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Cities in the Spotlight: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Today we are headed to the Middle East. This time exploring Dubai.


Dubai City Information

Dubai is the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the capital of the Emirate of Dubai, the most populated of the country's seven emirates. Established in the 19th century as a small fishing village, Dubai grew into a regional trading hub from the early 20th century and grew rapidly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries with a focus on tourism and luxury. It is second-most in five-star hotels in the world and boasts the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which is 828 metres (2,717 ft) tall. In the eastern Arabian Peninsula on the coast of the Persian Gulf, it is a major global transport hub for passengers and cargo. Oil revenue helped accelerate the development of the city, which was already a major mercantile hub. A centre for regional and international trade since the early 20th century, Dubai's economy relies on revenues from trade, tourism, aviation, real estate and financial services. Oil production contributed less than 1 percent of the emirate's GDP in 2018. The city has a population of around 3.49 million (as of 2021).


Dubai Historical Significance

The history of human settlement in the area now defined by the United Arab Emirates is rich and complex. It points to extensive trading links between the civilizations of the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia, and even as far afield as the Levant. Archaeological finds in the emirate of Dubai, particularly at Al-Ashoosh, Al Sufouh and the notably rich trove from Saruq Al Hadid show settlement through the Ubaid and Hafit periods, the Umm Al Nar and Wadi Suq periods and the three Iron Ages in the UAE. The area was known to the Sumerians as Magan and was a source for metallic goods, notably copper and bronze. The area was covered with sand about 5,000 years ago as the coast retreated inland, becoming part of the city's present coastline. Pre-Islamic ceramics have been found from the 3rd and 4th centuries. Prior to the introduction of Islam to the area, the people in this region worshiped Bajir (or Bajar). After the spread of Islam in the region, the Umayyad Caliph of the eastern Islamic world conquered south-east Arabia and drove out the Sassanians. Excavations by the Dubai Museum in the region of Al-Jumayra (Jumeirah) found several artifacts from the Umayyad period. An early mention of Dubai in 1095 is in the Book of Geography by the Andalusian-Arab geographer Abu Abdullah al-Bakri. The Venetian pearl merchant Gasparo Balbi visited the area in 1580 and mentioned Dubai (Dibei) for its pearling industry.

Dubai is thought to have been established as a fishing village in the early 18th century and was, by 1822, a town of some 700–800 members of the Bani Yas tribe and subject to the rule of Sheikh Tahnun bin Shakhbut of Abu Dhabi. In 1822, a British naval surveyor noted that Dubai was at that time populated with a thousand people living in an oval-shaped town surrounded by a mud wall, scattered with goats and camels. The main footpath out of the village led to a reedy creek while another trailed off into the desert which merged into caravan routes. In 1833, following tribal feuding, members of the Al Bu Falasah tribe seceded from Abu Dhabi and established themselves in Dubai. The exodus from Abu Dhabi was led by Obeid bin Saeed and Maktoum bin Butti, who became joint leaders of Dubai until Ubaid died in 1836, leaving Maktoum to establish the Maktoum dynasty. Dubai signed the General Maritime Treaty of 1820 with the British government along with other Trucial States, following the British campaign in 1819 against the Ras Al Khaimah. This led to the 1853 Perpetual Maritime Truce. Dubai also – like its neighbours on the Trucial Coast – entered into an exclusivity agreement in which the United Kingdom took responsibility for the emirate's security in 1892. In 1841, a smallpox epidemic broke out in the Bur Dubai locality, forcing residents to relocate east to Deira. In 1896, fire broke out in Dubai, a disastrous occurrence in a town where many family homes were still constructed from barasti – palm fronds. The conflagration consumed half the houses of Bur Dubai, while the district of Deira was said to have been totally destroyed. The following year more fires broke out. A female slave was caught in the act of starting one such blaze and was subsequently put to death.

