At first glance, the luxury high-rise apartment houses lining Boorj Avenue resemble the oceanfront towers along Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Most of the time, however, the only sound to be heard is the creak of loose scaffolding swinging in the hot breeze.

Sharjah, which built far beyond its tiny population's needs, resembles a ghost town.

Just up the Persian Gulf, Dubai is completing construction of a drydock that will accommodate supertankers twice the size of any ship yet built. Most experts agree that the drydock will not be profitable for decades.

Kuwait, anxious to keep its contractors occupied, is busily tearing down buildings to put up new ones. Most of the structures being razed are less than 10 years old.

In Saudi Arabia, a new international airport is being built outside Jeddah to help handle the millions of Moslems who make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. The cost: $7 billion - 10 times that of America's most expensive new airport, Dallas-Fort Worth.

With more than $50 billion in oil revenue to spend annually, the Arab states that line the Persian Gulf have become the 20th century El Dorado. They are the envy of every developing country in the world.

But in five years since the gulf Arabs' wealth soared dramatically, many of the Olympian development schemes they launched have gone amiss.

"There was a false sense of security on the gulf that everything was possible," remarks Yusuf Shirawi, Bahrain's minister of industry and development.

A major problem was that the feudal rules of the tiny sheikdoms along the Persian Gulf tended at the outset to give priority to projects that they felt symbolized a modern state.

Dubai and Sharjah, for instance, both felt they had to have modern international airports capable of handling jumbo jets. Not only are the two resulting airports much closer together than Washington National and Dulles, but Dubai's airport is actually closer to Sharjah than to the city of Dubai.

In all, four modern international airports now serve the string of seven states that have become the United Arab Emirates. Transportation experts say one airport - two at the most - would handle the foreseeable traffic with ease.

"All of the Gulf states somehow got caught up in this competition for national prestige," says an American diplomat.

The result, instead is a number of monuments to waste.

The inclination of Gulf rulers to sign up for expensive prestige projects was undoubtedly helped along by Western businessmen and promoters eager to turn a fast petrodollar.

"Between 1973 and 1975, everybody tried to sell the Arabs everything," says Bahrain's Shirawi.

And the Arabs were buying.

Dubai contracted to build more than 70 shipping berths at the port of Jebal Ali - a project that will give the tiny state, for reasons obvious only to its ruler, a larger port capacity than New York City. Bahrain built an aluminum plant. Qatar ordered up a steel mill.

Few rulers seem to have given much thought in these heady days to whether there was any logical need for these facilities, or whether the products they would produce would be competitive on the world market.

Because most of the aluminum market in industrialized countries is under some form of trade protection, Bahrain wound up initially stacking nearly all its aluminum production outside the plant.

"Some schemes were well thought out," says Shirawi. "Others were not."

Even countries with seemingly bottomless oil wells, however, could not afford to continue wasting money at this breakneck pace indefinitely.

"The Wild West days came to an end in 1976," says Steven Buck, a commercial attache at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait.

Bahrain's Shirawi cites as a benchmark June 1977, when the Saudi government turned down a bid to construct a power plant for the heretical reason that the estimate was simply too high. "They said," Shirawi remarked, "Enough is enough.'"

The shift to a more conservative view of development all along the Gulf coincided with the first indications of an easing in the world demand for oil.

"We have had a big boom," observed Mana Saeed Otaiba, oil minister of the United Arab Emirates. "But is cannot be maintained if we have to go through the economic cycle."

The result of this more realistic outlook was this spring's crash of the Kuwaiti stock market after a year of wild speculation that had often seen prices double within weeks.

Elsewhere around the Gulf, real estate price - driven up as much as 1,000 percent by oil fever - began to soften. In Saudi Arabia, the inflation rate, which had been running at 40 percent, dropped to around 10 percent.

Saudi Arabia also has taken note of the difficulties it can expect in breaking into established world market by enlisting Mobil, Shell and other U.S. firms in its effort to build petrochemical plants and massive oil refineries.

The Saudi hope is that these American companies will help the new Saudi plants gain access to Western markets for their refined petroleum products. Even this hope may rest on a shaky footing.

Ghazi Gosabi, Saudi Arabi's minister of industry, says his government looks to capture only five percent of the world market for refined petroleum and petrochemical products when its new plants are operating at full capacity.

Even today, however, there is a world glut of refinery and petrochemical plant capacity. Some plants are operating at less than 70 percent of capacity. Western companies seem unlikely to let Saudi Arabia move into an already crowded market without a fight.

"Why should they expect that we cut back our petrochemical plants to subsidize theirs?" asks James Reddington of the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

The outlook for development in the Gulf - even well thought-out development - thus looks highly uncertain.

"The really monumental failures," warns one Western diplomat, "are still down the line."

A number of Gulf leaders, moreover, are rapidly becoming aware that they face a clouded future. "There is a lot of soul-searching going on now on the Gulf," says Bahrain's Shirawi. "This is a time of reckoning."