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The Gilded Cage: Syed Ali on the UAE and Migrant Labour

On April 4, 2010

Leading UK daily The Times recently ran this article Dubai: Gilded Cage, reviewing sociologist Syed Ali's new book of the same name on the paradoxes of life in Dubai.

Ali digs beneath the surface of 'brand Dubai' to examine the lives of the people who make up the Emirate's population - which is 90% expatriate:

Ali picks briskly through the layers of Dubai society, meeting migrant workers of all stripes to study the Faustian pact that they strike by moving to Dubai, trading away their political rights for a taste of the good life. Young professionals from the West are offered a quality of life and professional advancement that they might struggle to find at home. In return, the visa system is a simple and effective mechanism of government control.

Working around them is the enormous labouring class that is still building the city’s skyscrapers, staffing its restaurants and cleaning its streets. Most are brought from the Indian sub-continent and enter into modern-day slavery, tithed to their employers and subject to serious exploitation. Living conditions for many remain appalling. Regardless of this, as Ali points out, Dubai still offers even the most poorly paid construction workers a salary far in excess of what they might earn in their own countries. And so they keep coming, many aware of the conditions that await, so as to remit their income back home.

It is encouraging to see another story about migrant labour issues in a major British paper (especially since the UK sends so many expats and holiday makers to the Emirates, who all benefit in one way or another from the cheap labour of migrant workers from the developing world). A couple of months back The Independent ran this piece by Johann Hari which was one of the most popular/emailed opinion pieces on their website and did a lot to raise the profile of the issue in the UK.

You can find out more about Dubai: Gilded Cage on Yale University Press's website here. Expect a Migrant Rights Review of the book - as soon as Amazon gets my copy sent over!