In 1901, Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum established Dubai as a free port with no taxation on imports or exports and also gave merchants parcels of land and guarantees of protection and tolerance. These policies saw a movement of merchants not only directly from Lingeh, but also those who had settled in Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah (which had historical links with Lingeh through the Al Qawasim tribe) to Dubai. An indicator of the growing importance of the port of Dubai can be gained from the movements of the steamer of the Bombay and Persia Steam Navigation Company, which from 1899 to 1901 paid five visits annually to Dubai. In 1902 the company's vessels made 21 visits to Dubai and from 1904 on, the steamers called fortnightly – in 1906, trading 70,000 tonnes of cargo. The frequency of these vessels only helped to accelerate Dubai's role as an emerging port and trading hub of preference. Lorimer notes the transfer from Lingeh "bids fair to become complete and permanent", and also that the town had by 1906 supplanted Lingeh as the chief entrepôt of the Trucial States. The "great storm" of 1908 struck the pearling boats of Dubai and the coastal emirates towards the end of the pearling season that year, resulting in the loss of a dozen boats and over 100 men. The disaster was a major setback for Dubai, with many families losing their breadwinner and merchants facing financial ruin. These losses came at a time when the tribes of the interior were also experiencing poverty. In a letter to the Sultan of Muscat in 1911, Butti laments, "Misery and poverty are raging among them, with the result that they are struggling, looting and killing among themselves." In 1910, in the Hyacinth incident the town was bombarded by HMS Hyacinth, with 37 people killed.

Dubai's geographical proximity to Iran made it an important trade location. The town of Dubai was an important port of call for foreign tradesmen, chiefly those from Iran, many of whom eventually settled in the town. By the beginning of the 20th century, it was an important port. At that time, Dubai consisted of the town of Dubai and the nearby village of Jumeirah, a collection of some 45 areesh (palm leaf) huts. By the 1920s, many Iranians settled in Dubai permanently, moving across the Persian Gulf. By then, amenities in the town grew and a modern quarter was established, Al Bastakiya. Dubai was known for its pearl exports until the 1930s; the pearl trade was damaged irreparably by the 1929 Great Depression and the innovation of cultured pearls. With the collapse of the pearling industry, Dubai fell into a deep depression and many residents lived in poverty or migrated to other parts of the Persian Gulf. In 1937 an oil exploration contract was signed which guaranteed royalty rights for Dubai and concessionary payments to Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum. However, due to World War II, oil would not be struck until 1966. In the early days since its inception, Dubai was constantly at odds with Abu Dhabi. In 1947, a border dispute between Dubai and Abu Dhabi on the northern sector of their mutual border escalated into war. Arbitration by the British government resulted in a cessation of hostilities.

Despite a lack of oil, Dubai's ruler from 1958, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, used revenue from trading activities to build infrastructure. Private companies were established to build and operate infrastructure, including electricity, telephone services and both the ports and airport operators. An airport of sorts (a runway built on salt flats) was established in Dubai in the 1950s and, in 1959, the emirate's first hotel, the Airlines Hotel, was constructed. This was followed by the Ambassador and Carlton Hotels in 1968. Sheikh Rashid commissioned John Harris from Halcrow, a British architecture firm, to create the city's first master plan in 1959. Harris imagined a Dubai that would rise from the historic centre on Dubai Creek, with an extensive road system, organised zones, and a town centre, all of which could feasibly be built with the limited financial resources at the time. 1959 saw the establishment of Dubai's first telephone company, 51% owned by IAL (International Aeradio Ltd) and 49% by Sheikh Rashid and local businessmen and in 1961 both the electricity company and telephone company had rolled out operational networks. The water company (Sheikh Rashid was chairman and majority shareholder) constructed a pipeline from wells at Awir and a series of storage tanks and, by 1968, Dubai had a reliable supply of piped water. On 7 April 1961, the Dubai-based MV Dara, a five thousand ton British flagged vessel that plied the route between Basra (Iraq), Kuwait and Bombay (India), was caught in unusually high winds off Dubai. Early the next morning in heavy seas off Umm al-Quwain, an explosion tore out the second class cabins and started fires. The captain gave the order to abandon ship but two lifeboats capsized and a second explosion occurred. A flotilla of small boats from Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman and Umm al-Quwain picked up survivors, but 238 of the 819 persons on board were lost in the disaster.

