are more easy-going and would prefer horse drawn sledge rides... or maybe you want a family holiday and have fun on the toboggan track... whatever your preferences, Davos has more to offer!

The World Economic Forum is a business forum, where the richest businesses can negotiate deals with one another and lobby the world's most powerful politicians. According to wikipedia, it has been criticized as an elitist forum for circumventing democratic politics, and for encouraging non-transparent, secretive decision-making, backed by the swiss government.

- There are a lot of cultural delicacies to detect in Davos. Most of them found their way to Davos by foreigners, mainly during the first part of the 20th century. The most popular are Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Thomas Mann.

- There are a lot of cultural delicacies to detect in Dubai. Most of them found their way to Dubai by foreigners, mainly during the first part of the 21th century. The most popular will be the Guggenheim and Louvre in Abu-Dhabi, but also the first Richard Wagner Society in the arab world.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007, Davos, Programme Summary:
"The Art of investing in Art" committed to improve the state of the world
Let's concider the meaning of "the world" in Dubai and Davos.

The World, Dubai. The 300 islands of this man-made archipelago form a map of the world. Entire islands sell for an average of 30 million dollars each. This is, where Rod Stewart has bought ‘Britain’, and Michael Schumacher got an island of Antarctica as a present.

Here are two guiding principles of 'The World':

First the question: How do we navigate this brave new world?

Second the insight, that in an aera of multiplicity and me-too, it's hard to stand out. but in times like these, it's still possible to be the sun in your own universe.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007, Davos, Programme Summary:
"Getting the Message across with a Story"
committed to improve the state of the world

Under the despotism of its Emir and CEO, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, Dubai has become the new global icon of imagineered urbanism for Rem Kolhaas and his followers. Multi-billionaire Sheikh Mo—as he is known to Dubai’s expats—has a straightforward goal: ‘I want to be Number One in the world’.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007, Davos, Programme Summary:
"Wealth, Passion and Succession" committed to improve the state of the world

Dubai is a so called paradise of personal security, from the Swiss-style laws governing financial secrecy to the armies of concierges, watchmen and bodyguards who protect its luxury. Tourists are ordered away by the security guards if they attempt to sneak a peek at the Burj Al-Arab Hotel on it's private island. Hotel guests arrive in Rolls Royces.

Davos, during the world economic forum, is a wast gated community, protected by 5000 swiss army personal and foreign police.

Dubai is a vast gated community. It is also the apotheosis of the neo-liberal values of contemporary capitalism. Dubai, indeed, has achieved what American reactionaries only dream of — an oasis of free enterprise without income taxes, trade unions or opposition parties. There are no elections.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007, Davos, Programme Summary:
"Democracy beyond elections: the future of the western model"
committed to improve the state of the world

Although tourist development and its excesses generate most of the ‘buzz’ about Dubai, the city-state has extraordinary ambitions to capture as much value-added as possible through a series of specialized free-trade zones and high-tech clusters.

The UAE has permitted Dubai to set up ‘an entirely separate, Western-based commercial system for its financial district that would do business in dollars, and in English’.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007, Davos, Programme Summary:
"Demystifying Productivity and Growth" committed to improve the state of the world

Islam is the deeper source of the economic developement in Dubai. The Emirat is neighter a state capital financial center, as The Economist states, nor is it, according to Mike Davis, a mix of neoliberalism and neofashism. Believing muslims are obliged to promote privat property and copyright laws under free market roule, similar to the protestant capitalist western world values.

Interest-free islamic banking is no obstacle, it depends on the interpretation of the mullas and it's adaption to today's needs.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007, Davos, Programme Summary:

"The Gulf States as an emerging financial Hub" committed to improve the state of the world

The Dubai International Financial Centre is the world's newest international financial centre.
It aims to develop the same status as New York, London and Hong Kong.
It primarily serves the vast region between Western Europe and East Asia.
Firms are eligible for benefits such as a zero tax rate on profits, 100 per cent foreign ownership, no restrictions on foreign exchange or repatriation of capital, operational support and business continuity facilities. The following swiss banks are present: Julius Baer Middle East Limited, Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch Bank Suisse, Zurich International Life Limited, UBS
The Dubai International Financial Centre website states: "We are deliberately excluding retail banking and only including private banking for high net worth individuals with accounts in excess of US$ 1 million per account.

