Bachir Moukarzel is one of the few people still leaving his house every other day.
Like everyone else, he is armed with face masks and gloves, carries hand sanitiser and is careful with what he touches. Unlike most people, though, when he leaves, he is accompanied by assistant Haytham Achkar, a driver from Dubai TV, and a police car – and carries a drone.
Moukarzel has been collaborating with the Dubai Media Office, Dubai TV and Dubai Police to capture footage of city's landscape – usually bustling with cars and people – now completely empty. The emirate introduced new travel restrictions on April 4, which require residents to obtain a permit to leave their homes.
“I volunteered to do it,” says Moukarzel. “Honestly, when news first arose about the coronavirus in December, like many others, I didn’t take it too seriously. But as it started to spread, I realised just how dangerous things are. It is something every human being has to fight, with the help of the government. So it’s all about having the discipline to not go outside. The main purpose of this video is to showcase how people are listening to the official instructions. They are thinking of others.”
Moukarzel volunteered for this initiative despite the fact he has asthma, which puts him at higher risk of getting seriously ill from the coronavirus. He says he has been taking all the necessary precautions from his side, including showering as soon as he comes home. The risk is further lowered by the fact most of the locations he’s filming in are also now completely deserted – although that does lend them a discomforting vibe, he says.
“When I was filming places like JBR, Downtown Dubai, the fountain area, I was the only one in sight – it was emotional somehow,” the photographer admits. “I had goosebumps. It is sad but at the same time, it is beautiful because you can really see that people are obeying the rules. The UAE is home to so many different nationalities and cultures, but we are all in the same boat in the end.”
Moukarzel moved to the UAE in 2002, studied finance at the American University in Dubai and has been working for the Rotana Hotel group for the past 11 years. He started dabbling with drone photography as a hobby about four years ago, but it has since become a big part of his life as he has received international accolades, starting with coming first in the Urban category of the International Drone Photography Contest in 2017.
Apart from taking numerous high-flying pictures of Dubai's skyline, Moukarzel has also worked with brands such as Emaar, capturing construction updates. For him, it's a blessing to be able to "see the city and its architecture developing and evolving."
“I’ve been here 18 years and, on a personal level, Dubai has given me so much. This is the only time the government has asked something in return. I may not work as the first line of defence as a healthcare professional, but as someone in the media, I wanted to contribute by documenting efforts taken and showing people that everyone is staying home – which I hope encourages them to do the same.”
Which is his final advice to all. “You’re not missing anything outside,” he says. “It’s just a few weeks and then we can all be together again. Follow the rules, and we will emerge from this situation stronger.”