From my observation, here's basically the core of what's going on in Dubai:
Huge container ships arrive from China to the modern port at Bur Dubai. They are loaded with everything from computer monitors to plastic dishware.
These are unloaded and distributed among the thousands of tiny import-export shops that have placed orders for various goods.
Africans (usually large and imperious women in colorful dress), Arabs, and south Asians with huge rolls of cash wander through the shops, barking out prices and cutting deals.
The goods are delivered to the docks to be loaded onto rickety old wooden ships that ply the Persian Gulf, the east coast of Africa, and the western shores of South Asia. Some of the places served are so dependent on this trade that I even saw huge boats full of nothing but empty Coca Cola bottles being unloaded and replaced with full ones.
So basically Dubai serves a giant distribution and retail center for China, Incorporated. They're almost out of oil, and yet they're filthy rich, so it seems like it's working.