The most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is a regional commercial hub. Its skyline is dominated by gleaming high-rise towers and an ever-expanding waterfront, including the sail-shaped Burj al-Arab and other landmarks. It is also a major air, sea, and road transportation center, home to one of the world’s busiest airports and cargo ports. As with many other criminal facilitation nodes in the global economy, addressing the role of Dubai presents anticorruption and law enforcement practitioners and policymakers with particularly complex and delicate challenges.

The city’s name is derived from the Arabic words dhabi () and ahl al-bayt (), meaning “rivers of sand.” Located near the mouth of the Persian Gulf, Dubai has long been a trading hub, with its location at the crossroads of Arabia, Africa, and Asia fostering trade with Persia, India, and China. Its ruling family has encouraged foreign investment and entrepreneurship, creating tax-free zones and other incentives.

By the 1960s, the emirate’s oil revenue was helping to fuel development, with the government investing in large port facilities and a variety of industrial projects. It continues to diversify its economy, with the service sector now comprising more than half of GDP, and has made major investments in luxury tourism and real estate. It is also a major financial center.

In addition to its traditional role as a trading hub, Dubai is a significant manufacturing centre. It has several free-trade zones and other incentives to attract industrial investment, and its port facilities are among the largest in the region. The city is also a popular tourist destination, with its luxury hotels and other attractions. Its cultural and sporting events, such as the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament and the Dubai World Cup horse race, have helped bolster its international profile.

Dubai’s political and economic institutions remain highly personalized, with elites able to resist reforms that threaten their vested interests or their preferred political economic vision. It does not have the kinds of legal and institutional safeguards in place that would help to hold kleptocrats and other criminals accountable, such as open elections and a free press, and it does not have mechanisms to promote and enforce accountability.

Expatriates are an important element of Dubai’s society, and make up the vast majority of the population. They include merchants and traders from throughout the Arab world, as well as professionals from Europe and Asia. In the city, they outnumber native Emiratis and form a significant part of the workforce. With their relatively high salaries, they contribute to the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city and its rich culture. They also give the city its international appeal and are instrumental in driving its rapidly expanding economy. However, the influx of workers has raised concerns about the quality of living standards and the environmental impacts of the city’s expansion. In particular, the city’s expansion into the water and waste management sectors has exacerbated the problem of sewage disposal and wastewater pollution.

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