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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dubai's Identity Scrutinized

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- South Asians call it "the best run Indian city," Arabs celebrate it as a model of Arab accomplishment, and Westerners embrace it for its endless sunshine and luxury lifestyle.

With more than 150 nationalities and almost as many expressions of culture, Dubai is one of the most diverse cities in the Middle East.

But after decades of selling dreams to foreigners, this Persian Gulf emirate has begun debating the limits of multiculturalism.

Tensions burst into the open in early October when an English-language newspaper published an article protesting the growing disrespect for Muslim customs here during Ramadan, setting off a rare public debate about Dubai's cultural identity.

"Too much flesh on show is wrong in a Muslim country at any time -- but offense is being felt especially during Ramadan," said the front-page editorial in 7Days, a free daily tabloid.

The article appeared with photographs of women in sleeveless tops and short skirts at a shopping mall under the headline, "Show Some Respect." 7Days, which is run and edited largely by Westerners, advised its readers to "please remember that this is a Muslim country and many of us are guests here."

Within hours, the newspaper was flooded with e-mails and phone calls, many praising the paper for acknowledging the sensitivities of Muslims but others lambasting it for seeming to toe an official line.

Soon the entire emirate was talking.

"We fear that the expatriate is going to impose his culture on us," said Maya Rashid Ghadeer, a correspondent with the Al Bayan newspaper in Dubai who writes about the local community. "Most locals are afraid that they are losing their basic identity forever."

For decades, the emirate, part of the federation of seven principalities that make up the United Arab Emirates, has sought to broaden its economy by welcoming foreigners and their investment dollars, turning itself into a shipping hub, a regional business hub and, more recently, a tourist hub with luxury hotels and resorts.

The city's openness, limited corruption and stability have helped spur economic growth and development, with wide swaths under construction and more projects in the works. The boom has brought big-city problems like inflation, a rise in crime and divorce rates and snarled traffic.

But beyond that, it has taken a toll on local culture as many young Emiratis have begun looking abroad, abandoning many traditions and even marrying foreigners.

With only about 250,000 citizens, out of a total 1.2 million residents, the demographics are daunting.