That means 100 per cent foreign ownership, zero per cent tax rate on income and profits, a wide network of double taxation treaties, no restrictions on foreign exchange or capital/profit repatriation.
It's a blue print for avoiding to pay taxes anywhere and to launder money.
Dubai Media City, providing the regional hubs for IT (Microsoft and HP) and media businesses (Reuters and CNN). Dubai hosted the Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund.

Recently, Dubai has attracted large numbers of wealthy Iranians who use the city— like Switzerland - as a base for trade and bi-national life-styles. They are estimated to control as much as 30 per cent of Dubai’s current real-estate development. Dubai became the Gulf’s principal dirty-money laundry as well as a bolthole for some of the region’s most notorious gangsters and terrorists. As The Wall Street Journal recently described the city’s underside: 'Its gold and diamond suks and informal cash-transfer storefronts have long formed an opaque business world based on connections and clan. Black-market operators, arms dealers, terrorist financiers and money launderers have taken advantage of the freewheeling environment.'

Since 9/11, an investigative literature has explored Dubai’s role as ‘the financial hub for Islamic militant groups’, especially al-Qaeda and the Taliban: ‘all roads lead to Dubai when it comes to [terrorist] money’, claims a former US Treasury official. Bin Laden reportedly transferred large sums through the government-owned Dubai Islamic Bank, while the Taliban used the city’s unregulated gold markets to transform their opium taxes, paid in gold, into laundered dollars.

The Arab World Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum Davos will have "profound implications for business leaders in the region. It will point the way to business success by highlighting best practices and identifying barriers to growth, while promoting specific policy measures to improve the business environment.

The Arab Business Council (ABC) is composed of the leading representatives of the Arab private sector who are committed to enhancing economic competitiveness in the Arab world."
Dubai is one of the few cities in the region to have entirely avoided car-bombings and attacks on Western tourists: eloquent testament, one might suppose, to the city-state’s continuing role as a money laundry and upscale hideout.

Dubai and the UAE are currently undergoing a dramatic construction boom, and nearly all of the more than 500,000 construction workers in the country are migrants, mostly from South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The country’s 0.5 million migrant workers make up 95% of the country’s workforce.

Recruiting agencies unlawfully force workers, rather than their employers, to pay US$2,000-3,000 for travel, visas, government fees and the recruiters’ own services.
Human Rights Watch found that employers routinely withhold construction workers’ wages for a minimum of two months along with their passports, as “security” to keep them from quitting. The report also documents cases where employers have withheld wages for even more extended periods.

Workers are desperate for their wages, but are trapped due to their debts; and UAE law prohibits a worker from obtaining a new job without their old employer’s consent.
In a country that only abolished slavery in 1963, trade unions and strikes are illegal, and 99 per cent of the private-sector workforce are immediately deportable non-citizens.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007, Davos, Programme Summary:
"Making Sanctions Part of the Solution" committed to improve the state of the world
Working twelve-hour shifts, six and a half days a week, in the desert heat, a worker makes an average of US$ 5 a day.

As the british paper The Independent recently emphasized, ‘the labour market closely resembles the old labour system brought to Dubai by its former colonial master, the British. Like their impoverished forefathers, today’s Asian workers are forced to sign themselves into virtual slavery for years when they arrive in the United Arab Emirates. Their rights disappear at the airport where recruitment agents confiscate their passports and visas to control them.’

In 2004 alone, Human Rights Watch estimated that almost 900 construction workers were killed on the job, with most of the fatal accidents unreported by employers or covered up by the government.
Instead, the weekly arab paper 'Construction Week', asked euphemistic on February 17, 2007
"Is this the future of labour camps?"

The term labour camp found a new and positive meaning in Dubai:

"The company has so far invested millions on the maintenance and upkeep of its labour camps, and, in December last year won an award for Best Labour Accommodation from Dubai Municipality."

