Dubai’s historic gold souk shines again after lockdown

DUBAI (AFP) – Evening dresses made of gold mesh, gilded sunglasses and glittering crowns are sparkling again from the windows of Dubai’s historic gold souk which was shuttered during the coronavirus lockdown. One important element is still missing though – customers.

But for business owners, the reopening of one of the world’s biggest gold markets is a vital move towards normality ahead of the autumn tourist season, in a city that prides itself on shop-’til-you-drop experiences. “Reopening the shops is a big step for us… The main factor here is psychological,” said chairman Tawhid Abdullah at the Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group, the industry’s main governing body in the emirate.

“We expect that by July or August when the airports reopen… we will regain 50 per cent of our business activity,” he told AFP.

Dubai styles itself as a regional centre for trade and services, and tourism has long been its lifeblood. It welcomed more than 16 million tourists last year, and was aiming for 20 million this year before the pandemic crippled global travel.

The emirate shut down its glitzy shopping malls, upscale restaurants and traditional markets for a month to fight the spread of the virus.

Gulf states have struggled to curb the disease, which spreads easily among large populations of migrant workers living in crowded conditions, and the United Arab Emirates has reported some 19,000 cases, with 203 deaths.

Cloistered in the old trading centre of the wealthy Gulf city, not far from its famous skyscrapers, the gold souk closed on March 24 and reopened under strict social distancing and hygiene rules on April 26.

The area where the market is located is known as Old Dubai, with decades-old buildings and haphazard alleyways thronged by Asian and African migrants who make up a majority of the area’s residents.

Videos of residents celebrating the end of the curfew, pouring onto the streets to clap and cheer, went viral on social media last month. “When we came here the first day it was as if we were coming to a new place, so we sterilised everything. We were very very happy to be back,” said jeweller Chandu Siroya. “Everybody wants to be on holiday, but this time it was the other way around. The holiday was too long so we were longing to be back,” he added, surrounded by a dozen employees wearing protective masks. Business owners left their gold in their shops during the month-long closure – a testament to Dubai’s reputation as one of the safest cities in the region.