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Building 'The World' Off the Coast of Dubai


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, bringing even more exclusivity to golf. But first, perhaps, the extreme in exclusivity. You want to live in France? How about owning it, all of it? A development firm based in Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, is building a project it calls "The World," 300 manmade islands shaped like countries. From Dubai, DAY TO DAY's Eric Weiner reports.

ERIC WEINER reporting:

Dubai is a place where the superlatives flow like oil. Companies don't just build projects here, they build the world's biggest or tallest or most expensive. So it was perhaps inevitable that some company would eventually build the world itself.

Mr. HAMZA MUSTAFA (General Manager, Nakheel Corporation): We're looking at Nakheel's version of the world, which we are currently selling.

WEINER: That's Hamza Mustafa, general manager for Nakheel Corporation's "The World." The project makes sense, he says, because Dubai is fast running out of beachfront property, and advances in GPS technology mean that land reclamation, essentially building islands, can be done in much more precise and creative ways. In fact, this unprecedented project has a distinctly biblical flavor to it, sort of Genesis meets Las Vegas.

(Soundbite of boat motor)

WEINER: During the short boat ride from Dubai to Greenland, Hamza Mustafa explains that he never tires of seeing the world, his world, take shape.

Mr. MUSTAFA: There's always the sense of excitement, that something new is gonna happen, because we're creating the whole project from scratch. When this project started, it was nothing. It was what you see over here, it was just sea, just water, water, water everywhere. And just wait for 10 minutes and I'll show you what we've done in a year's time.

WEINER: Sure enough, about 10 minutes later, a land mass comes into view.

Mr. MUSTAFA: You see it? On the horizon.

WEINER: Yeah, I see it. That's Greenland?

Mr. MUSTAFA: That's Greenland.

WEINER: Greenland with palm trees.

Mr. MUSTAFA: The only place in the world.

WEINER: And a few places are conspicuous by their absence. In Nakheel's world, here is no Northern Ireland, no Israel, no Palestine, presumably because these trouble spots would ruin the fantasy of a perfect world. A perfect world, and a flexible one. Let's say you're a wealthy investor from Singapore and you're dismayed to find your homeland was too small to make it onto Nakheel's world. `No problem,' says Hamza Mustafa.

Mr. MUSTAFA: If I get a buyer who is interested and is reluctant not to buy unless he has Singapore, we'll build him Singapore. That's not an issue.

WEINER: So you can custom-build a country?

Mr. MUSTAFA: Absolutely. Absolutely.

WEINER: Mustafa dismisses rumors that a group of American investors was poised to buy France just to annoy the French. No one, he says, is going to spend $15 million--the average price of an island--out of spite.

He's also quick to dismiss environmental concerns about the project, claiming that no marine life is harmed by the dredging and pointing out that, in a way, he's creating 300 new habitats. The project is about 60 percent complete, with buyers coming from mainly the Middle East and Europe. The company's slick sales video appeals directly to potential owners' sense of grandeur.

(Soundbite of sales video)

Unidentified Man: For those who dream bigger, for those seeking an investment opportunity unlike any other on Earth, you are invited to find your very own place in "The World."

WEINER: "The World" is only the most extravagant of many extravagant projects under way in Dubai as the city-state continues to diversify before its oil reserves run dry in about 10 years.

(Soundbite of construction noises)

WEINER: Projects under construction include the world's biggest shopping mall, the world's tallest skyscraper and an amusement park called Dubailand that will supposedly dwarf Disney World. Actually, an amusement park in Dubai seems redundant. Dubai is a synthetic place with air-conditioned souks and other Arab kitsch. Locals joke that Dubai's call to prayer is `Attention, shoppers.'

Mr. JIHAD FRAKRADEEN: Dubai remains an enigma, you know, even for us who have been here for many years.

WEINER: That's Jihad Frakradeen(ph), a Lebanese who's lived in Dubai for the past 14 years.

Mr. FRAKRADEEN: Yes, we know Dubai wants to have so many buildings, so many shopping malls, a tourist destination, biggest airport in the world. But what about the soul of Dubai? It's very much missing.

WEINER: Hamza Mustafa brushes off these concerns. Dubai's soul, he says, is money and economic growth. Meanwhile, he continues to sell pieces of "The World." He'll entertain all inquiries, even those from a lowly journalist looking for a bargain.

What do you have in the bargain basement area islandwide?

Mr. MUSTAFA: The smallest island we have on "The World" is Bahrain.

WEINER: OK. How much for Bahrain?

Mr. MUSTAFA: That was around $6.5 million.

WEINER: It may be a small world, but for anyone other than the super-rich, it's a cruel one, as well. Eric Weiner, NPR News, Dubai.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Weiner
Eric Weiner is a national correspondent for Based in Washington, DC, he writes news and analysis for NPR's website.
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