Today, the United Arab Emirates is widely acknowledged as one of the most modern countries in the world in terms of its infrastructure, buildings, health and education systems. But until three decades ago, life in this country had scarcely changed.
The first major settlement in Dubai occurred in the mid-18th century and in Abu Dhabi a few years later. Dubai, a small fishing village on the Shindagha peninsula at the mouth of the creek was inhabited by a branch of the Bani Yas tribe – who were originally from the Liwa Oasis and led by the Maktoum family who still rule Dubai today. The Straits were an important trade route and a vital link between India, Persia, Mesopotamia and Europe. Through its growing trade activities, Dubai became known as ˝the city of merchants˝ and by the late 1870s was the principal port of the Gulf coast. By the turn of the century, Dubai was reputed to have the largest souqs in the region. Pearls were the mainstay of the region’s prosperity until the 1940s, when the development of Japanese cultured pearls led to a collapse in demand for the natural product. However, by that time, trade in other products, including gold, had grown steadily and Dubai was able to overcome the setback. It was not until 1966 that Abu Dhabi and Dubai’s oil reserves were discovered, with the first exports following in 1969. During this time Britain announced its withdrawal from the region, a move that led to the foundation of the UAE as an independent country in 1971. This was the beginning of a new era: a country formed through the federation of six sheikhdoms. Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. Ras Al Khaimah joined in 1972.
Following the formation of the UAE, the country witnessed rapid growth like never before. Oil is the major source of income for the UAE, with Abu Dhabi leading the Emirates in oil production. In more recent years, the country has embarked on an aggressive tourism development program, which has seen a large increase in the number of tourists visiting the country, attracted by award winning hotels, desert adventures, stunning white sandy beaches, a plethora of shopping, numerous attractions and fine and sunny weather.