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Dubai's inexorable momentum

Dubai's momentum is much talked about. Even in the underwater-themed tranquillity of the Al Mahara restaurant of Dubai's seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel you can't escape it. In fact the sharks swimming next to your gin and tonic and the delightful scoop of yoghurt, coriander and mint sorbet only reinforce the impression of prosperity and dynamism that the city exudes.

Dubai's rapid development over the past 20 years has transformed the emirate. There used to be little outside of the Creek, Dubai's old port town, and Bedouin roaming in the outlying dunes. Today Dubai stretches to Jumeirah and Jebel Ali, the world's largest man-made port, 20 kilometres away. And there is not a Bedouin in sight. In fact there aren't many native-born citizens anywhere. Some 90% of the population are expatriate workers, mainly from the Indian subcontinent and the Philippines, but including large numbers of Britons and other Europeans.

The emirate has grand ambitions and, it seems, the money and will to make them happen. The evidence is even visible from the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) with the naked eye. Jutting out into the Persian Gulf from the tip of Dubai is Palm Island, a massive luxury residential housing and resort project built on reclaimed land, shaped to resemble a date palm.

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