In the 1950s, Dubai had a population of a few thousand souls who scraped a living in a waterless desert by picking dates, diving for pearls, or sailing in wooden dhows to trade with Iran and India. It was as poor as any village in Somalia or the Sudan.
Today freewheeling Dubai is everything the rest of the Arab world is not. It is capitalism on cocaine, Las Vegas without the gambling. It is the fastest – growing city in the world, with shimmering skyscrapers hiding gritty 24-hour construction at ground level, and an economy that outpaced China's last year while luring more tourists than all of India. It is one of the world's safest places, but it lies a stone's throw from its most dangerous.
The city has become a metaphor for the lush life, where celebrities mingle in glided splendour and where so many luxury cars fill the streets that collisions between Porsches are not uncommon. Yet the city is also beset by a backwash of bad design, environmental degradation and controversial labour practices.
This small Arab sheikhdom, one of seven semi-autonomous states within the United Arab Emirates, has become an icon of the future, a rising force in the Middle East that impacts on us all; Dubai tells its unique story.