September 15, 2006

Las Vegas in the Arabian Desert

Dubai has sold its soul to globalization like few cities have. A glittering capitalist fantasyland has taken shape at the heart of the Arab world. It's a center of international trade, a holiday paradise and a carnival rolled into one.

High above the Persian Gulf, in Vu's Bar on the fifty-first floor of Dubai's Emirate Towers Hotel, a woman calling herself Nikita drinks pink mai tai cocktails like tap water. She smokes pearl-white Cartier cigarettes. She's moody and irritable -- a thin whore from Kazakhstan at the heart of the strict Islamic world. "Get lost if you don't want me," she says. "You're bad for business, here in my little rat's cage."

Men linger around the tables, locals and vacationers from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. They're wearing snow-white dishdasha robes and their heads are framed in the traditional kaffiyeh head garb. These are the men who play the moral authority in their families, and then to go out late at night and drink Johnnie Walker Gold Label. They're guzzling sin down greedily, Cuban cigars in hand. Desire for a woman like Nikita flickers in their eyes.

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