The Middle Eastern city of Dubai may not be known as a great shopping and cultural mecca. But for six weeks starting last Feb. 15, Dubai-at the crossroads of Asia and Europe-staged a party so extravagant that the Big Apple looked s leepy by comparison. Some 2 million visitors were treated to fireworks, fashion shows, theater, dance, food festivals, street bazaars, music, folklore and treasure hunts along brightly lit, festive streets. "We wanted something sp ecial, something spectacular," said Mohammed Alabbar, 38, director general of the city's economic department, who initiated and organized the Dubai Shopping Festival. "We sold a dream and made it into a commercial success," said Mr. Alabbar, who worked with the private sector and government departments to organize the event in less than nine months. "We wanted to promote the city of Dubai as a shopper's paradise and give a fillip to the local retail trad e."Indeed, the festival generated sales in excess of $800 million through more than 200 stalls and nearly 3,000 retail outlets that offered a range of international goods at discount prices. Not everyone, however, was a shopper. Some crossed the desert for the festival's world-class sporting events, which included Dubai ATP Tennis, Dubai Desert Classic Golf and Dubai World Cup Horse Race. And still others showed up to get a chance at winning the 80 Lexus GS 300 cars and 43 kilos of gold that were raffled. To help draw the crowds, Mr. Alabbar hired local ad agency Pan Gulf, and invested $3 million in advertising and promotion throughout the surrounding Gulf countries, with limited strategic spending in India, Pakistan, Jordan and Lebanon. He allocated the media dollars among CNN International, Star TV, Dubai Satellite TV, leading dailies in the Gulf region, magazines and in-flight magazines. And to leverage the event with coverage in the news media, Mr. Alabbar invited journalists to the festival and held press conferences. Borrowing an idea from the Olympics, Mr. Alabbar supported the festival through sponsorships from several well-known global brands including Lipton, Visa, Pepsi, KFC, Hardee's, Emirates Airlines and local brands like Emirates Bank and EPPCO. "A measure of our success is that every sponsor, without exception, of the '96 Festival immediately offe red to be sponsors for the Dubai Shopping Festival '97," said Mr. Alabbar, who has decided to make the festival an annual event. The next shopping festival is scheduled for March 27 to April 26. For that, Mr. Alabbar is projecting a "bigger and better" turnout of 3 million visitors.