It depends on what you like. One is fake, flashy (some would say trashy), and over-rated. The other is effortlessly classy, serene and understated. And that’s how I think of the difference between Dubai and Oman.
|Trinkets at the gold market in Dubai|
Dubai is unarguably a new country, both in its short history and penchant for continuing to become “more”. With a population of about 2.88 million, 85% are expats (42% are Indian). The country has over 95 skyscrapers exceeding 200metres, with plans for another tower to exceed the current Burg Khalifa at 1,000 meters. Why, you ask yourself.
|Bigger and better?|
Muscat, population 1.28 million, the capital of Oman (4.64 million) on the other hand, has limits on building height, and the 90m minaret on the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is the tallest point in the city. The history of the country goes back hundreds rather than tens of years and you can visit forts, castles and towers built in the 1600s.
|Fishing boats, Muscat - no fish in the waters off Dubai as development has decimated the ecosystem|
In a direct contrast to their Grand Mosques, Muscat’s design and architecture is restrained while Dubai’s is daring and creative. It’s as if Dubai says “why not” and Oman says “let’s not”.
Leading families in Dubai have monopolies in different industries; transportation, mall development, tourism, building, telecommunications etc. For example, all public transportation is owned by one family. Even Uber. After a big outcry when they initially shut it down, they just took it over. If you call Uber you get a white Lexus and it costs more than a taxi. On our recent trip the family controlling telecommunications blocked Skype (WhatsApp voice was already blocked). You and everyone you want to talk to overseas has to buy an app from the telco and use their system.
Omanis work, and so you get to meet them on a day to day basis. The taxi driver is Omani because the Sultan wants visitors to experience Oman hospitality when they arrive in the country. In Dubai the taxi drivers are Pakistani, service staff in hotels and restaurants and shops are Filipino, African, Pakistani, anything but Emirati. Literally millions of south Asians make up the construction workforce. Emiratis may have jobs, often at a level that exceeds their ability and a salary that exceeds an expat colleague, but they don’t necessarily work (anecdotal evidence gathered from friends working across a range of jobs in Dubai). There is a saying that Emirates stands for English Managed, Indian Run, Arabs Taking Extra Salary.
Emitarisation is a policy of giving preference to local Emirati staff in selection. Fair enough. However, given a proportionally small population, most of whom are women and children and therefore unavailable for work, this is not a particularly realistic strategy for efficiency and productivity.
In Oman there is a policy of Omanisation. To make it work the Government has funded universities and training organisations to provide education and training for locals to ensure they are appropriately qualified and skilled for the workforce. With expats at 45% of the population (again mainly south Asian) the attitude and framework are there, though they admit it’s a long game.
In Muscat after work on a Thursday (the weekend is Friday and Saturday) we watched local Omani guys playing seven a side football (soccer) on the beach. In Dubai, we see Pakistanis play cricket in the car parks - they’re not allowed to use the grass.
|Football on the beach in Muscat|
I could go on, but you get the picture: two countries sharing the Arabian peninsula with commonality in many things, for example, religion, but quite different in culture, values, and attitude. At leSt that is my impression, shallow as it may be!
So which do you prefer? Hitting the malls and designer shops with Kim? Or a walk through a C17th castle with Audrey?