NOTE: The United Arab Emirates is a federation formed in 1971 by seven emirates known as the Trucial States: Abu Dhabi (the largest), Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Qaiwain. In addition to a federal president and prime minister, each emirate has a separate ruler who oversees the local government. (see “Background” below for further information on the UAE)

Note: This article is from the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph (by Richard Spencer, DUBAI — Dubai has opened the world’s tallest skycraper, renaming it the Burj Khalifa (burj is the Arabic word for tower) in honour of the man who bailed the financially troubled Gulf city-state out of its debts.

Surprising those gathered on Monday evening for an opening ceremony lit up by fireworks, the Burj Dubai, whose height was officially given as 828 metres or 2717 feet, became the Burj Khalifa – or Khalifa Tower.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan is the ruler of the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi, and president of the United Arab Emirates. He and his brothers personally intervened last month to lend Dubai £6 billion (approx. $9.6 billion) to pay off the pressing debts of one of Dubai’s biggest state-owned companies.

The tower was launched by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, with a spectacular display of fireworks, which fired out from the sides of the building all the way up its tubular spire to its peak.

Its inauguration, on the fourth anniversary of the sheikh’s accession to the emirate, has brought a much-needed feeling of festivity to Dubai, which has been battling all year with a debt crisis caused by a collapse in property prices amid the world financial crisis.

The tower has become symbolic of the emirate’s woes: historians have pointed out that an obsession with skyscrapers is a good sign of an economic bubble. The Empire State Building was commissioned when New York’s stock market was at its peak in the 1920s, and opened after the Wall Street Crash.

The passion for tall buildings moved to Hong Kong and other parts of Asia in time for the 1997 financial crisis.

The tower’s exact height had been long kept a secret, with the builders, the specialist Chicago skyscraper firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, allowed and even encouraged to keep going until they thought they could go no further.

At 2,717 feet, it is a full 1,046 feet higher than the world’s previous highest occupied building, the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, and 654 feet higher than the tallest man-made structure, the KVLY-TV tower in North Dakota, America, a broadcasting mast.

It will contain more than 1,000 apartments, an Armani-branded hotel, and offices up to the 160th floor. Financial analysts are looking forward to discovering how many have been let, and at what cost, given that property prices have halved in the city in the last year.

The top 40 floors – growing ever smaller towards the top – will be occupied by the tower’s service centres.

The first chance to see the interior – and the view – came with the opening of an observation deck on the 124th floor on Monday.

It provides a good platform from which to view the city’s achievements, for good or ill.

After ascending in a single lift ride at more than 30 feet per second, visitors who pay £17 will be able to see the tops of the city’s other skycrapers hundreds of feet below.

They will, in fact, be able to see the whole “World” spread out at their feet – the archipelago of artificial islands out in the Gulf which is supposed to be a base for luxury villas, hotels and shopping developments but which is currently almost entirely empty.

This being Dubai, they will also have the opportunity to shop. The souvenir stall sells a range of “Burj Dubai” tee-shirts, with some noticeable additions: 299 dirhams, just short of £50, is the cost of a drink of water, as the bottles have a portrait of the tower and its name picked out in diamante.

Visitors will have a stark vision of Dubai’s economic growth in the last three decades – from desert to the tower’s south to its thriving port and commercial centre to the north and east.

Mohammed Alabbar, the chairman of the tower’s developer, Emaar Properties, showed he was aware of the irony of the tower’s opening at the nadir of the city’s fortunes.

“Crises come and go. And cities move on,” he said. “You have to move on. Because if you stop taking decisions, you stop growing.”

The city’s defenders point out that even if Manhattan and Hong Kong suffered financial crises when their most celebrated buildings opened, they have not done badly since. North Korea, on the other hand, has few skyscrapers.

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1. Name the rulers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

2. Why did Dubai rename the world’s tallest skyscraper Burj Khalifa at the opening ceremony Monday? (Note: burj is the Arabic word for tower)

3. What caused the debt crisis in Dubai?

4. Name the company that built the Burj Khalifa.

5. a) List facts provided in the article about the Burj Khalifa (e.g.: # of stories, time it takes to get to the top, etc.)
b) List additional facts you find by doing a quick internet search.

6. What is your reaction to the building/opening of this tallest skyscraper?

7. Read the article/watch the video of the window washers. Would you care to do such a job? OR Would you like to have been employed as a construction worker on that building? Explain your answer.


(from the U.S. State Dept website at

  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation formed in 1971 by seven emirates known as the Trucial States:

Abu Dhabi (the largest)
-Ras al-Khaimah
-Umm al-Qaiwain

  • In addition to a federal president and prime minister, each emirate has a separate ruler who oversees the local government.
  • The relative political and financial influence of each emirate is reflected in the allocation of positions in the federal government. The ruler of Abu Dhabi, whose emirate is the U.A.E.’s major oil producer, is president of the U.A.E. The ruler of Dubai, which is the U.A.E.’s commercial center, is vice president and prime minister.
  • The U.A.E. has no political parties. The rulers hold power on the basis of their dynastic position and their legitimacy in a system of tribal consensus.
  • Rapid modernization, enormous strides in education, and the influx of a large foreign population have changed the face of the society.

(from the U.S. Dept of Engergy website at

  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an important oil producer with the fifth largest proven oil reserves in the Middle East. The UAE is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) since joining in 1967. The emirate of Abu Dhabi is the center of the oil and gas industry, followed by Dubai, Sharjah, and Ras al Khaimah. In 2004, natural gas supplied 64 percent of the country’s total energy consumption, and oil supplied the remaining 36 percent.

(from Associated Press writer Adam Schreck in an article from the Washington Times):

  • Dubai was little more than a sleepy fishing village a generation ago, but it boomed into the Middle East’s commercial hub over the past two decades on the back of business-friendly trading policies, relative security and vast amounts of overseas investment.
  • Then, property prices in parts of sheikdom collapsed by nearly half over the past year. Now, Dubai is mired in debt and many buildings sit largely empty – the result of overbuilding during a property bubble that has since burst.

Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the ruler of Abu Dhabi and serves as the president of the United Arab Emirates.  He and his brothers personally intervened last month to lend Dubai £6 billion to pay off the pressing debts of one of Dubai’s biggest state-owned companies.


Read commentaries on the Burj Khalifa at and

Read an article on cleaning the windows of the Burj Khalifa at

Video of some of the window washers on the spier at the top of the Burj Khalifa:

Watch a video of the Burj Khalifa’s opening ceremony below:

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