World's Richest City Wants to Be Culture Capital of Arab World

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, hopes to overshadow neighboring Dubai.

Oct. 22, 2007 — -- The United Arab Emirates is a very unusual mix of traditional Arab life and culture and enormous amounts of money.

The UAE has fast become an international business and tourism hot spot, with the city of Dubai as its centerpiece.

The Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai gets seven stars and attracts big names to its signature heliopad. The city also boasts indoor ski slopes, glitzy shopping malls, a reported $12 billion housing development on Palm Island, and soon, soaring above it all, the world's tallest building. When the building is complete, it will be twice the size of the Empire State Building.

"They have demonstrated to everyone it's OK to take risks. It's OK to push," said Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, the UAE minister for economy and planning.

Vying to Be Cultural Capital of Arab World

But soon, Dubai will have some competition, right next door, in the city of Abu Dhabi, which is now the richest city in the world.

"We have everything together. This is going to put us in the global map," said Ali Al Hosani, head of Abu Dhabi's tourism authority.

Abu Dhabi sits on 10 percent of the world's oil reserves. Its 420,000 citizens each have an average net worth of $17 million.

City leaders have ambitious plans to build a city to rival their neighbor, but with a focus on Arab culture, in the hope Abu Dhabi will attract as many Arab tourists as Europeans. They plan to build branches of the Guggenheim museum and the Louvre, as well as a Formula One racetrack.

The city, where the recently released movie "The Kingdom" was shot, now has its own film festival.

"It's important that we start to hear their voices in cinema," said Hollywood director and screenwriter Paul Haggis.

If that's not enough, Abu Dhabi will also be home to the world's largest Persian prayer rug.

It's a spectacle in the making. But if you think it's over the top, city leaders say think again.

"The United Arab Emirates would like to be a competitive player in the global world, and the question is not, 'Why?' But we should ask, 'Why not?'" Al Qasimi said.