The construction of Dubai's first airport was started on the Northern edge of the town in 1959 and the terminal building opened for business in September 1960. The airport was initially serviced by Gulf Aviation (flying Dakotas, Herons and Viscounts) but Iran Air commenced services to Shiraz in 1961. In 1962 the British Political Agent noted that "Many new houses and blocks of offices and flats are being built... the Ruler is determined, against advice [from the British authorities] to press on with the construction of a jet airport... More and more European and Arab firms are opening up and the future looks bright." In 1962, with expenditure on infrastructure projects already approaching levels some thought imprudent, Sheikh Rashid approached his brother-in-law, the Ruler of Qatar, for a loan to build the first bridge crossing Dubai's creek. This crossing was finished in May 1963 and was paid for by a toll levied on the crossing from the Dubai side of the creek to the Deira side. BOAC was originally reluctant to start regular flights between Bombay and Dubai, fearing a lack of demand for seats. However, by the time the asphalt runway of Dubai Airport was constructed in 1965, opening Dubai to both regional and long haul traffic, a number of foreign airlines were competing for landing rights. In 1970 a new airport terminal building was constructed which included Dubai's first duty-free shops. Throughout the 1960s Dubai was the centre of a lively gold trade, with 1968 imports of gold at some £56 million. This gold was, in the vast majority, re-exported – mainly to customers who took delivery in international waters off India. The import of gold to India had been banned and so the trade was characterised as smuggling, although Dubai's merchants were quick to point out that they were making legal deliveries of gold and that it was up to the customer where they took it.

In 1966, more gold was shipped from London to Dubai than almost anywhere else in the world (only France and Switzerland took more), at 4 million ounces. Dubai also took delivery of over $15 million-worth of watches and over 5 million ounces of silver. The 1967 price of gold was $35 an ounce but its market price in India was $68 an ounce – a healthy markup. Estimates at the time put the volume of gold imports from Dubai to India at around 75% of the total market. After years of exploration following large finds in neighbouring Abu Dhabi, oil was eventually discovered in territorial waters off Dubai in 1966, albeit in far smaller quantities. The first field was named "Fateh" or "good fortune". This led to an acceleration of Sheikh Rashid's infrastructure development plans and a construction boom that brought a massive influx of foreign workers, mainly Asians and Middle easterners. Between 1968 and 1975 the city's population grew by over 300%. As part of the infrastructure for pumping and transporting oil from the Fateh field, located offshore of the Jebel Ali area of Dubai, two 500,000 gallon storage tanks were built, known locally as 2Kazzans2, by welding them together on the beach and then digging them out and floating them to drop onto the seabed at the Fateh field. These were constructed by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company, which gave the beach its local name (Chicago Beach), which was transferred to the Chicago Beach Hotel, which was demolished and replaced by the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in the late 1990s. The Kazzans were an innovative oil storage solution which meant supertankers could moor offshore even in bad weather and avoided the need to pipe oil onshore from Fateh, which is some 60 miles out to sea.

The principle of union was first agreed upon between the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and Sheikh Rashid of Dubai on 18 February 1968 meeting in an encampment at Argoub Al Sedirah, near Al Semeih, a desert stop between the two emirates.[56] The two agreed to work towards bringing the other emirates, including Qatar and Bahrain, into the union. Over the next two years, negotiations and meetings of the rulers followed -often stormy- as a form of union was thrashed out. The nine-state union was never to recover from the October 1969 meeting where British intervention against aggressive activities by two of the Emirates resulted in a walk-out by them, Bahrain and Qatar. They dropped out of talks, leaving six of the seven "trucial" emirates to agree on union on 18 July 1971. On 2 December 1971, Dubai, together with Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain and Fujairah joined in the Act of Union to form the United Arab Emirates. The seventh emirate, Ras Al Khaimah, joined the UAE on 10 February 1972, following Iran's annexation of the RAK-claimed Tunbs islands. In 1973, Dubai joined the other emirates to adopt a uniform currency: the UAE dirham. In that same year, the prior monetary union with Qatar was dissolved and the UAE Dirham was introduced throughout the Emirates. During the 1970s, Dubai continued to grow from revenues generated from oil and trade, even as the city saw an influx of immigrants fleeing the Lebanese civil war. Border disputes between the emirates continued even after the formation of the UAE; it was only in 1979 that a formal compromise was reached that ended disagreements. The Jebel Ali port, a deep-water port that allowed larger ships to dock, was established in 1979. The port was not initially a success, so Sheikh Mohammed established the JAFZA (Jebel Ali Free Zone) around the port in 1985 to provide foreign companies unrestricted import of labour and export capital. Dubai airport and the aviation industry also continued to grow.

The Gulf War in early 1991 had a negative financial effect on the city, as depositors withdrew their money and traders withdrew their trade, but subsequently, the city recovered in a changing political climate and thrived. Later in the 1990s, many foreign trading communities—first from Kuwait, during the Gulf War, and later from Bahrain, during the Shia unrest—moved their businesses to Dubai. Dubai provided refuelling bases to allied forces at the Jebel Ali Free Zone during the Gulf War, and again during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Large increases in oil prices after the Gulf War encouraged Dubai to continue to focus on free trade and tourism.


