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In Dubai, Shoppers Hit The Malls For 'White Friday'


We're going to focus now on a pivotal hub in the Arab world. Just an hour's flight from Tehran and resting on the Persian Gulf, Dubai is a place full of contradictions. Kissing in public can get you deported. And there's no free press. But the beaches are full of bikini-clad tourists. And shopping malls sell everything from Victoria Secret lingerie to the traditional, long, black abayas that cover women from head to toe.

NPR's Deborah Amos joins us now from Dubai on what has become a new kind of holiday, right, Deb? Can you explain?

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Well, we have the same, as you have in the West, Black Friday. We have a city here that has a large, international population. Dubai also boasts the biggest of just about everything. They have the tallest building, the highest fountain, the most expensive hamburger and the largest malls with some 80 million shoppers a year.

Now this prosperity comes with keen concern about stability. So human rights groups criticize the emirates when it comes to free speech, workers' rights or any kind of dissent here. But the shopping model that works in the West works here. But online shopping has also become a factor. So this huge, sales day is used to drive online sales.

MARTIN: So you mean they have their equivalent of Cyber Monday.

AMOS: All of this is just taking off because Internet penetration across the region hit 20 percent. I visited the largest online seller. It's called souq.com. That's kind of the Amazon in the region. They market in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

Now they rebranded Black Friday to White Friday because they say Friday is a day of prayer. And it's a family day. So White Friday was a better name. Same idea - prices drop by 70 percent. There's about 10 million online customers, a potential market of 180 million.

MARTIN: So switching gears a little bit. Dubai is this interesting place because of its commercial connections to the west. But it's also really important because of its political alliances, right? I mean, it's very close to Iran. Is it difficult, Deb, then for Dubai to manage this tug of the East against the pull it feels toward the West?

AMOS: Well, Dubai has this historical trading relationship with Iran. It's historic. You can see it on the Dubai Creek where there are ships going back and forth. And even today, they're bringing satellite dishes. They're bringing electronics. So that relationship has lasted a long time. There's a very large Iranian community of business people in this city. So that is the connection. They acutely felt the sanctions against Iran that were put in place by Western powers because of Iran's nuclear program. And so they have been hoping that sanctions will be lifted because they want to position themselves as the Hong Kong for Iran. They have been a cheerleader to lift those sanctions.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Deborah Amos joining us from Dubai. Thanks so much, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.