Dark Side of Dubai's Boomtown

In the world of thoroughbred racing, the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohamed, has spared no expense in making himself a big man.

Jason Levine: It is the sport of kings. He's one of the few people in the game that treats it that way.

The Sheik's personal 747 is a familiar sight in Kentucky, especially around the time of the country's premier Keeneland horse sale.

That's Sheikh Mohamed, without his robes, in the midst of a royal spending spree. He and his brother spent more than $70 million on horses in just two days.

And once back in Dubai, the horses will live in royal splendor in his majesty's stables.

Jason Levine: Money talks, and in his case, he's happy to throw it around.

The sheikh's taking the same no expense spared approach to promoting Dubai around the world.

Prominent figures, including former President Bill Clinton, have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak, or act as consultants.

President Bush's brother Neil was a guest of the royal family last year.

The sheikh and his ministers say Dubai is a shining example of what can go right in the Middle East.

Dr. Anwar Gargash: Dubai is slowly becoming a cosmopolitan global city here in the Middle East in the Arab world.

And as Dubai grows from desert town to boomtown, again, no expense is being spared.

Just putting up the world's tallest building isn't enough.

Mohammed Ali Alabbar: I think we'd like to be not only the tallest in the world, but the best quality building every built by man.

The building will be twice this height when completed next year.

One hundred sixty floors of the most luxurious apartments and offices the world has ever seen.

All being built, it turns out, by workers who on average make less than a dollar an hour.

Sarah Leah: It's clear that workers are being abused. They're working for virtual slave wages.

Behind the glitzy world of Dubai are some 500,000 foreign workers who human rights groups say live in virtual enslavement.

Sarah Leah: That is how these new, fancy buildings are being built.

A report out just this week from the group Human Rights Watch concludes workers putting up Dubai's soaring towers are being systematically cheated and abused, with the sheikh's government looking the other way.

Hadi Ghaemi and Sarah Leah Whitson prepared the report.

Sarah Leah: You are working in a system where you are not really free to leave your job. You actually need employers' consent to change jobs. You're working in a system where your passport is withheld. And really, if you displease your employer, you are going to find yourself on a plane right back to Sri Lanka or Bangladesh or India.

Most of the workers live in labor camps an hour outside the city in the desert, in a place called Sonapaur, which means city of gold.

There's little gold to be found here.

The men putting up the world's finest buildings live six to eight, sometimes 12, to a room, rooms smaller that the horse stalls in the Sheikh's royal stables.

When we arrived, the men said it was one of the few times outsiders with cameras had been in the camps.

And we wanted to know if his royal highness Sheikh Mohamed had ever been here.

Dr. Anwar Gargash: I cannot confirm that he has or has not.

Brian Ross: I think he would find that his horses have better living conditions than those men.

Dr. Anwar Gargash: I think that's not a fair comment.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...