Help! I’m In Dubai.

Safi Roshdy
Published in
7 min readApr 22, 2024


I missed out on an eclipse to witness a flooding.

Photo of Burj Al Arab in Dubai whose shape ironically resembles the sail of a boat. Photo by Darcey Beau on Unsplash.
Photo of Burj Al Arab in Dubai whose shape resembles the sail of a boat. Photo by Darcey Beau on Unsplash.

The universe is funny, or maybe I have learned to find humor in my everyday existence. I am still detained in Dubai. Apparently, even after I was acquitted twice, I still need to wait 30 days after the announcement of the last verdict in order to request that the travel ban imposed on me be lifted. I was initially upset that I had missed out on the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse in Cleveland, but little did I know that, as a result of my detention, I would get to experience the flooding associated with the heaviest rainfall Dubai has faced. Earth Day 2024 is upon us, so it is an excuse to post a timely reflection on this experience.

Whoever has lived in Dubai, or the United Arab Emirates, long enough knows that flooding here after a rainy or stormy day is not an unusual occurrence, but that this time, the damage to people’s property because of flooded roads and homes, was noteworthy enough.

The power in our own apartment had been out for more than an hour on the morning of 16 April. This was not the first time this happened this year as a result of the rain, so out of sheer exhaustion from always assuming the position of Resident Ambassador, I decided that this time I would allow any of the next door neighbors to complain on everyone’s behalf. They never did, and our homes were left without WiFi and gas (since the gas switch is electric) until I called Building Maintenance myself. The problem was then fixed, or so I thought, until, an hour or so after Maintenance left, our electrical panel box started leaking, eventually blowing up in fumes. When I called Maintenance back, I was told that I would now have to wait for the rain to stop to get the power back.

It was very eye opening to have to stay without power that day. I did not expect it. Every week or so, for the past month, there had been official announcements that cloud seeding was taking place and that we should expect rain, but on many occasions the rain never happened. So my phone was not charged enough in preparation and I was anxious that the only means I now had to communicate with the outside world could soon too run out of charge.

We barely knew our neighbors because they are renters and changed frequently so I took to the Owners’ Association Whatsapp group which I had helped bring into existence only in March of this year, to voice my concern. “Why was the power problem not fixed the last time it rained?” Nobody could offer an answer, but a neighbor on a different floor, on the other side of the building which was not afflicted by the power cut, offered his fridge, microwave and power banks.

At around 3pm, the sky, which we can now barely see from our apartment thanks to the construction towering over our building, turned really dark. “Did they just seed an eclipse?” I wondered.

I am not normally bothered by the unpredictable; I have always prided myself on making do in situations which could be considered intolerable by others. But what bothered me that day was the fact that those in charge of our building’s maintenance tried to convince me that I was responsible for fixing the power outage myself at my own expense. I went to bed that day feeling frustrated and, well, powerless!

When I woke up and checked my phone, news of the flooding in Dubai was out. My brothers in the U.S. texted me to ask if we were alright. I shared our personal woes, not yet knowing the full extent of what others in the country went through, but we all knew that flooding was always expected when it rained in the U.A.E. It did not take long before videos of the flooding from malls, roads and homes in the U.A.E., and particularly Dubai, were all over social media.

It seemed that once some videos of the flooding became viral, U.A.E. residents and tourists became more emboldened to share their own videos. Residents would normally feel threatened by the notorious privacy and cyber-crime laws in a country where taking and sharing videos of others in public without their consent is illegal. Back in 2016, the U.A.E.’s interior ministry also explicitly warned against posting “negative images” about the flooding which had taken place then, and thus “damaging the country’s reputation.

More recently, in late 2023, Basim Rahim Al-Jubouri, an Iraqi tourist, was arrested and detained in Dubai for posting about his inability to cross the road due to flooding from the rain. The news of his detention was only covered by a handful of Iraqi news outlets and YouTube channels. As a reference, my own detention was not covered by any news outlets I know of, so one can only wonder how many detentions for online posts have taken place or continue to take place unannounced in Dubai, and the U.A.E.

A YouTube video which details the circumstances of Basim Al-Jubouri’s arrest and detention in Dubai.

