Luxury prison camps
Arabian Ranches, secure villa complex and golf course, Dubai
Nothing says “I hate where I’m from” quite so effectively as a gated community. In fact, if you chose to buy a villa in a bland, characterless man-made suburb, surrounded on all sides with 10ft-high walls, electric fences and CCTV cameras and patrolled 24-hours a day by former Marines, then you may as well take out an advert in the paper saying how much you despise everyone – particularly those who might be (can you bring yourself to say it?) poor. With a gated community, you can now surround yourself with other monumentally dull rich people and reduce your contact with socially afflicted, un-Western types to your child-minder (who’ve you’ve now house-trained, of course) and the guy who fills your Hummer at the local gas station.
Gated communities are, of course, imports to the region from America. They were started by uptight white people who wanted to band together in Florida and Arizona on the basis of stock portfolio and golf – and ensure they didn’t have to live with people whose skin tones might not blend too well with their magnolia wallpaper. Gated communities then arrived in the Middle East when Big Oil’s Western workers wanted somewhere a little more liberal than downtown Dhahran. Which, to be fair, is not that outrageous a suggestion. But Dubai? What exactly are people scared of?
The PR blurb says for the new “Gazelle” says it all: “Invite yourself to an exclusive lifestyle that is steeped in the mystery and beauty of the desert… treat your senses to a delightful journey of discovery and indulgence in this desert paradise, created as an ideal getaway for the mind, body and soul.” Or, in a shorter sentence, don’t let people with accents and dirty fingernails ruin your day again. Well done you.
Bedouin communities, Wadi Rum, southern Jordan
There is something to be said for living in a Bedouin community. For men, at any rate, they kind of had everything sorted. Think about it. You spend all day in the wilderness of the desert, roaming the dunes and sandy plains, concerned only with protecting a well or two and maybe hunting the odd Nubian Ibex for a bit of multi-coloured hide. Then, you come back, sat in a tent under the stars, and were presented with a massive meal, a roaring fire and some beautiful young distant cousin to rub your feet as you bang on about what a tough day it’s been.
Financially, it’s also much easier. There’s no mortgage available for goat-hair tents, you breed your 4x4 and there’s very little for your wife to nag you into buying. A new gold bracelet? You can rob that from some trader passing through to Mecca. And she starts to get a bit uppity, marry someone half her age with nicer tattoos. That’ll teach her. When it comes to kids, moreover, there are 95 aunts, sisters, cousins and grandmothers to look after them until they’re old enough to hold a rifle – and if you hate your neighbours, you just move to the wadi next door. Simple.
Desert dwelling, 21st century style
Of course, there aren’t many places for a thrusting young, executive Bedouin these days. Most of the communities have been coerced into village life – taxes are very hard to collect from people that are never in the same place more than once in three years – but you can still get a taste with the Zalabia tribe in Wadi Rum or the Na’imat of Disi. In fact, one American woman of Palestinian descent ditched all her worldly belongings and moved to Rum seven years ago – and she’s still there, acting as a sheikha for the community, and never once wondering who won this year’s Arab SuperStar.