Middle East

Building a New World

Mini-nations for the super-rich

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Al Nakheel Properties is building a private archipelago of 300 islands off the coast of Dubai, a semi-independent city in the United Arab Emirates. When construction is completed, the artificial islands, collectively dubbed The World, will form a map of the globe. Developers will be able to erect everything from McMansions to rainforests, and the waterways will be patrolled by private security.

Reports of the project's cost range from $1.8 to $3 billion, with individual isles selling for $10 to $40 million apiece. Around 30 of the islands have been sold already, with rocker Rod Stewart rumored to have purchased the isle representing Britain.

Dubai has seen a boom in elaborate proprietary communities recently, from Burj Dubai, allegedly the world's tallest building, to another Nakheel project in progress, The Palm: a giant trio of tree-shaped islands to be filled with apartments, villas, hotels, and theme parks–enough to house more than 5,000 residents, plus tourists. Another venture in the works is Dubailand, a Disney-style "tourism, entertainment and leisure destination" slated to open in 2007. Among other attractions, Dubailand will include a vast shopping center called the Mall of Arabia.

Such projects reflect a separate but closely related development: a species of polished enclaves for the rich that the webzine TrendWatching.com calls "nations light." These private dominions, TrendWatching writes, are "a light version of a country or society, like a Diet Coke, stripped of annoying 'features' like crime, bad weather and excessive taxes. Which leaves the good things like sun, nice villas and glittering shopping malls."

Outside of the United Arab Emirates, the most striking example of a diet nation is a 12-deck cruise-ship-cum-condo-complex that, like the Nakheel islands, is called The World. Since 2002, the ship has offered "luxury maritime travel" to people who like to take their homes with them as they circle the globe. That's the real globe, not the miniature version under construction in the Persian Gulf.