The Precarious Rise of the Gulf Despots

Nicolas Pelham

On the night flight down from Kuwait, along the Saudi coast past Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE, a seafront once dotted with tiny fishing villages glitters like a string of pearls. Needle-thin skyscrapers soar above the desert. Doha’s bay shimmers in purple, as if daubed in lipstick the colour of the Qatari flag. In the restaurants of Dubai, a city built on a Gotham-like scale, the wealthy eat oysters imported from France ($15 each at Atmosphere, the highest restaurant in the world, a quarter of a mile up the Burj Khalifa tower).

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[*] Lars Muller, 400 pp., £45, October 2016, 978 3 037 78485 3.