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Dubai, a City Known for Censorship, Launches Typeface for Self-Expression

The city’s latest branding endeavor is Dubai Font, created in partnership with Microsoft and available for free in 23 languages.

Fonts are to words what inspiration is to art #DubaiFont

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From ultramodern skyscrapers to artificial islands, Dubai is known for unveiling buzzworthy projects that promote it as a place of innovation. The city’s latest endeavor to brand itself is Dubai Font, a set of type commissioned by the the Crown Prince of Dubai Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, and launched by the executive council of Dubai in partnership with Microsoft. It’s available for anyone to use free of charge, and you can download it online in 23 different languages.

Regular version of Dubai font (image courtesy Executive Council of Dubai)

Dubai is now the first city to have a specially designed Microsoft font — although it is technically a typeface, available in four weights. The project’s website crows that it’s so much more than just a newcomer to the world of typography; it was honed to reflect the modernity of the city. “It was designed to create harmony between Latin and Arabic,” reads a description. “It is an embodiment of a vision — one of promoting literacy, unity, and forward-thinking laced with tradition, carrying within it aspirations beyond its outlines. It is young, dynamic, and full of passion and energy.”

Dubai Font is also supposed to be a “new global medium for self-expression” — which is a pretty peachy claim when you consider the city’s history of censorship. The executive directors of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth and Andrew Stroehlein, were quick to point out the irony of the typeface’s purpose on Twitter, noting that the initiative very likely represents an empty promise of free speech for Dubai’s own citizens. The campaign’s hashtag, #ExpressYou, has also predictably been deployed on social media to highlight the hypocrisy of a government known for detaining artists and activists for expressing themselves.

Notably, the Crown Prince has urged government institutions to adopt the typeface in all official correspondence — so anyone punished for their opinions will receive a sentence spelled out in forms celebrating “the voice of our brave new world.”

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