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The Middle East reclaimed the title of world’s tallest man-made structure with the 2,722 foot-tall Burj Khalifa, which welcomed its first residents in 2010. The building is so tall that it wouldn’t fit completely in one photo frame. This is a compilation of two photos..

The Middle East reclaimed the title of world’s tallest man-made structure with the 2,722 foot-tall Burj Khalifa, which welcomed its first residents in 2010. The building is so tall that it wouldn’t fit completely in one photo frame. This is a compilation of two photos.. (Photo Illustration by Eric Guzman, Photos by Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

The Middle East reclaimed the title of world’s tallest man-made structure with the 2,722 foot-tall Burj Khalifa, which welcomed its first residents in 2010. The building is so tall that it wouldn’t fit completely in one photo frame. This is a compilation of two photos..

The Middle East reclaimed the title of world’s tallest man-made structure with the 2,722 foot-tall Burj Khalifa, which welcomed its first residents in 2010. The building is so tall that it wouldn’t fit completely in one photo frame. This is a compilation of two photos.. (Photo Illustration by Eric Guzman, Photos by Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

Spaghetti junctions, raised commuter trains and dozens of high-rises sprout from the sand in downtown Dubai.

Spaghetti junctions, raised commuter trains and dozens of high-rises sprout from the sand in downtown Dubai. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

In Dubai, artificial lakes and irrigated gardens are turning the desert green. It’s clear from the half-built foundations and survey activity on the outskirts of the city that the growth is expected to continue

In Dubai, artificial lakes and irrigated gardens are turning the desert green. It’s clear from the half-built foundations and survey activity on the outskirts of the city that the growth is expected to continue (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

There's a nervous energy in Dubai that emanates from the millions of foreign workers from impoverished Muslim nations such as Pakistan who are building the new infrastructure and working in the new shops and factories.

There's a nervous energy in Dubai that emanates from the millions of foreign workers from impoverished Muslim nations such as Pakistan who are building the new infrastructure and working in the new shops and factories. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

Dubai is a mecca for Western tourists looking for tax-free bargains. The Dubai Mall, located next to the Burj Khalifa, must be one of the most impressive shopping centers in the world.

Dubai is a mecca for Western tourists looking for tax-free bargains. The Dubai Mall, located next to the Burj Khalifa, must be one of the most impressive shopping centers in the world. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)

For millennia, the world’s tallest structure was Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza.

Seven hundred years after English masons topped the Pharaohs by building Lincoln Cathedral, the Middle East reclaimed the title of world’s tallest man-made structure with the 2,722-foot-tall Burj Khalifa, which opened in January 2010.

From the top of the skyscraper, visitors can see what they are paying for each time they fill up at the pump. Petro-dollars have fueled a boom in Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates that’s quickly turning barren desert into concrete jungle.

Spaghetti junctions, raised commuter trains and dozens of other high-rises sprout from the sand in downtown Dubai, while artificial lakes and irrigated gardens are turning the desert green. It’s clear from the half-built foundations and survey activity on the outskirts of the city that investors expect the growth to continue.

During the Vietnam War, bars in Saigon, Bangkok, Tokyo and Sydney were gathering places for men on their way to and from the battlefield. Today Dubai — dubbed the Las Vegas of Arabia — performs a similar function for civilians who have been supporting international military forces in the region for more than a decade.

Camo clothing and polo shirts with the names of defense contractors are a common sight at Dubai International Airport, one of the main stop-off points for civilian personnel going to or from Afghanistan.

The emirate is officially a Muslim nation, but it’s a place with easy access to Western depravities such as alcohol, nightclubs and prostitutes. It’s known by some as “the place where Arabs come to sin.”

Some of the local women dress in burqas or head scarves, but many are from relatively liberal parts of the Muslim world and are just as likely to go shopping in jeans and a T-shirt.

Dubai is a mecca for Western tourists looking for tax-free bargains. The Dubai Mall, located next to the Burj Khalifa, must be one of the most impressive shopping centers in the world, where no expense has been spared. There’s even a giant aquarium full of sharks and stingrays.

Outside the airport shops and other attractions frequented by tourists, a nervous energy emanates from the millions of foreign workers from impoverished Muslim nations such as Pakistan, who are building the new infrastructure and working in the new shops and factories.

Compared with their homelands, where the poor and sick are left to beg in the streets and radicals wage terror campaigns against corrupt governments, Dubai seems to be a far more advanced society.

However, even in Dubai, life isn’t easy for these folks.

The privileged elite that rules the emirate as an absolute monarchy has cracked down on activists calling for political reform. Dubai taxi drivers complain about 12-hour shifts. Visitors are met by crowds of grifters offering hotels, desert tours and other delights for a small fee.

It’s hard to gauge how Dubai’s foreign workers feel about the West’s battle against radical Islam, but it’s a battle that their adopted homeland is actively supporting.

robson.seth@stripes.com

Directions The Burj Khalifa and The Dubai Mall are a short taxi ride from Dubai International Airport.

Times The Burj Khalifa is open 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily with the last entry 45 minutes before closing. Stores and attractions at the Dubai Mall are open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. daily.

Costs If you book ahead, tickets to the top of the Burj Khalifa cost 125 United Arab Emirates dirhams ($34) for adults or 95 dirhams for children. Immediate entry costs 400 dirhams for adults and children.

Food The Dubai Mall has dozens of restaurants and a food court that serves cuisine from around the world.

Information Burj Khalifa: www.burjkhalifa.ae/en

The Dubai Mall: www.thedubaimall.com

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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