#31 - Dubai
Jeff Willner - 15 March 2002
(Dubai, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES) . On the way from
Africa to SE Asia I had the chance to visit Dubai for a day. Friday
is a day of rest in the Arabic world so the city was quiet when I
walked though. Though later I would find out that the tiny state
is gripped in a worrisome economic slump. That would explain the
half completed office towers and 'For Let' signs in many windows.
Dubai is a blend of modern and primitive, striving to be a sleek outpost
in the midst of the desert. To be honest I expected more, a more extensive
old marketplace, an array of shiny skyscrapers, more touristy things
to do. But my boatman on Dubai Creek explained, "This is a new
city you understand? Nothing here a hundred years ago except few huts.
Damascus, yes. Baghdad, yes - old cities. Dubai no. Old is 1970's cement
office building." I did some research on the city and this
is what Encarta has to say...
'Dubai is the capital of the emirate of Dubai, on Dubai Creek. Recent
archaeological research indicates the presence of a scattered trading
culture in the early 3rd millennium BC in what is now the UAE. The
small trading states that emerged along the Persian Gulf coast were
later overwhelmed by Persian empires.the Achaemenid Empire from the
6th to the 4th centuries BC and the Sassanian Empire from the 3rd to
the 7th centuries AD. These empires took over and controlled the extensive
maritime trade that the small states had already carried as far as
China. In the early centuries AD Arab tribes flocked to the region,
first along the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, then from
the north, helping to make it receptive to the religion of Islam before
the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632.
Trade with India and China expanded in the early Islamic period, with
Julfar in present-day Ra.s al Khaymah as one of the leading ports.
European intervention in the gulf began with the Portuguese in the
early 16th century. From the mid-17th century the British and Dutch
competed for domination, with Britain the winner in the late 18th century.
By about 1800 the Qawasim, the ruling clans of Ash Shariqah and Ra.s
al Khaymah today, had become a maritime power in the lower gulf, attacking
ships from British-ruled India. The British defeated the Qawasim navy
in 1819 and in 1820 imposed the first of several treaties that created
and sustained a maritime truce, giving the name Trucial States to the
states that now form the UAE.
By 1892 the British had assumed responsibility for the states. foreign
relations and external security and they remained under British protection
until 1971. The British, who were principally concerned with the security
of Persian Gulf maritime commerce, rarely intervened in their internal
affairs. The most significant results of British domination of the
area were the establishment of general peace, the introduction of the
Western concept of territorial states, and the creation in 1952 of
the Trucial States Council to promote cooperation among the seven rulers.
The council provided the basis for the Supreme Federal Council of the
At its birth on December 2, 1971, the UAE faced challenges that caused
many to predict that the new federation would fail. There were border
disputes with Saudi Arabia and Oman, rivalries among the emirates were
strong, and Iran seized the island of Abu Musa, Tunb al Kubra (Greater
Tunb), and Tunb as Sughra (Lesser Tunb) in the Persian Gulf, all of
which had been claimed by the UAE. Threats to regional stability since
then have included the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution, the Iran-Iraq
War (1980-1988), and Iraq.s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The UAE has
survived these dangers and prospered largely because its president,
Sheikh Zayed, has used the oil wealth of his emirate, Abu Dhabi, to
the benefit of all Emiris as well as to promote the UAE.s security
in the international arena.'
The leaders of this city state have a limited supply of oil, in fact
their reserves are almost finished, and so they are determined to create
a city-state in Singapore fashion where multi-national corporations
can place their Middle East headquarters and local high tech firms
can thrive. But the massive infrastructure investments have yielded
precious little return and unemployment is high. Some blame excessive
taxes, others the lack of a well trained indigenous workforce. Whatever
the reason, a growing number of jobless people wander the street aimlessly.
As I strolled down the Dubai Creek embankment a fisherman hooked a
nice-sized fish, pulled it in and let it flap on the pavement as he
re-baited his hook. With nothing better to do, a crowd wandered in
to stare at the fish, a few commented to friends but most just idly
stood and watched the death throes. Wondering perhaps whether their
futures would be as bleak.