Flash mob fizzles in Dubai

The stunt attracts four participants and 100 confused onlookers.

Dubai, 26th August 2008.  Firas Natouv (tying the shoe lace) and Jordan Baker (looking at his watch), as throngs of spectators were amazed, during a flash mob, held at the Mall of the Emirates.  (Jeffrey E. Biteng / The National) *** Local Caption ***  JB0775-FMob.jpg
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DUBAI // It was supposed to be an opportunity to prove that anything the rest of the world can do, Dubai can do better, but this was one record the city will not be boasting about. A mission to stage the world's largest flash mob backfired when just four people turned up - making it quite possibly the smallest event of its kind.

Flash-mobbing - an internet craze that involves gathering a large group of people to perform an unusual stunt or act for several minutes before quickly dispersing - had never taken place in the UAE before. Firas Natour, a Jordanian-born engineer, had hoped to gather more than 1,000 people to freeze on the spot for five minutes at 6.15pm yesterday in the largest mall in the Middle East. By 6pm, the main gallery of the Mall of the Emirates was looking decidedly empty, with reporters outnumbering participants five to one.

At 6.13pm, Zain Nizameddin and Sarah El Hindi, both 18 and students, stopped to find out what was going on and spontaneously decided to take part, doubling numbers. But when they and Mr Natour, 26, and his friend Jordan Baker, 27, a fellow engineer from the US, froze on the spot, it was clear that some onlookers had missed the point. "It must be yoga," said Mohammed Qureshi, a shopper who was passing the scene.

And two baffled security guards nearly wrecked Mr Natour's public statement as he crouched on the ground. They shook him by the shoulders and asked him if he needed medical help. He held his ground, as did Mr Baker, who was pretending to look at his watch, while the girls giggled uncontrollably as they studied their mobile phones. And where Mr Natour failed, the intervention of the security guards succeeded in attracting attention - a 100-strong crowd had soon gathered to see what was happening.

"I think it must be acting," said Aziz Khamis, who was drawn to the scene with his four children. "Is this part of a performance? I did not realise there was a show today." Despite the crowd, Mr Natour said, "I was not pleased with the way it turned out at all. It would have been better if 100 people were taking part, not just watching. I'll have to think how to make it bigger and better next time."

Mr Baker added: "I don't care how many took part - the fact people stopped to watch means it worked." Previous flash mobs have included a group of more than 100 people in the UK who gathered to mock-worship the London Eye with bananas, while 3,500 people turned Paddington station in the British capital into an impromptu nightclub. The craze started in New York five years ago when a large group of "shoppers" harassed furniture store staff with inquiries about "love rugs".