Dubai to know if Expo 2020 delayed by pandemic will bear fruit

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – An infographic-soaked ad featuring Australian actor and Hollywood idol Chris Hemsworth invites the world to the upcoming Dubai Expo 2020, promising a “world of pure imagination” as children without masks run across a futuristic carnival stage.

Reality, however, crashes into the frame in all capitalized captions at the bottom of the screen., saying, “THIS AD WAS FILMED IN 2019.”

Delayed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Expo 2020 Dubai opens on Friday, pushing the city-state all-in on its billion-dollar bet that the global exhibition will boost its economy. The Sheikh built what looks like an entire city out of what were once sand dunes on its southern edges to support the fair, an outpost that will be largely dismantled after the six-day event ends. month in March.

But questions about the Expo’s pulling power in the modern age began even before the pandemic. It will be one of the first global events in the world, after an Olympics this summer that divided the host country, Japan. and took place without spectators. Although Dubai has opened its doors to tourists from all over the world and has not required vaccinations, it is not yet clear how many guests will come to this extravaganza.

For some, Expo 2020 has become a $ 7 billion metaphor for the United Arab Emirates – a futuristic site to attract the rich of the world, built by poorly paid foreign workers, to celebrate a federation of sheikhs where the word and the assembly remain strictly controlled.

Expo 2020 declined to make an official available to speak to the Associated Press before the opening. Organizers also did not respond to a series of questions from the PA about the event, but instead emailed back a brief statement.

“We have built an innovative people-centered community that meets the demands of a new global economy, supported by the latest technological advances and people-centered design,” the statement said.

Modern wonders have been what made exhibitions shine since their inception in the 1850s. Paris unveiled its Eiffel Tower at the 1889 fair. Chicago became the “white city” in 1893 when electric lights bathed its site of World’s Fair, which also housed the first Ferris wheel. Phones, TV shows and x-rays also won over the crowds.

Over the past few decades, however, many exhibitions haven’t received the same attention – or at least not the positive genre. The 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans went bankrupt and required a government bailout. Expo 2000 in Germany attracted 18 million visitors, well below the 40 million expected. Expo 2015 in Milan saw riots over corruption allegations.

Dubai, which secured the rights to host the Expo a few years after FIFA awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup, will be the Arab world’s premiere. He had bet on the Expo to give a necessary boost to his economy after the collapse of its real estate market during the Great Recession.

EY auditors estimated in 2019 that Dubai alone will spend $ 7 billion on construction projects for the Expo. Based on a projection of 25 million visitors, EY estimated a boost of $ 6 billion at the event. EY told the AP that it had not updated any of its 2019 figures for the Expo.

But that was before the coronavirus pandemic forced Dubai’s long-haul carrier Emirates to bring its jumbo jet fleet to a standstill as lockdowns and quarantines gripped the world. As the airline restarts more flights and hires thousands of cabin crew, travel around the world is still struggling.

The UAE, which has moved closer to China in recent years, has likely counted on Chinese visitors to the Expo. Shanghai Expo 2010 welcomed more than 73 million visitors, a record. But betting on China at the moment seems impossible, as those returning to the country face weeks of quarantine and testing that may include anal swabs.

In recent weeks, Expo officials have started to reference the expected “25 million visits” to the site, including those who watch events online.

“It became ‘How do I organize the biggest, the best Expo in the world ever in the Middle East” to “How do I organize an Expo for a very different world?” “Said Robert C. Mogielnicki, a senior resident researcher at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.” Reaching 25 million visitors under the current circumstances seems like a rather elusive goal. “

The UAE has also planned strong announcements around the Expo, perhaps no more important than its diplomatic recognition of Israel.. After delaying the Expo, the UAE last year still proceeded with the recognition.

But the event has also become entangled in politics.

Activists raised concerns about workers’ rights as low-wage workers in South Asia have long been abused in the Emirates and the rest of the oil-rich Arab states, working long hours in intense heat and humidity. In October 2019, an Expo official admitted that two workers were killed at the site and that there had been 43 other “serious incidents” resulting in injuries.

It is also not known how many workers have fallen ill with the coronavirus. In an abrupt change, Expo officials have also announced in recent days that visitors will be required to prove they have been vaccinated or take a coronavirus test before entering. This is even if the UAE has one of the highest per capita vaccination rates in the world.

Meanwhile, the European Parliament this month urged countries not to participate in the Expo, citing human rights violations, the imprisonment of activists and the autocratic government’s use of spyware to target critics..

“There is a systematic persecution of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and teachers who speak out on political and human rights issues in the United Arab Emirates,” the European Parliament said.

While the UAE Foreign Ministry called the parliament’s statement “factually incorrect,” even Expo press staff repeatedly attempted to force visiting journalists to sign forms implying that they could do so. the subject of criminal proceedings for not having followed their instructions on the spot.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.


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