The United Arab Emirates spent eight years and billions of dollars turning 1,080 acres of Dubai desert into the site of Expo 2020, the first World Fair in the Middle East. Dubai opened Expo 2020 on Friday, a year late due to the COVID-19 pandemic, showing off "a buzzing futuristic landscape with robots, a new metro station, multi-million dollar pavilions and so-called districts with names like 'sustainability' and 'opportunity,'" The Associated Press reports.
The Dubai organizers say 192 nations are represented at the World Fair, including the U.S., which has a replica of the Space X Falcon 9 rocket at its pavilion. The opening ceremony was held in a central dome that Dubai says is the world's largest 360-degree projection screen, built, AP notes, with 8.5 miles of steel.
World expos have been venues for different countries to mingle and show off their new technologies since the London World Fair of 1851. Most of them have been in Europe and North America, including several in the U.S., starting in 1876. The telephone, TV, Ferris wheel, elevator, carbonated soda, sewing machine, and Heinz Ketchup all made their worldwide debuts at world fairs, and several iconic structures — the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle, San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts, and the Unisphere in Queens, New York, for example — were built for the expositions.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, welcomed guests to the UAE, where "the ethos of this land" is providing a place where people from every nation, East or West, can mingle for business and pleasure.
Critics noted that the emirates built the desert dreamscape using low-paid foreign labor. Also, the UAE is less an "open and tolerant country" than it is a land where "abusive authorities forcefully bar all peaceful criticism and dissent," Human Rights Watch said in a report on Expo 2020. "The UAE has embarked on a decades-long effort to whitewash its reputation on the international stage."