Travel to Dubai

*taken from Lonely Planet*

Dubai is a stirring alchemy of profound traditions and ambitious futuristic vision wrapped into starkly evocative desert splendor.


Must See Sites

Burj Al Arab; The Burj Al Arab's graceful silhouette - meant to evoke the sail of a dhow (a traditional wooden cargo vessel) - is to Dubai what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Completed in 1999, this iconic landmark hotel sits on an artificial island and comes with its own helipad and a fleet of chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce limousines. Beyond the striking lobby, with its gold-leaf opulence and attention-grabbing fountain, lie 202 suites with more trimmings than a Christmas turkey. The Burj Al Arab is worth visiting if only to gawk at an interior that's every bit as garish as the exterior is gorgeous. The mood is set in the 590-foot-high lobby, which is decorated in a red, blue, and green color scheme and accented with pillars draped in gold leaf. The lobby atrium is tall enough to fit the Statue of Liberty within it. If you're not checking into the Burj Al Arab, you need to make a reservation for cocktails, afternoon tea, or a meal to get past security.

Burj Khalifa; The Burj Khalifa is a stunning feat of architecture and engineering, with two observation decks on the 124th and 148th floors and a restaurant-bar on the 122nd. The world's tallest building pierces the sky at 2715ft and opened in January 2010, six years after excavations began. Up to 13,000 workers toiled day and night, putting up a new floor in as little as three days.

Madinat Jumeirah; One of Dubai's most attractive developments, Madinat Jumeirah is a contemporary interpretation of a traditional Arab village, complete with a souq (market), palm-fringed waterways and desert colored hotels and villas festooned with wind-towers. It's especially enchanting at night when the gardens are romantically lit and the Burj Al Arab gleams in the background. There are exquisite details throughout, so if you see some stairs, take them - they might lead you to a hidden terrace with a mesmerising vista of the sprawling complex.

Gold Souq; All that glitters is gold (and occasionally silver) along this covered arcade where dozens of shops overflow with every kind of jewelry imaginable, from delicate pearl earrings to lavish golden wedding necklaces. Simply watching the goings on is a treat. Settle down on a bench and take in the lively street theater of hard-working Afghan men dragging heavy carts of goods, African women in colorful kaftans, and local women out on a shopping spree. The best time to visit is in the bustling evenings. Mornings are busy with tour groups and the afternoons are sleepy.

Kite Beach; This long, pristine stretch of white sand, a little way north of Jumeirah Public Beach, is a major draw for sporty types, with a range of activities on offer, including kitesurfing, beach tennis, beach volleyball, and kayaking. There's also a jogging track and a shaded skatepark nearby. The sand here is super clean and there are showers, wi-fi, toilets, and changing facilities, plus lots of food trucks and cafes. The beach boasts views of the Burj Al Arab, one of Dubai's prime landmarks. it gets very busy on Friday and Saturday when a seaside market with grafts and gifts sets up.

IMG Worlds of Adventure; Housed in an air-conditioned hangar the size of 28 football fields, IMG Worlds of Adventure is the world's largest indoor theme park. The US$1 billion park is truly impressive, with more than 20 rides and attractions split across four themed zones - Marvel, Cartoon Network, Lost Valley Dinosaur Adventure and IMG Boulevard - and 28 dining outlets. Food is prepared on-site and the quality is surprisingly high, with some healthy options.

Dubai Museum; The city's main historical museum charts Dubai's turbo-evolution from fishing and pearling village to global centre of commerce, finance, and tourism. It has an atmospheric setting in the compact Al Fahidi Fort, built around 1800 and considered Dubai's oldest remaining structure. A walk-through mock souq, exhibits on Bedouin life in the desert and a room highlighting the importance of the sea illustrate the days before the discovery of oil. The last room showcases archaeological findings from nearby excavation sites.

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding; Anyone keen on delving deeper into Emirati culture and history should take advantage of the activities, Emirati meals and tours offered through this non-profit centre, based in the edge of Al Fahidi Historic District. Guided by the motto 'Open Doors, Open Minds', this unique institution was founded in 1995 by Dubai's current ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, to build bridges between cultures and to help visitors and expats understand the traditions and customs of the UAE.


