The city-state’s rulers see a startup economy as one of the keys to ensuring it will be a global player long after the region’s oil runs out. But can absolute monarchs really build a 21st-century tech ecosystem?
The sloping rooftops of the 1,000-foot-tall Emirates Towers float above the rest of the Dubai financial district like looming mountain peaks, but in a city of extravagant architecture they’re easy to miss. The complex’s lobby is just as sleekly anonymous as the exterior, greeting the public with the signature blitz of air conditioning and luxury retail chains that can give Dubai’s entire downtown the feel of an upscale airport terminal. But in the mezzanine-level Starbucks, the mood changes–software engineers in jeans and sneakers gossip about funding rounds and hash out coding snags.