Nine years ago, I moved from New York to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. I stayed for two years, working at an English-language newspaper. On visits back to America, this often meant explaining to family or friends that I was living “near Dubai.” If people knew anything about the U.A.E., a nation less than forty years old at the time, it was likely something about Dubai. They’d caught shiny glimpses of the city on TV, or maybe in Newsweek. They knew the city (and, by extension, the entire surrounding country) as an avatar of wealth—quick-blooming skyscrapers, opulent hotels, a mall with an indoor ski slope—and of exploitation, particularly of the noncitizen “guest workers” shipped in from across the globe to build the skyscrapers, clean the hotel sheets, and serve mall-goers their après-ski hot chocolates.
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