'Behind the glittering skyscrapers lies a late-night world of hotels and prostitutes, money launderers and smugglers of everything from guns and diamonds to human beings.' National Geographic estimated in January 2007 "some 10.000 women in the UAE to be victims of sex traffickers."
The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007, Davos, Programme Summary:
"Is Freedom overrated?" committed to improve the state of the world

Even worse is the situation of more than 300.000 illegal workers: Private contractors, working on behalf of manpower supply companies, rent a van and drive around Dubai hiring illegal construction workers. Because there is a high demand for labor in the construction sector, contractors turn to manpower supply companies to address labor shortages.

Manpower supply companies are mostly run by expatriates who employ illegal workers.
The website UAEprison.com wrote on January 18, 2007: "The sight of people screaming for rescue from the upper floors of an apartment block under construction in Dubai was a shocking reminder that the pace of the city’s development comes with a human cost. The death toll on Dubai construction sites is a figure that authorities have suppressed for years."

One tragic example: Arumugam Venketesan, a 24-year-old Indian national, worked for a manpower supply company. 'Construction Week' reported that “the company that brought him to Dubai was being paid between $4 and $5.50 per hour for the labor they supplied to contractors. But this company passed on only 80 cents per hour to its workers.”

Venketesan’s suicide note is an eye-opening account of his daily struggles in the face of exploitation:
"I have been made to work without any money for months. Now, for a month I’ve been suffering from a constant headache and wanted to visit a doctor to examine my condition. I asked my camp boss for US$14 but he refused and told me to get back to work… After my death I want the company to pay all my salary dues to my family and repay the financial debt my family has incurred because of them."

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007, Davos, Programme Summary:
"How much should the Western World spend on Healthcare?"
committed to improve the state of the world

The worst place near Dubai is the Al Wathba Central Prison. It is a big facility. There are offices, a reception area, staff quarters and well-kept jails for all to see.
However, I'm quoting UAEprison.com, there is a compound which houses the torture chamber, the detention center and the execution arena. In this compound there are 10 special blocks meant to detain the Third World country people.

Amnesty International was allowed to say the following at the World Economic Forum, Davos:
"Human rights are important for business at all times, but particularly so now when public confidence is at its lowest... An environment in which human rights are regularly and seriously abused is a risk factor for companies."

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2007, Davos, Programme Summary:
"Is Freedom overrated?" committed to improve the state of the world
Coming towards the end, I will quote from an interview with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, conducted by Abu Dhabi TV in Davos.
Question: 'Most of the speakers at the conference alluded to a divide between rich and poor. The demonstrators outside were also emphasising the size of the gap between rich and poor. Your Highness, don’t more efforts need to be made by Arab countries, and particularly Dubai, to bridge the divide?'

Answer: 'No, I don’t think so. I believe that the UAE and Dubai are on the right path.
As for what we learnt, we benefited greatly and discovered that our views and opinions are valid.'
I was in Davos this January while the World Economic Forum took place. Skiing went on in Davos Dorf as usual, all the slopes were open, and you could see skiiers walking the main road while heavyly armoured black limousines drove by, inside, among others, freezing cold arab business and political leaders, guarded by armed masked snipers on the roofs of the five star hotels while choppers flew by.

Wars are not any more fought with weapons, but with exploitative measures, sanctioned foremost by the World Economic Forum. All this is covered up with the friendly facade of the tourism industry.
The World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index will be presented on march 1st, 2007 for the first time. Quote: "Tourism is a crucial driver of economic growth and national prosperity. ... We describe all the factors that make it attractive to develope the tourism industry."
Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem of propertyworldme.com

´I am delighted to be representing Dubai in the ´Pioneering Cities´ forum Davos. The growth of Dubai into a leading destination for business and tourism has been noted internationally - and strong, visionary leadership has ensured that our ideas have always been innovative, ambitious and well thought out; developments such as The Palm and The World are proving this. The World Economic Forum is an excellent platform for exchanging ideas, and it is pleasing that Dubai has developed to be seen as a pioneer in its field.´

"The world" is my hidden agenda for this dictionary of war, capitalized in the world economic forum Davos and "The world" island resort in Dubai.

There IS no more war of civilisations!

Thank you.