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I think this is a must-see. The fact that four sexy women from Manhattan take a vacation to Abu Dhabi for decadence represents some kind of change, no?! Or does the film represent a return to 19th century Orientalist ideas about the Arab East as the height of decadence?
But...Abu Dhabi??? In fact, it's Dubai that is the "decadent" place in the UAE. Among other sources, please check out Waleed Hazbun's invaluable Beaches, Ruins, Resorts: The Politics of Tourism in the Arab World. I reviewed it a few months back, read it here.
Here's my summary of some of Hazbun's main conclusions regarding Dubai:
Dubai is the most spectacular post-9/11 winner, a city whose image is tied up with tourism like an upscale Las Vegas. It attracts a diverse clientele, with British visitors first on the list. In the past few years, Dubai has had immense publicity success with high-profile projects, such as indoor skiing facilities, the iconic Burj Hotel, and plans to open branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim museums designed by top-drawer architects, all receiving overwhelmingly favorable coverage in the Western media. Commentators like Thomas Friedman have come to regard Dubai, with its reputation as a “cosmopolitan oasis,” as a model for Middle Eastern globalization, through economic liberalization, “dynamic free trade zones,” and “sound economic management” (p. 213). It is as if the specter of Islamic terrorism has helped transform the negative stereotype of the “rich Arab oilman” into a positive one. Yet Hazbun reveals that Dubai's fabled cosmopolitan spaces are anything but open. Instead, they are rigidly controlled, carefully segregating Dubai's workers (mostly migrants from South and Southeast Asia) from the contained spaces reserved for tourists. Moreover, the state has successfully purchased its citizens' acquiescence by extending almost free housing, due to its near total control over urban development and land rights.
Dubai has emerged as the most successful tourism model in the Middle East, a kind of enclave where tourists are insulated, where security for visitors--a priority since 9/11--is highly visible, and where the potential negative social and cultural impacts of tourism are mitigated. Since the book was published, the Dubai economy has collapsed, though the tourism model remains an eminently viable one, as recent reports of the revival of Beirut's nightlife niche tourism (now depicted as gay-friendly) suggest.
So, for "Abu Dhabi," I read "Dubai." It will be interesting to see to what extent the film conforms to the updated image of Dubai, that Dubai has been so successfully spinning, and to what extent it resorts to Orientalist tropes.
Perhaps it's some sort of clever mix? I mean, check out this wild "hijab" worn by Samantha!
Samantha seems to be simulating Middle Eastern "modesty" but in a super-chic (but at the same time wacky) way, while Carrie manages to cover her hair but not her ample bosom. (Sorry, the image just seemed to automatically call forth Victorian language.)
And possibly another reason to see the film is the fact that my Merip comrade, Moustafa Bayoumi, appears as an extra. Read his account for the New York Times here. As he remarks, "It could have been worse. I could have been a Middle Eastern extra on '24.'”