Friday, 12 March 2010

Civilization, parking and the modern Gulf

It's the little things that define a society. Respect for disabled parking spots or community cats say more about a people than spanking new buildings or gleaming infrastructure.
So it is with Singapore. When a resident disregards parking rules and parks illegally he informs the world, "I am selfish and don't care at all for other members of my community."  
Thus, when I read about a foreign diplomat involved in a scuffle over a disabled parking spot, it reminded me of Dubai.
At least until I left, parking rules were rarely enforced. Four wheel drives parked on the pavement, luxury sports cars driven by healthy persons in disabled spots and small cars parked so as to take up two parking spots. Some of the violations were due to necessity – there is a shortage of parking spaces in a city where many families own more than two vehicles. However, the majority of the infringements were due to a selfish disregard for the larger community.
Driving on the Gulf's highways is a similar experience. Save your own vehicle from accidents and don't assume speed limits, turning indicators or any other driving norm will be respected. In other words, be as selfish a driver as possible as few drivers care for the rules. Ironical, given that tests for driving licenses are rigorous and religiously enforced in the region.
Maybe the Gulf mindset is due to the individualist nature of the society?
The Gulf has no personal income taxes. The business environment is as laissez faire as the Wild West prior to the arrival of the US cavalry. The community is defined along tribal and clan lines, not along state or civil lines. I imagine the Bedouin tribesmen valued a communal lifestyle while travelling from oasis to oasis in the vast Arabian desert.

However, today the desert is connected by modern highways and shiny skyscrapers. Neighbours do not know each other and Bedouins have adjusted to air conditioned apartment blocks. Yet, disabled parking spots are a reminder that modern Gulf society still has some adjustments to incorporate.
Dubai, like many other Gulf cities, may have skyscrapers and indoor ski slopes but civilization is about the little things. For the needy, finding an empty disabled parking spot in Dubai must be as hard as finding water in the desert.

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