Even though the area now known as Dubai bore archeological evidence suggesting that settlements there went back to the Bronze Age, this trading hub as it’s known today got its humble beginning in the early 19th century. In 1833, some 800 members of the Bani Yas tribe, led by the Maktoum Family, settled at the mouth of Dubai creek.
In 1894, Sheikh Maktoum Bin Hasher Al-Maktoum, then-ruler of Dubai, exempted foreign traders from taxes, paving the way for that area’s modern development – starting with local merchants selling items like pearls, fish, spices and dates. Dubai also drew in traders from India and Persia because of the liberal attitudes of its rulers, and soon began to settle in the growing town, which gained a reputation as the region’s leading commercial center. Trade was based around the safe, natural anchorage of Dubai Creek, which was and still is the visual and commercial heart of the city, with numerous dhows still sailing to other countries.
By the turn of the 20th century, Dubai was a successful port. The souk (Arabic for market) on the Deira side of the creek was the largest on the coast with 350 shops and a steady throng of visitors and businessmen. By the 1930s Dubai’s population was nearly 20,000 — a quarter of whom were expatriates.
In the 1950s, the creek began to silt, a result perhaps of the increasing number of ships that used it. The late Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, decided to have the waterway dredged — an ambitious, costly, and visionary project. The move resulted in increased volumes of cargo handling in Dubai, ultimately strengthening its position as a major trading and re-export hub.
When oil was discovered in 1966, Sheikh Rashid allocated the oil revenues toward infrastructure development in Dubai. Schools, hospitals, roads, a modern telecommunications network — the pace of development was frenetic. A new port and terminal building were built at Dubai International Airport. A runway extension that could accommodate any type of aircraft was later built. The largest man-made harbor in the world was constructed at Jebel Ali, and a free zone was created around the port.
Dubai’s formula for development was becoming evident to everyone – visionary leadership, high-quality infrastructure, an expatriate-friendly environment, zero tax on personal and corporate income and low import duties. The result was that Dubai quickly became a business and tourism hub for a region that stretches from Egypt to the Indian sub-continent and from South Africa to the former Russian Republics.
Since the 1960s, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, then ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum had dreamed of creating a federation of the Emirates in the region. Their dreams were realized in 1971 when Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and (in 1972) Ras Al Khaimah, joined to create the United Arab Emirates.
Under the late Sheikh Zayed, the first President of UAE, the UAE has developed into one of the richest countries in the world with a per capita GDP in excess of US$40,000 per annum (2017).
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Dubai took a strategic decision to emerge as a major international-quality tourism destination. Investments in tourism infrastructure have paid off handsomely over the years. One of the reasons why Dubai was smart in converting itself into a tourist enclave is because it has become, in effect, a midway point for travelers jetting to and from Europe and the Far East. A sizable number of visitors make Dubai a popular stop-over.
Dubai, one of seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates, is now a city that boasts unmatchable hotels, remarkable architecture and world-class entertainment and sporting events. The beautiful Burj Al Arab hotel presiding over the coastline of Jumeirah beach is the world’s only hotel with a seven star rating. The Emirates Towers are one of the many structures that remind us of the commercial confidence in a city that expands at a remarkable rate. Standing 350 meters high, the office tower is the tallest building in the Middle East and Europe.
Dubai also hosts major international sporting events. The Dubai Desert Classic is a major stop on the Professional Golf Association tour. The Dubai Open, an ATP tennis tournament, and the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race, draw thousands every year.
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi, the largest part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), was the first emirate state to discover oil. It currently holds 9% of the world’s proven oil reserves (98.2bn barrels) and almost 5% of the world’s natural gas (5.8 trillion cu meters). Abu Dhabi (whose city of the same name had a population of 2.9 million in 2016 – 550,000 of which were natives) lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf from the central western coast. It acts as the seat of the UAE’s federal government, and the home for both the Abu Dhabi Emiri Family and the President of the UAE (from that family).
Like the other emirates, especially Dubai, Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth has transformed it into an advanced metropolis with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Abu Dhabi is the second most expensive city for expatriate employees in the region, and 67th most expensive city in the world. International media outlets like CNN and Fortune Magazine declared Abu Dhabi the richest city in the world. Before significant amounts of oil were discovered in Abu Dhabi, it was best-known for pearl diving, a trading activity that goes back hundreds of years for its locals.
This unique socioeconomic development in the Persian Gulf has meant that Abu Dhabi is generally more tolerant than its neighbors. While Islam is the main religion, Emiratis have been known for their tolerance: Christian churches, Hindu temples, and Sikh gurdwaras can be found alongside mosques. The country is home to several communities that have faced persecution elsewhere. The cosmopolitan atmosphere is gradually growing and as a result, there are a variety of Asian and Western schools, cultural centers and themed restaurants.