Big-is-beautiful craze grips oil-rich UAE

February 19th, 2008 - 9:52 am ICT by admin  

By Samia Hosny and Ahmed Hashem
Dubai/Cairo, Feb 19 (DPA) Where else is a vanity licence plate with the number “1″ sold for a record $14 million and a gypsum painting with the ruler’s fingerprints nets $22 million? Nowhere else is the big-is-beautiful craze more intense than in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with the emirate of Dubai leading the way with extravagant, attention-grabbing projects. The UAE, one of the tiniest countries in the world, boasts the world’s tallest tower (though still under construction), biggest mall, biggest man-made island and even the biggest indoor snow park.

On Saturday, the craze came to a climax with the sale of a licence plate with nothing but the number 1 on it, which netted $14 million at a charity auction in the capital Abu Dhabi, making it the most expensive of its kind in the world.

It is the sixth auction of its kind to be held in Abu Dhabi. The previous charity events raised a record $56 million.

The plate’s owner, Said Khoury, is now in the Guinness Book of Records. A businessman from a wealthy family, Khoury downplayed the vanity aspect of the bidding, stressing his philanthropic inclination.

“I fought to buy the number for this huge sum because the proceeds from the auction will go to charity,” Khoury said.

“I will not sell it (the plate) for more money,” Khoury said.

The proceeds will go to a rehabilitation centre for victims of traffic accidents, the auction organiser announced to quell the stir over the event.

In the traditional lavish style, the auction was held in the sumptuous Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi. Crackers were burst on the stage as six super-rich bidders fought fiercely over the one digit number plate.

“Some 100 members of the Khoury family fought over the title that I previously held,” Talal Khoury, the owner of the licence plate numbers 5 and 7, said.

Khoury bought the numbers for $6.7 million and $2.9 million dollars respectively.

The 5 plate hangs on his red Rolls Royce - a much less costly material possession than the plate itself - which carries the number in both Arabic and western numerals as well the name of the city and country.

The Emirates is the land of so many similar excesses. Its leading property developer DAMAC has launched an interest-piquing marketing campaign for its super-luxury flats and office space in Dubai.

A draw coupon is offered for every $250,000 invested in the super luxury property. The prize is either a Bentley Continental private jet or an island in the Caribbean.

A promotional campaign is filling pages of Arab newspapers and airtime on Arab satellite channels.

In this extravagant world of prizes, winning a kg of gold or a car is so common that it has become a dream for many residents of the Gulf country, especially foreigners not of the calibre of wealth of the Khouries.

“I have been living in the Emirates for over five years now and filled in some 1,000 draw coupons for different kind of purchases,” said Mohamed Farid, an Egyptian working in a bank.

“I have never won any prize although every little shop in the country holds its own draw,” he said.

To him and thousands of others, the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) is a prize haven. The festival, in its fifth season, is offering millions of dollars worth of awards in cash and material prizes.

“True to tradition, the entire emirate becomes one massive shopping mall,” the DSF website says.

Grammy Award-winning Latin rock guitarist, Carlos Santana, is the lead entertainer in the non-stop festivities hosted by the festival.

The Emirates is not just big on material excesses but in recent years it has embarked on equally grandiose cultural projects.

In a multi-million dollar deal, Abu Dhabi will have its own Louvre and Guggenheim museums. Multi-billion dollar deals were sealed with Warner Bros for a film production fund and a theme park, hotel and a multiplex chain.

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