SLIDESHOW: On The Road – UAE A Country Of Contradictions

Jan 17, 2014

World Views host Suzette Grillot and contributor Rebecca Cruise continue producing the program from the road as they travel around the world for their day jobs as the Deans of the University of Oklahoma’s College of International Studies. The two visited the United Arab Emirates this week to meet with higher education officials in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“My first impression was bigger, better, best,” Cruise says. “This country has spent the past couple of decades trying to make the biggest things – the biggest hotels, the tallest buildings – this is a country that has been really trying to outdo itself.”

Suzette Grillot and Rebecca Cruise stand in front of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest building.
Credit Suzette Grillot / KGOU

Beneath the country’s glittering exterior, Grillot says much of that progress has come on the backs of a largely-invisible working class.

“You see women in full cover, head-to-toe, and then you see women from Russia, and families from all other parts of the world, and they’re all coexisting, they’re all shopping together,” Grillot says. “But you don’t see the workers. You don’t see those from South Asia that are living outside of the city in rather poor conditions.”

Last week an American citizen arrived back in the United States after he was held for nine months in a maximum security prison in Abu Dhabi for posting a video satirizing youth culture in Dubai.

“This is a country that in many ways looks very, very liberal,” Cruise says. “But when you dig a little bit deeper, or start looking a little deeper, the conservative nature is still there.”

Cruise also said last year a 24-year-old Norwegian tourist who reported her rape to authorities was then arrested for violating the UAE’s strict alcohol laws.

“Technically you're supposed to get a license to drink alcohol,” Cruise says. “Now most people don't really do this when they come to the country, and it isn't a big deal if you're within certain bounds or certain hotels. But the minute you get out of a hotel and are acting drunk or belligerent, and a police officer happens to see you, they can charge you with alcoholism.”

Grillot also says even with Dubai’s several institutions of higher education, incredible wealth, and a high-tech, international business presence, the UAE made news for censoring more than 25 percent of the Oscar-nominated Martin Scorsese film The Wolf of Wall Street.

“American movies that have a lot of violence, explicit content and language, we've seen it on TV how they edit a lot of that out,” Grillot says. “Something you really don't see anywhere else in the world, where it seems very cosmopolitan, new and shiny, yet underneath it all there's something else still going on.”


World Views is a partnership between KGOU and the University of Oklahoma's College of International Studies to bring internationally-focused reporting and interviews to listeners in Oklahoma and beyond. Help support these efforts with a donation online.