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828-metre Burj Dubai renamed Burj Khalifa

By Shakir Husain and Dylan Bowman
Fireworks light up the newly-renamed Burj Khalifa during the opening ceremony. Photograph: Peter Harrison/Maktoob
DUBAI - Dubai’s ruler on Monday evening officially inaugurated the world’s tallest building, but in a shock move the 828-metre tower was unveiled as Burj Khalifa Bin Zayed instead of Burj Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum at around 8 p.m. drew the curtain on the tower’s plaque to reveal the name Burj Khalifa Bin Zayed engraved on it.

"I now officially announce the opening of the Burj Khalifa Bin Zayed," the ruler said at the opening ceremony.

One political observer described the name-change as “a surprise”.

The inauguration kicked off a night of festivities as the emirate celebrated the completion of the world’s tallest building, the fourth anniversary of Sheikh Mohammed’s rule and looked to put its well-publicised financial troubles behind it.

But as the much-anticipated fireworks, lights and music display began with the tower's final height - a secret until the inauguration - flashing on a giant screen, observers were left pondering the significance of the tower's new name, a tribute to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

“This is a surprise move, but maybe this is an attempt to boost confidence in Dubai by showing who is backing Dubai,” a diplomat at the ceremony told Maktoob News.

INVESTOR CONFIDENCE

Confidence in Dubai has been severely damaged in recent months after one of the emirate’s largest state-owned conglomerates said it needed more time to repay its debts, confirming investors’ worst fears about Dubai’s debt problems. 

Dubai racked up debts of as much as $150 billion fuelling its economic growth during the boom years and the onset of the global financial crisis made it increasingly difficult for the government and its related entities to meet repayments.

Dubai World in late November said it would request a standstill on repayment of $26 billion worth of debt, sending global markets into a tailspin after months of positive talks from Dubai officials that the emirate’s debt problems were in hand.

Abu Dhabi stepped in with a $10 billion bailout at the eleventh hour - part of $25 billion in emergency funding provided to Dubai in the last year - but the lack of unequivocal backing from its oil-rich neighbour has left a cloud of uncertainty over Dubai.

The inauguration of the $1.5 billion Burj Dubai was meant to help restore investor confidence, but the name change has instead reignited speculation over the extent of Abu Dhabi’s support and what Dubai has had to concede to secure that backing.

“If Dubai has nothing left to sell then at least it still has naming rights,” Christopher Davidson, a professor at Durham University and author of several books on Dubai, told Maktoob News.

But Davidson said “there is still no certainty behind Abu Dhabi's backing” of Dubai despite the name-change.

“SYMBOLIC”

Despite Dubai's financial woes, organisers pulled out all the stops for Monday nights display of fireworks, lights and music that many in attendance described as one of the most impressive they had ever seen.

Dubai intended to send a clear message to the world that the emirate is still an economic force.

"This is yet another proof that our national economy is robust and that our leadership, institutions and private sector are capable of surmounting difficulties and confronting challenges with resolution, fearlessness and confidence," Sheikh Mohammed said after the ceremony in remarks carried by state news agency WAM.

Analysts described the inauguration as “symbolic” for Dubai, but unlikely to have any material impact on the emirate’s economy or its real estate market.

“From a debt point of view and an economic crisis point of view, nothing changes ... The underlying weaknesses of the (real estate) market are still there,” Mohammed Shakeel, UAE economist for the Economist Intelligence Unit, told Maktoob News.

Dubai’s real estate market, a major driver of the emirate’s economy, collapsed in 2009 after years of meteoric speculation-fuelled growth in the wake of the global financial crisis.

Property prices more than halved, billions of dollars worth of projects were scrapped and thousands of expatriates lost their jobs and returned home.

Issam Galadari, CEO of Burj Khalifa developer Emaar Properties, said on Monday the tower will have a positive impact on Dubai’s real estate market, which he said is stabilising.

Analysts are not so optimistic and see further price falls are expected in 2010 as more supply left over from boom-time construction comes online. Already one in four homes and a quarter of office space are empty, according to analysts.

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User Comments
tom@jerry
Jan 05, 2010 at 15:46
I was there during the opening! I am an expat but I feel so proud to attend the world history unfold into my eyes. I am just sad because they named it Burj Khalifa, I want it to be Burj Dubai!
Atif Rahman
Jan 05, 2010 at 12:42
Let the world say what they have to, the fact of the matter is Burj Dubai/Burj Khalifa is in DUBAI and not anywhere else. The world seems to criticize everything HH Sheikh Mohammed is trying to do. I wonder where these people (few of them call themselves experts) were when things were good and investors were earning good returns in Dubai. I personally know not one but few people who came with few thousands and Dubai made them millionaires.

For God sake give me a break with this negative publicity. I have seen people who could barely earn there living come to Dubai and at least get into decent lifestyle.

Property prices fell everywhere in the world but there is a big fuss when the same happened in Dubai. Investors/Business lost money in most parts of the world, people lost jobs in every part of the world. Dubai is no different.

I salute HH Sheikh Mohammed for what he has done and I wish him the best. May God help him in all his efforts.
loop
Jan 05, 2010 at 12:39
Welll Burj khalifa opening is no doubt good news.... so congrats to the team behind making this project a success... but my comment is to those having a feeling of belonging in the community... Let me say u a particular thing.. which u shld always have in mind.. i m an expat.. born n brought up here.. my primary, secondary & collage level edu.. everything happened in this country.. but still i have to apply for a visa.. i hav a small company.. which isn't mine because i need a sponsor for my own company, with 100% investment of my own... n lots of other bullshit goin around... So my dear friends... the day i m granted this... yes.. i ll feel like i belong here.. or else... a sponsor can come any day n get me kicked out of this country...

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