North of the Emirates Towers stretches the sprawling Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre, on whose far side rises the venerable old Dubai World Trade Centre tower, Dubai’s first skyscraper and formerly the tallest building in the Middle East. Commissioned in 1979 by the visionary Sheikh Rashid, this 39-storey edifice was widely regarded as a massive white elephant when it was first built, standing as it did in the middle of what was then empty desert far from the old city centre. In fact, history has entirely vindicated Rashid’s daring gamble. The centre proved an enormous success with foreign companies and US diplomats, who established a consulate in the tower and used it as a major base for monitoring affairs in nearby Iran – their covert intelligence-gathering vastly aided by the large number of Dubai-based Iranians who arrived at the consulate to apply for US visas. The centre also served as an important anchor for future development along the strip, and it’s a measure of Sheikh Rashid’s far-sighted ambition that his alleged folie de grandeur has long since been overtaken by a string of far more impressive constructions further down the road.
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