It’s a land of dreams and disillusionment, a glitzy palace with fragile walls. Shining like a brand new Ferrari, Dubai’s time has come in contemporary literature. Desperate in Dubai, a new novel by Ameera Al Hakawati (not her real name), takes the route of the chick-lit with large doses of social satire and a dash of passion. The twenty-something newlywed communications professional was born and raised in the UK and has been living in Dubai for the past five years, though her association with the city of glass goes back many years. Her anonymous blog of love, lies and sex behind the veiled scenes is now a best-selling novel by Random House.
What inspired this novel? Any real life characters or experiences in there somewhere?
When I moved to Dubai, I was taken aback by the diversity of the women here and the various reasons for them being in Dubai. As you know, the majority of Dubai consists of expatriates from different countries, different religions, different realities, and different issues. I wanted to capture a little of that in Desperate in Dubai. A lot of my characters are inspired people I know and some of them are a combination of people I know.
Emirati women come across as obsessed with designer brands. What do you think is the psychological motivation behind this?
Not all Emirati women are obsessed with designer brands, and the ones that are, are usually like that because they can afford to be. I don’t think it’s about being better than others – a lot of people in Dubai are into their designer goods, not just Emiratis, although part of it may be a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality. Part of it is because a lot of Emirati women are in the fashion business and are really interested in international fashion trends.
The yearning to ‘hook a rich man’ has afflicted womankind from all races down history. How unique is the modern Emirati woman’s position?
The modern Emirati woman doesn’t need a rich man to take care of her. She probably has a good job herself, and may come from an affluent background, in which case, she’s accustomed to a certain type of lifestyle. In Islamic and Arabic traditions, women are entitled to keep their own incomes without sharing it with her husband at all, and husbands are required to provide for their wives. In the modern Emirati woman’s case, the issue would be finding a husband who suits her own background.
The Gold Digging phenomena in Dubai usually lies with the expats, not the Emiratis, I’m afraid! Dubai is a place where people usually come to earn a tax-free income and then leave. There is a lot of luxury here and I think a lot of expats come here and get accustomed to the five-star lifestyle. Unfortunately, some women come out here having heard tales of rich, generous Arabs and hope to snag one for themselves so they can live a life of sun, sea and shopping forever!
Rich Dubai women seem to find an alter-ego, an existential twin, when they escape to Western countries. How does this emotional schism play itself out in their daily lives?
I think it’s resolved exactly how you’ve said in the question. Modern, wealthy Dubai women who yearn to live alternative lives do so while travelling abroad where society doesn’t dictate how you should live your life. Not everyone is like that, though. There are many who are happy with their lives the way they are, and get to enjoy all the freedom they want right here in Dubai.
This novel falls into the zone of an insightful chick-lit, which sounds like an oxymoron but isn’t really since even chick-lits are a sign of their times. Has the suppression and angst of the female population of UAE hampered its growth in any way?
Many people forget that the UAE is still a very young country that has progressed quickly in a short amount of time. Fifty years ago it was little more than a fishing village, and today, it’s a fast-paced, dynamic business and trade hub. Chick-lit is a relatively new genre in itself and the publishing industry in Dubai is still in its foetal stage, so it will take time before the two come together.
UAE is still a more progressive nation than other Middle Eastern countries in terms of its women’s emancipation. What more could be done in this arena?
Very little! Don’t be fooled by the fact that women are often covered up in Dubai. A lot of women here have hugely successful careers or hold senior positions in their companies, they drive sports cars, wear designer clothes, travel extensively and don’t do any housework! As a Muslim woman, I’ve never been treated with as much respect and dignity than I have here in Dubai.
What’s next for you?
At the moment I’ve started researching the subject of my next novel, which will be based in Dubai again. It’s still early days but I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to start writing!