DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — It rises out of what were once rolling sand dunes stretching toward the horizon, a feverish construction site by tempo and temperature that has tens of thousands of workers building what looks like a new city in the desert of Dubai.
This is the site of Expo 2020, a world’s fair that will be hosted by a city-state that is already home to the world’s tallest building, the busiest airport for international travel, an indoor ski slope and other modern marvels.
Dubai is betting billions of dollars the expo will draw 25 million visitors, encourage business and spur further development of the city, a place that has been transformed by its ruling Al Maktoum family over the decades from a sleepy port of pearl divers and gold smugglers into a world showcase.
However, the preparations for Expo 2020 come as Dubai’s real estate market show signs of faltering amid global economic woes. Fears of military conflict across the Persian Gulf cloud organizers’ sunny projections. And the planning for the event, which begins Oct. 20, 2020, highlights the contradictions of Dubai and the wider United Arab Emirates, a nation governed by hereditary rulers, wildly enriched by its oil reserves and built by foreign laborers.