What is remarkable about the flooding this time around, is that many social media influencers in the U.A.E. could not help but post about getting caught off guard in the rain. A number of them were stuck in their flooded cars, and one posted a video of water streaming from every outlet and non-outlet in his home’s electrical panel box. “Non-influencers” at the scene, in turn, outperformed one another with their documentation of the flooding in an age where almost everyone, even the less privileged, has access to a phone that can provide video footage of a decent quality. Many of those “non-influencers” who had to walk through knee deep or waist-high water to get to public transportation or to their destination, were blue collar workers who had to report to their work in spite of the flooding.

No state of emergency was declared in the U.A.E. despite the inclement weather, and no weather alerts were delivered to phones. There was only a weather advisory announced and only government employees and schools were obligated to operate remotely.

The information provided by official sources, even during the days following the flooding, did not help relieve many private sector workers in the U.A.E. from the burden of having to get stuck in traffic in many places where the rain water was still not cleared. Bosses, convinced that all was back to normal, threatened employees with pay cuts if they did not show up. “Why can’t they [official sources] just be honest and give us a clear picture?” asked one Redditor, an explicit demand made less risky by the anonymity afforded to them by an American platform.

In spite of the fact that this was not the first time that Dubai was flooded, travelers to and from the city were stranded and left for days at Dubai Airport without clear instructions. The social media account of the airport put out a post declaring the flooding “unprecedented” and showing impeccably dressed Emirati employees comforting travelers. The post was in turn declared a slap in the face, and was called out as a scam and a PR stunt by those who had been stuck in the airport and who had shared actual photos of their ordeal, depicting an airport overwhelmed with tired crowds. “You should be ashamed at this farcical attempt to manipulate this into positive PR,” commented one traveler who mentioned that an older lady had fainted in front of her eyes at the airport.

In an alternate reality, U.A.E. and Dubai social media influencers rebounded in no time from their own brush with the flooding and celebrated the country and the city for a recovery which, in the eyes of many residents, remained to be accomplished. It was only today, 22 April, that the entrances and exits to our community were finally cleared from the stagnant rain water.

Meanwhile, Netflix’s Dubai Bling star Kris Fade, who had posted about getting stuck in his car during the flooding, followed the news with a declaration of his unrelenting love for the country, and then posted what looked like a “Dubai drainage system for dummies” video, under which he announced in all caps: “DUBAI DRAINS ARE JUST FINE!!” His formula to fame and fortune in Dubai could not be more evident. Fade also got to speak at COP28 in Dubai about “being a better human” whereas human rights activists in attendance at the climate change conference feared retribution.

U.A.E social media influencer Kris Fade posted what looked like a “Dubai drainage system for dummies” video and declared his unrelenting love for the country.
U.A.E social media influencer Kris Fade posted what looked like a “Dubai drainage system for dummies” video and declared his unrelenting love for the country.

The downpour was a “climate anomaly” said the UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Omar Al Alama at an IMF conference in the U.S. “As a country, there is very little you can do to prepare for this,” he said. Nothing can be far from comforting than the feeling of being powerlessly gaslit by a country’s leadership; gaslighting which trickles down until it gets echoed by none other than those in charge of a building’s maintenance.

While it is now settled by a Dubai sheikh that the building management is responsible for fixing our power outage issue, I cannot help but continue to feel threatened for posting this reflection, and no U.A.E. influencer, flaunting the country’s safety, will assuage my concern.

It took a calamity for people in Dubai and the U.A.E. to take it upon themselves to document reality for everyone to see, and to call out lackluster crisis management. This management, one has to acknowledge, is in itself dependent on overworked and underpaid non-Emirati essential workers who have had to put in extra hours to make recovery from the flooding possible.

Let us hope that this experience, in addition to exposing us to what climate change or an act of God is capable of, sets a precedent for freedom of expression in the U.A.E., and let us pray that we do not end up having to resort to sail boats the next time there is a climate “anomaly.”

Like the Titanic, the U.A.E., which hosts some of the richest people in the world, is not unsinkable. If the need arises, will there be enough lifeboats for everyone, including around 90% of the country’s non-Emirati population?



Safi Roshdy

A proponent of human intelligence. Founded Dubai Public Defender and Ahlanwasahlan LLC