Must Try Food & Drinks

Jibneh Arabieh; Jibneh Arabieh is a semi-hard cheese made from cow's milk, although it has originally been made from goat's or sheep's milk. It has origins in Israel and the Middle East. The cheese has a firm, open texture, and its flavor is very mild. It can be consumed on its own or paired with various vegetables and pickled olives. Jibneh Arabieh is also often fried in the pan, when it is usually combined with a few eggs.

Khanfaroosh; Khanfaroosh is a deep-fried dessert similar to doughnuts popular in Gulf countries, namely Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the Emirates. It’s made with wheat flour, rice flour, eggs, sugar baking powder, saffron, cardamom, and rosewater. These soft and spongy cakes are typically paired with tea and coffee.

Arabic Coffee; Made by brewing Arabica coffee beans, Arabic coffee is a traditional beverage with Middle Eastern origins. It has played a pivotal role in Arabian social life since the 15th century. The beverage is characterized by its dark color and a uniquely strong and bitter flavor and odor. Although it is usually served plain, without sugar, cardamom is often added to provide the coffee with a somewhat lighter taste. For the Arabs, Arabic coffee represents a symbol of generosity, pride, and hospitality, and is traditionally served during Ramadan, but also at weddings, holidays, and funerals. Arabic coffee is considered a digestif and is typically served in the morning after a meal, in a small cup called finjan, often accompanied by sweet dates which complement its bitterness.

Lokma; This internationally known, decadent, and sugar-packed dessert is usually made with a mixture of flour, sugar, yeast, and salt, which is deep-fried and then bathed in syrup or honey. The origin of lokma fritters is ancient but often debated. It is presumed that they first appeared in Greece or Turkey, though some suggest Arabic origin. The dish is considered to be one of the oldest recorded desserts in Greek history. It is said that the pastries were even given to winning Olympians as a treat and were called honey tokens. Loukoumades, or loukmades in Cyprus, can be found throughout the streets of Greece, in shops selling nothing else but this caloric dessert. Alternatively, loukoumades can be topped with Greek cheese, chocolate, sesame seeds, or walnuts. In Turkey, lokma fritters are best enjoyed while still warm. They are drizzled with honey or syrup and can occasionally be sprinkled with either ground cinnamon, walnuts, or pistachios. The name probably stems from from Arabic luqma, meaning bite or mouthful, and it is said that lokmas were first prepared in Turkey by the sultans' cooks in palaces of the Ottoman Empire, though the oldest documentation of a similar dish was even found in the tomb of Ramses IV. In some Middle Eastern and Levant countries, this dessert is known as luqaimat or luqmat al-qadi, which roughly translates as judge's mouthful. The deep-fried balls are usually covered with date syrup, honey, or flavored syrups, while some prefer them sprinkled with various seeds. They are also often flavored with saffron or cardamom. The dessert is traditionally made in the month of Ramadan, and consumed after iftar, or breaking the fast. The dish is also found in some African countries, where it appears under various names.

Saloona; Saloona or salona is a classic Arabian stew that is usually enjoyed as an everyday, home cooked meal. The most common variety is prepared with chicken (dejaj), but vegetables, other types of meat such as beef or lamb, and fish can also be used as the main ingredient. Although it is quite versatile, saloona usually combines generously-seasoned, tomato-based broth with sautéed onions, garlic, ginger, vegetables, and the optional choice of the main ingredient. This hearty dish is believed to have Bedouin origins, and it is often prepared during the month of Ramadan. It is usually accompanied by rice or bread.

Balaleet; The sweet and savory balaleet is a breakfast dish that can be found in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. It is typically made with vermicelli, eggs, cardamom, saffron, butter, and water, but it can also include rosewater, nuts, dried fruits, and honey. The aromatic mixture is topped with an omelet and served hot or cold, usually for breakfast. During the month of Ramadan, however, it is also served for dinner.

Kabsa; Kabsa is a rice dish that is enjoyed throughout the Gulf States of the Arabian Peninsula. Heavily influenced by Persian and Indian biryanis, kabsa makes use of the water that was used for cooking fish or meat and re-using it to cook the spiced, long-grain rice in it, perfectly blending all the flavors and spices. The dish can be made with chicken, lamb, camel meat, fish, or even shrimps, truffles, or duck meat. The meat or fish is usually placed on top of the rice, and the whole dish is served on a large platter, meant to be shared and eaten by hands. Although it originated in Yemen, this traditional combination of rice and meat is incredibly popular in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where it is considered a national dish. Across the Arabian Peninsula, kabsa is also known as machboos.


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