The UAE has been hit by a storm of negative press, with rumours of mass visa cancellations and thousands of cars being abandoned at airports continuing to surface. To set the record straight, Arabian Business meets the Director General of Dubai's Naturalisation and Residency Department, Major General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri.
As we are taking a tour of the impressive Department of Naturalisation and Residency - Dubai (DNRD) building, Director General Major General Mohammed Ahmed Al Marri stops a random Indian man who has just collected a new visa for his family.
"How long did you have to wait to get that visa?" he asks the startled man.
The DNRD chief says in January this year, his department issued 88,423 new Dubai residency visas as against 54,684 cancellations.
"Not long. About two minutes," comes the response.
"You see that?" says the Major General. "That is what I call success. Two minutes. Look how smooth and how efficient this place is. And most of all look how busy it is with people wanting to visit the UAE."
The former policeman, who took over the running of the DNRD just three years ago, is understandably proud of what has been achieved, and how the process has been totally transformed and computerised under his leadership. And he is eager that the world should get its facts right about Dubai and the rest of the UAE.
With stories in the foreign media claiming cars are being abandoned at the airport by fleeing expats, to endless residency visas being cancelled and people being stopped randomly at the airport for holding one-way tickets, it is time to set the record straight.
"When you are successful, people never focus on your success. That is human nature - they look for the mistakes and try and find problems," he insists.
"Everyone in the world wants to know how Dubai has become so pretty, so they can copy our ideas," he continues. "But it is not easy to copy, and this is the problem. So they become jealous and they write what is complete nonsense."
Hugely charming and engaging, the Major General has no qualms going through the list of negative media allegations that have surfaced in recent months.
"People are saying that there is a list of wanted people by the banks. That is not true, absolutely not true," he insists. "Life is normal; there is no change at all. Do you think we can just stop people at the airport without an order from the court? Or that we want to? Of course not, it is rubbish.
"And then they claim that if you are leaving Dubai with a one-way ticket you will be stopped and quizzed. Rubbish. Nonsense," he says. "We have no idea at immigration whether you bought a one-way ticket or a return ticket - it is meaningless."
The Major General is also quick to dispel rumours of mass visa cancellations. He points out that in the 10 days between March 1 and March 10, 156,839 new tourist visas were issued in Dubai - proof that tourists are still heading to the UAE in huge numbers.
He adds that the DNRD issued 293,745 residency permits in the last quarter of 2008, while 118,993 residency visas were cancelled. In January this year, 88,423 new residency visas were issued and 54,684 cancelled, Al Marri informs.
"I can tell you that most of the people who are leaving Dubai are labourers who were here on temporary contracts and permits, and their work has finished so they are returning to their countries. This is normal - these are the same figures and ratios that we have every year. We have not been affected," he says.
"If you don't believe me then go to any restaurant for dinner tonight. Go to a desert safari. Go to the gold souk. Then come back and tell me, was it busy or was it empty? These are the facts - we are as busy as ever," he continues.
"We have just had a hugely successful IDEX and now a very big food festival. This is what the reality is, and not the nonsense that some people are claiming because they are jealous of our success," he adds.
"Of course there are problems, and we are not immune to what is happening around the world. But we have the right leaders with the right vision to help us meet the challenges we face."We get back to the list of negative claims. What about stories that appeared in the British media claiming that 3,000 cars had been abandoned at Dubai airport by fleeing expats? "It is absolutely not true. It just isn't true, it is nonsense that is being written," says the Major General.
"And while we are on the subject, let me officially invite the world's media to come to Dubai and see what is happening for themselves. Don't sit behind the desk in another country, come here," he continues.
"I invite you as my guest, I will answer your questions and show you what is going on in this country, and then after that you can make your judgment. We are very proud of what we are doing and are very happy for journalists from all over the world to come and see the real truth."
Al Marri admits that one of the problems surfacing in the UAE is overspending - some residents are clearly living beyond their means, leading them into financial problems. But again, he stresses that if they live sensibly, there is nothing to fear.
"If you have a job and you get your salary why are you worried and thinking about sending your family back home? I can't understand this," he says.
"Everyone has to organise his budget according to his life. You need to see what you earn, and then decide whether to spend two dirhams or two thousand dirhams on a meal. You don't have to buy a Mercedes, you could just buy the car you can afford. You should buy the clothes you can afford."
People must live in a responsible way, and live not just for today but for tomorrow, he says, adding: "There are many things that make Dubai a very attractive place to live. Our lifestyle, and the way we respect families and our culture means that whatever your religion you are welcome. That is why so many people love to live in the UAE."
Looking around the DNRD, there can be little doubt that during his three-year reign, the Major General has had a hugely positive impact. The switch to online services, plus a major new training complex, has seen a huge improvement in services.
Al Marri himself says that he has been so busy in the past three years, he has almost forgotten about his 26 years prior to that in the police force. Despite his immense authority, he is very much a ‘people person', who exudes confidence and charm in equal measure.
And you get the feeling that he has only just started.
As he says: "Life is short, you must experience it and enjoy it to the full. That is not a philosophy: that is simply the truth."
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