Picture Dubai, sometime after the discovery of oil in 1966, and before the import-export boxiness of the 1980s was ascendant. It’s probably the early 70s, during or shortly after the Arab oil embargo of 1973–4. This image of Dubai is one of sleepy, slightly oily glamour, all bedouins and boîtes. Of mirrored sunglasses and the earliest mirrored buildings, tinted copper, steel blue or sage, the kind you see as “before” examples in photos of the country’s evolution. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum, founding ruler of Dubai, says, “My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel.” It’s a quote that has since been repeated so often that its origins have become apocrypha, but its connotations remain fixed....

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