Renaming to Burj Khalifa is seen as gesture towards Emirati unity


By Loveday Morris

What’s in a name? Since opening to bursts of fireworks and sound on Monday night, one of the most common questions being raised about the world’s tallest tower is the surprise change of name to Burj Khalifa.

Long marketed and written about as Burj Dubai, with the name emblazoned on everything from the building’s internet site to souvenir T-shirts and a Metro station, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE, surprised much of the country in unveiling the new name on Monday night.

The symbolism was not lost on most Emiratis, expatriates and analysts, who read a message of unity to the watching world in the name change as well as a show of appreciation to Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, for his support of the emirate.

“I read it as a message of appreciation coming from Sheikh Mohammed to Sheikh Khalifa,” said Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a political science professor at UAE University. “Dubai has had a difficult time and in times of need Abu Dhabi was there and stepped in to come to Dubai’s aid. There’s nothing better than naming the tallest building in human history after him as a token of thanks.”

The message of unity was equally important.

“I think it’s a gesture to Abu Dhabi in the interest of promoting unity within the federation at a time that is perceived to be troubled,” said Dr Theodore Karasik, head of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “It should not be seen as unusual, but [as] testimony to the strength of the UAE during economic crisis and aftermath.”

There have been other recent outward expressions of the strength and unity of the federation, Dr Karasik said.

“It’s a theme we are seeing,” he said. “Before you wouldn’t really see posters of the President in Dubai and now you see many.”

The “we are all Emirates” campaign launched in November in response to negative international media coverage was meant to “send a message to the world about the unity of all of those who live on the soil of our country,” said Muaath al Merri, the director of the campaign.

The renaming also has a practical effect on the people living in the tower’s shadow.

Residents of the Burj Dubai district, for example, were still adjusting yesterday to the new name. Many said that it would take time to get used to calling it the Burj Khalifa and that, at least for a while, it would probably still be called Burj Dubai by those who live in its considerable shadow.

“I was surprised by the name change,” said one Lebanese resident. “In practice, people will still call it the Burj Dubai because that is what it has been called since construction began. Subconsciously, Burj Dubai is the name shaped in your head.”

A British resident who has lived near the base of the tower for 18 months agreed that many would continue to use the old name. “Of course people will try and use the new name but habit may see them continue to use Burj Dubai, as it is more familiar,” he said. “But Burj Khalifa gives it more of a national identity.”

There had been no decision made on changing the name of Burj Dubai Metro station, which was opened on Monday, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) said. An RTA spokesman said there was no announcement pending about changing signboards and street names to reflect the new name.

No matter the moniker, Dr Abdulla said, the concept of national unity was the one that resonated most. “There are 1,001 messages one could read into this gesture, but in the end what it’s showing is unity,” he said.