A Diamond in the Desert

Behind the Scenes in Abu Dhabi, the World's Richest City
Product Number: EB00667285
Released: Apr 14, 2016
Business Term: Purchase
ISBN: #9780802196170
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Jo Tatchell first arrived in the city of Abu Dhabi as a child in 1974, when the discovery of oil was quickly turning a small fishing town into a growing international community. More than thirty years later, change has reached breakneck pace: Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is becoming a dizzying metropolis of ten-lane highways and overlapping languages, and its riches and emphasis on cultural development have thrust it into the international spotlight. In A Diamond in the Desert, Tatchell returns to Abu Dhabi and goes on the hunt for the story behind the headlines-retracing old steps, planting new ones, and searching for clues to mysteries that have never left her. She finds more than she bargained for-a glimpse into a city that, before it meets a patiently waiting world, must first better get to know itself. Abu Dhabi has a story to hide, and life there carries countless contradictions. The city is a tolerant melting-pot of cultures and faiths, but less than 7,000 of its 800,000 native residents are deemed eligible to vote by the ruling class and the nation's president holds absolute veto power over his advisory boards and councils. The Emirates boast one of the world's highest GDP per capita, but the poor distribution of wealth in its cities is staggering. Abu Dhabi's royal family, worth an estimated $500 billion, lives off the sweat of the city's migrant workers, who subject themselves to danger and poverty under barely-observed labor laws. But now, the city is making an international splash with a showy investment in tourism, arts and culture, perhaps signaling a change to a more open, tolerant state. A new film studio is sprouting up in Abu Dhabi, and the year 2013 will bring a new branch of the Louvre and a Guggenheim museum designed by Frank Gehry. But can Abu Dhabi truly commit to a new era of liberty after so many years of control? As this sparkling city surges into the future, it devotes just as much energy to concealing its past. Tatchell's exploration of Abu Dhabi's history takes her to the edge of the Empty Quarter and on a wild goose chase around the city she once thought she knew, and her often-fruitless visits to newspaper archives in search of coverage of an old story reveal the city's desperation to hush up bad news. She seeks out friends old and new, local and expat, and discovers that word of mouth delivers more of the picture than do scattered news clippings. Along the way, she probes unknown aspects of Abu Dhabian history and culture-its ancient system of tribal organization, the condition of the city's million foreign workers, the emergence of women in Emirati society-that might somehow explain the complexity and contradiction of life there. But Tatchell's journey is nothing if not personal. Every turn she makes in the present conjures experiences from her past: the news that the offshore Saadiyat Island will house the city's new museums evokes childhood camping trips there, while a reunion with a friend reminds her of their younger days partying in nightclubs and apartments dripping with riches. Memories of a young girl's disappearance and a local's gruesome death haunt her, but both mysteries have gone unsolved. Where Abu Dhabi wants to hide its scars, Tatchell can't help but uncover them. Tatchell takes us on a tour of the city with an outlook that's part native, part critic, part wide-eyed traveler. The result is a truly original collage of perspectives and images, from a regal expatriate whose husband was one of the first Brits to settle in Abu Dhabi to young Emirati artists celebrating their newfound freedom of expression. A compelling piece of history told with an intimate narrative voice, A Diamond in the Desert is an eye-opening and often haunting perspective on just how much this fascinating city has changed-and, for better or for worse, how much it has stayed the same. CHAPTER-BY-CHAPTER OUTLINE: Prologue - The year is 1965, years before the explosion of the economies of the United Arab Emirates: Longtime partners and friends Edward Henderson, a British Political Officer and supervisor of the blossoming oil trade, and Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, a member of the royal family and ruler of the Eastern Region, meet among the dunes of the sparsely populated Eastern Region outside of Abu Dhabi. - Henderson has taught Zayed the ways of Western business, while Zayed has opened the doors of his complex, closeted world to Henderson. - Zayed, unique within the royal family, holds a modern vision for Abu Dhabi, which at that time has only a fishing and date-farming economy. Zayed imagines a glittering, prosperous city here on the Persian Gulf. Chapter 1 - The Final Disillusionment - In the present time, Tatchell touches down in Abu Dhabi, more than thirty years after she first arrived. Recently her brother, Bill, mentioned over the phone the plans to open branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums on the islet of Saadiyat, where the Tatchells camped as children; the move signals a shift-perhaps toward a more open, tolerant Islamic state-for Abu Dhabi, which has never prioritized high culture. - The Tatchells were one of many expatriate families there: When Mr. Tatchell took a job managing a catering/supermarket company in 1974 (Jo is three), oil interest had begun to change the city from a from tiny seaside village to asphalt roads and Uae currency in the early '70s. - After attending boarding school and university in the UK, Tatchell returns to Abu Dhabi, but is eventually repelled by the injustice of the city's wealth distribution and the indolence of its rich and returns to London in 1993. - Her two returns to Abu Dhabi, both in the '90s and the present, remind Tatchell of Wilfred Thesiger, a British explorer who, like T.E. Lawrence before him, embraced the discipline and loyalty of desert life when he first spent arrived in the '40s. When he returned in the '70s, he was disgusted by the indolence that oil and labor imported from the Indian sub-continent had brought on the people he loved; he called the new Abu Dhabi his "final disillusionment." - Abu Dhabi's complex political structure features Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan (Khalifa), who as president of the Uae and leader of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi possesses veto power over a number of councils and advisory groups. The Uae's 40-member Federal National Council is the only part of the government that incorporates the public, and hardly: 20 members are appointed by Uae rulers, and the remaining 20 are elected by voters effectively appointed by the rulers as well (only 6,689 of 800,000 Emiratis are eligible voters). - The government's Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 sets out a 25-year strategy for the city's development, promising "ongoing access to the desert, sea and natural assets that are integral to our national identity, while building a global capital with its own rich cultural heritage." - The Sheik's father and predecessor, Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, remains a beloved figure after his death in 2004. His were the last instincts toward a conservative approach to development; in the four years since, there has been more construction than there was in the previous forty. Chapter 2 - Write the Bad News in Sand - The Abu Dhabi of Tatchell's youth is a secretive city where news of crime and scandal is passed by word of mouth; a new newspaper, the National, tries to paint an honest picture, but old habits of secrecy die hard. - One incident has haunted Tatchell since her childhood: an English girl disappeared in a flash playing

Author(s): Jo Tatchell
Genre: Travel
Original Publish Date: Oct 05, 2010

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