Dubai was meant to be a Middle-Eastern Shangri-La, a glittering monument to Arab enterprise and western capitalism.

But as hard times arrive in the city state that rose from the desert sands, an uglier story is emerging.

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The ubiquitous cranes have paused on the skyline, as if stuck in time.

There are countless buildings half-finished, seemingly abandoned.

In the swankiest new constructions – like the vast Atlantis hotel, a giant pink castle built in 1,000 days for $1.5bn on its own artificial island – where rainwater is leaking from the ceilings and the tiles are falling off the roof.

This Neverland was built on the Never-Never – and now the cracks are beginning to show.

This man has sold Dubai to the world as the city of One Thousand and One Arabian Lights, a Shangri-La in the Middle East insulated from the dust-storms blasting across the region.

He dominates the Manhattan-manqué skyline, beaming out from row after row of glass pyramids and hotels smelted into the shape of piles of golden coins.

And there he stands on the tallest building in the world – a skinny spike, jabbing farther into the sky than any other human construction in history.

But something has flickered in Sheikh Mohammed's smile.

Suddenly it looks less like Manhattan in the sun than Iceland in the desert.