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The Extravagance of Numbers

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

Extravagance and luxury is nothing new to the rich denizens of the Persian Gulf. With record oil revenues and a surplus of cash, the elite often spend money without so much as a second-thought on items that range from the silly to the downright audacious. When the rest of the World is buckling under the pressure of high gas prices and the rapid inflation of food items, many Gulf nations are literally rolling in cash and using it to create a bigger standing for themselves. They do this by indulging in expensive status symbols that make them stand apart from the rest of society.

Vanity license plates are all the rage in the tiny Gulf nation of Dubai. In May 2007, a wealthy businessman spent almost $7 million US Dollars to acquire the license plate bearing the number ‘5’. This past February another businessman spent a whopping $14 million US Dollars to secure the coveted ‘1’ and was quoted by local media as saying that he was prepared to pay up to $26 million US Dollars. Single numbers on license plates are the most coveted to Dubai’s rich with double-digit numbers following second and being less expensive. Savvy businessman look to the number plates as a sound business investment as they can be sold at any time and are sure to reap a healthy return on the original investment. Also, the sale of the plates is not entirely self-centered and ego stroking as all proceeds from the sales go directly to Dubai-based charities to help residents who have been injured in road accidents.

While Dubai is the King of number extravagance other Gulf nations are slowly making a name for themselves by coveting numbers in other ways. In the tiny Gulf States of Bahrain and Kuwait, the most coveted possessions are vanity cell phone numbers. A vanity cell phone line creates an instant status symbol if it is easy to say and remember. Some people have gone to the extreme lengths of having custom bumper stickers made, featuring their vanity phone numbers, to display proudly on their cars. Mobile and cellular tech companies have a running list of available numbers that can be purchased for a King’s ransom. For example, in Kuwait, the mobile telephone number 900-0000 is currently available and priced at $93,000 US Dollars while the number 613-3333 is a bit more affordable at $33,000. The money from the sales of vanity cell phone lines do not benefit charity but rather line the pockets of the mobile tech companies who are getting rich off of their vanity-driven clientele.

The numbers game is not only for the rich and elite in the Gulf, even middle to low income families are finding themselves caught up in the numbers race albeit in different ways. “Every month, when I go to the grocery, store there is some sort of promotion going on promising to make one lucky customer rich,” shares Dubai-based housewife Fatmah Ali, “the current raffle promises 1 KG of gold to the person whose winning ticket is drawn.” Similar raffles are held at businesses in the State of Kuwait but the most promising schemes to tantalize the money right out of consumer’s pockets are savings certificate accounts. Basically, you go to your local bank and for a specified increment of deposited cash into your savings account you are given a certificate number. Each month one certificate number is drawn and the grand prizes range from between $250,000 US dollars to $1 million US Dollars. “I have had a savings certificate account for the past 11 years,” laments Abdul Rauf Mohammed who works in a bookshop in Kuwait, “and I have never won but I still hold out hope for winning a pile of cash.”

The extravagance of numbers is set to go on, at least in the Gulf, reaching even greater levels of over consumption and luxurious abandon. Perhaps one day the rich will fight over vanity post office box numbers that carry the most status or the best street number to make them feel important in this World.


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