“Expo, Expo, Expo! 😃 Yeah… I’ll be there from Oct 20th to 26th… … Let the Israelis in!… … … They promise not to assassinate anyone.” 😎
Dubai bets billions that Expo 2020 won’t be a desert mirage
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — It rises out of what were once rolling sand dunes stretching toward the horizon, a feverish construction site by tempo and temperature that has tens of thousands of workers building what looks like a new city in the desert of Dubai.
This is the site of Expo 2020, a world’s fair that will be hosted by a city-state that is already home to the world’s tallest building, the busiest airport for international travel, an indoor ski slope and other modern marvels.
Dubai is betting billions of dollars the expo will draw 25 million visitors, encourage business and spur further development of the city, a place that has been transformed by its ruling Al Maktoum family over the decades from a sleepy port of pearl divers and gold smugglers into a world showcase.
However, the preparations for Expo 2020 come as Dubai’s real estate market show signs of faltering amid global economic woes. Fears of military conflict across the Persian Gulf cloud organizers’ sunny projections. And the planning for the event, which begins Oct. 20, 2020, highlights the contradictions of Dubai and the wider United Arab Emirates, a nation governed by hereditary rulers, wildly enriched by its oil reserves and built by foreign laborers.
“We can only again invite, we can only be open, we can only facilitate, we can only give discounts to incentivize them to come,” said Tarek Oliveira Shayya, a board director for Expo 2020 and its chief spokesman. “The response, however, will come from them.”
World’s fairs conjure great wonders of engineering, like Paris’ Eiffel Tower for the 1889 fair. The light bulb and the Ferris wheel dazzled those at the 1893 fair in Chicago. The X-ray followed at Buffalo’s 1901 fair, and Seattle’s Space Needle opened to visitors at the 1962 fair.
But some of these extravaganzas can also turn sour. The 1984 world’s fair in New Orleans went bankrupt and required a government bailout. Expo 2000 in Germany drew 18 million visitors, well short of the 40 million expected. Milan’s 2015 expo saw rioting over corruption allegations.
While estimating Expo 2020 will account for as much as 2.5% of Dubai’s gross domestic product during its run, the government-backed bank Emirates NBD has warned that world’s fairs “have also resulted in higher than expected costs, increased debt for host cities, ‘white elephants’ and abandoned buildings.”
Dubai functions like a company town. Its marquee employers are the state-owned Emirates airline, state-backed real estate developers and other government-associated industries. And those industries helped build the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 828 meters (2,717 feet), the largest manmade harbor at its Jebel Ali port, and the manmade, frond-shaped Palm Jumeirah archipelago in the Persian Gulf.
An employee of the Dubai Expo 2020 visits the Al Wasl Dome at the under construction site of the Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
A worker passes in front of the Sustainability Pavilion at the under construction site of the Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
The city’s well-known appetite for megaprojects once inspired a 2016 article from the satirical website The Onion about Dubai building “the world’s first full-scale replica of Dubai, a multibillion-dollar investment known as the Dubai Experience built on the outskirts of the city-state.”
At the center of the Expo 2020 site is the Al Wasl Dome, a 65-meter-high (213-foot) structure that will see videos and designs projected across it. Its Sustainability Pavilion, which recalls the towers of New York’s 1964 world’s fair, will be covered in solar panels and surrounded by similarly paneled “energy trees” to make it a zero-energy structure. Construction crews will also build a network of roads and a connection to Dubai’s driverless Metro line.
All told, construction costs around the event are estimated at $7 billion.
“We are building a city,” Shayya said. “We are not building an Expo site. We are building a city and it’s a city that is going to be one of the smartest cities in the world.”
But Dubai will need to incorporate the new city into its sprawling real estate market after the six-month expo ends on April 10, 2021. And already, that market shows signs of trouble.
Real estate speculation and the Great Recession helped drag down Dubai’s economy in 2009. A sharp drop in oil prices in 2014 also hurt its economy, as has tension between the U.S. and Iran and the war in Yemen.
Dubai’s real estate market, which has been a major economic driver since it allowed foreigners to own property beginning in 2002, has seen its value drop by a third since its 2014 peak. Apartments, villas and office space stand empty, and more properties are due to come onto the market in the coming years, sparking enough alarm for Dubai’s government to set up a commission to come up with ways of heading off the problem.
A visitor looks at the Sustainability Pavilion of the under construction site of the Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Expo officials point out that the German industrial conglomerate Siemens plans to open an office at the site after the expo closes. They believe other businesses, drawn by the expo, will follow suit.
However, uncompleted “white elephant” projects lurk around Dubai, like the Palm Jebel Ali, the unfinished twin of the Palm Jumeirah. A massive amusement park that recently opened near the Expo 2020 site reported a loss of $57 million last year and canceled an expansion. And the Al Maktoum International Airport, envisioned to one day take over for Dubai International Airport, has seen repeated delays to its expansion.
