“Habibi, Welcome to Dubai,” the opening episode of “Dubai Bling” is titled. The Netflix series, which began streaming earlier this month, follows a group of men and women from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries, who have relocated to Dubai and become millionaires. Since Dubai is seen as a land of wealth and opportunity, and since everyone wants to know how to become a millionaire – it’s not surprising that the eight-part reality TV series has generated quite a bit of interest in the Arab world.
“Dubai is the city of diamonds,” gushes Lebanese-born businesswoman Zeina Khoury in the series. Many people have become millionaires in Dubai "and I’m one of them,” adds Khoury, who started out as part of a business development team at the city's most luxurious hotels, Palazzo Versace Dubai, and is now CEO of High Mark Real Estate Brokers, which specializes in luxury properties.
External appearances can be misleading, admits Lojain Omran, a Saudi Arabian-born media personality who lives in the UAE, in the series, but "I didn’t achieve this appearance easily. I worked hard to get where I am today.”
Like Omran and Khoury, the other characters in the show also depict themselves as hard-working women who paved the way to the top with their own hands. Judging by how they portray it, the formula that can turn a woman in Dubai into a millionaire seems simple: All you have to do is work hard and keep your eye on the prize. It’s very tempting to pack a small suitcase and try my own luck in Dubai.
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After all, in the view of the female Arab millionaires peopling this series, anyone can make their dreams come true and end up spending their lives in the glittery malls in Palm Jumeirah, shopping and wearing Prada coats and Gucci heels. The main message of “Dubai Bling” seems to be that the modern female Arab millionaire is free of all the ties that bind women in traditional societies and can do whatever she pleases.
What the series doesn’t tell us is that women in the Arab world, even those with millions in their pockets, are still trapped under patriarchal, religious control, either directly or indirectly. Netflix paints a utopian picture and hides the dirty laundry. Some people will deny it, but most of these ultra-wealthy woman are still operating in a male-dominated society and are still subservient to a masculinity that's dripping with money.
Omran, for instance, hides the fact that at a very young age, she was married off to a millionaire sheikh from Qatar and had two children with him. But unlike the Disney stories that always have a happy end – she divorced him after six years. He was then compelled to pay her a dowry worth a few million, as is the norm in Arab society.
Dubai’s aura of eye-popping wealth isn’t just fake, but also repulsive. What viewers are shown in "Dubai Bling" is just the very tip of the iceberg of truth. You don’t have to make too much of an effort to figure out what goes on in the lives of women married to millionaire sheikhs: Last year, former Israeli Arab beauty queen Rana Raslan appeared on Channel 12’s “Hasifa” (Exposure) show, hosted by journalist Haim Etgar, where she described the wretched lives of women who are repeatedly forced to bend to please their sheikh-husband, even when he chooses to marry a second wife. Raslan is yet one more woman who fell into the money trap and was led astray by dreams of being a wealthy woman in Dubai.
The secret to getting rich isn’t hard work, as is claimed in this new series, but women's physical and emotional enslavement to the wealth of the millionaires they have married. The most severely oppressed of the female millionaires are actually those related to sheikhs: They simply have nowhere to run. That was the case for Princess Latifa, daughter of Dubai’s emir, Mohammed Al Maktoum.
Videos the princess has posted – where she describes how commandos targeted her when she tried to flee the country in 2019 – show the dark side of the lives of Dubai's upper-crust. On Maktoum’s orders, she was held in a villa that was essentially converted into a prison. Thus, even if you’re the daughter of the country’s ruler, a life of luxury is not a guaranteed option and you still have no real right to make choices about your life.
“Dubai Bling” is one of the most troubling series produced by Netflix. Not because of all its trash and nonsense, even though it has both, but because it paints a false picture and makes viewers fall for the lie about wealthy Arab women being modern and carefree. The reality is that these women live in a golden cage sparkling with diamonds and located in Dubai. We’re still a long way from a reality in which Arab women are truly free.