Success for the event may also hinge on events beyond Dubai’s control. Flights out of the country already swing wide around the Strait of Hormuz, the mouth of the Persian Gulf, because of U.S.-Iranian tensions. Yemen’s Houthi rebels, whom the UAE has been battling in a Saudi-led coalition for years, have repeatedly threatened to target the country.
Expo 2020 officials say their event will be “apolitical.” Iran will take part, officials say. Qatar, the energy-rich nation that the UAE and three other Arab countries have been boycotting over a political dispute since 2017, has been invited, and discussions are under way, said David Bishop, an Expo 2020 spokesman. Also taking part is Israel, which Gulf Arab countries don’t recognize.
Construction continues unabated. Parts of the UAE’s pavilion, which will look like a falcon in flight, and Saudi Arabia’s exhibition, which will resemble a window looking up to the sky, are up. Others have begun construction under the relentless heat and humidity of Dubai, where it can go over 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer.
Two workers have been killed on the site, and there have been 43 other “serious incidents” resulting in injuries, said Rob Cooling, vice president of safety and environment at Expo 2020. That’s over the course of some 140 million man-hours of labor expended so far, he said, as authorities offer training and cooling areas for workers.
“When these incidents happen they are absolutely tragic, but they are subject to a very, very detailed, thorough independent investigation,” Cooling said. “Just to emphasize: At no stage are we complacent. We’re also always looking to maintain and, in fact, drive continued improvement.”
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
ISRAEL TO ATTEND EXPO 2020 DUBAI, AN ARAB STATE WITH WHOM IT HAS NO TIES
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Israeli-UAE relations have been improving over the past few years.Israel’s government is set to decide today on whether to participate in Expo 2020 Dubai in October of next year, which will draw some 190 nations and is expected to be the largest World’s Fair held in the Middle East and Africa.
“This reflects on-the-ground continued progress in normalization with the Arab states,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “We have increasingly tighter relations with at least half-a-dozen Arab states. This has been done thanks to our policy that combines strength, common interests and very careful step-by-step approach to advance normalization, which in my view, will bring about peaceful relations in the end. It will take time, but we will get there.”
According to its website, the world’s fair – the first to be held in Dubai – will attract 25 million visitors, some 70% of which are expected to come from outside the United Arab Emirates. It will take place from October 20, 2020, through April 10, 2021.
According to Expo 2020 Dubai, innovations launched at previous world’s fairs have included, “the telephone (Philadelphia, 1876), the Eiffel Tower (Paris, 1889), the Ferris wheel (Chicago, 1893), the X-ray machine (Buffalo, 1901), the ice cream cone (St. Louis, 1904), the commercial broadcast television (New York, 1939), IMAX (Osaka, 1970), touch screens (Knoxville, 1982) and the humanoid robot (Nagoya, 2005).”
Israel – which hosted a world’s fair in 1953 and attended one in Kazakhstan in 2017 – wants to spend NIS 55,300 on this one, according to information published Sunday by the Prime Minister’s Office following the meeting. That budget has yet to be approved.
The cabinet decision also called for the appointment of an expo commissioner and a committee to oversee Israel’s participation in this half-year-long event.
Israel and the UAE do not have formal diplomatic ties, but ties have warmed between the pair to the extent that formal delegations from Israel have visited and participated in international events hosted there.
Just last week, students from the Megiddo Regional High School participated in the First Global Challenge robotics Olympic-style competition in Dubai and won a silver medal. Foreign Minister Israel Katz visited Abu Dhabi in July to take part in a UN event on the environment.
In October 2018, Israeli judoka Sagi Muki won a gold medal at the Judo Grand Competition in Abu Dhabi. In his honor, Israel’s national anthem was played publicly in that country for the first time.
UAE May Allow Israeli Tourists to Expo 2020
By Shimon B. LifkinWednesday, November 6, 2019 at 1:13 pm | ח’ חשון תש”פ
Warming ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates may take more concrete form within a year, starting with Expo 2020 in Dubai, according to a media report on Wednesday.
The UAE was described by various sources as seriously considering the move, though nothing has been finalized.
Mohamed Khater, assistant director for tourism development in Ras Al Khaimah, a UAE emirate, confirmed to Yediot Aharonot that Israelis will be allowed to visit the Expo, scheduled for October 2020.
“Expo could be a pilot during which Israelis tourists will be allowed to enter the country. But even after the exhibition closes, the UAE authorities will leave the gates of the country open to Israeli tourists,” Khater said.
“Already now hundreds of Israelis trickle into the country and we will be glad to host all of them,” he added.
Israelis can currently visit the UAE if they have a foreign passport or with Israeli travel papers after getting a special entry permit.
Israel plans to have a pavilion at the international event, which is to run for 173 days and attract some 25 million visitors. It will give Israel a new venue for showcasing its innovative technologies, although it has yet to be announced which companies will participate.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the report.