When you think about the United Arab Emirates (UAE), what pops to mind? Is it the glamour of Dubai? Burj Al Khalifa – the world’s tallest building? A top oil producing country? All of these usually come to mind but after taking a 6 week course on UAE and as I am about to embark on a 1 week journey with 30 classmates to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I am excited to expand my vocabulary on what exactly is the UAE – especially regarding the people, the governmental intricacies, the secret to their rapid rise, what the future has in store. Let’s begin.
The United Arab Emirates is comprised of 7 emirates, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the two largest in terms of population (~70%) and economic output. These two also hold the presidency (Abu Dhabi) and the vice-presidency (Dubai). The country is amazingly new – only 44 years old since their inception in December 1971. As for the population, this is actually a really interesting point as knowing the exact population is incredibly tricky; the official number is anywhere between 5.7 – 9.6M due to the ex-pats who move in and out of the country.
Now we got the hard facts covered, here’s a quick story of the UAE: Not too long ago, the emirates was but an empty, though beautiful, desert inhabited by nomadic tribes with sprinkles of population around fertile oases. Then the economy grew due to pearl diving and at one point in history, really dominated the global pearl market, enough to sprout growth in settlements such as Abu Dhabi. However, the pearl industry collapsed with the invention of synthetic pearls and the emirates again felt dormant in international recognition.
Today, Dubai shines the extravagance of UAE whereas Abu Dhabi gleams the culture and art of the UAE. The discovery of oil really fueled (pun most definitely intended) the growth of UAE to what we know today – the newest architecture styles, artificial islands shaped as the world’s continents, and even an indoor ski resort…in the middle of the desert! However, the news right now evolving around oil prices also show the dangers of depending too much on oil.
However, is this perhaps a blessing in disguise? Though the government has tried hard to diversify its industry to logistics, tourism, finance, etc. there is still a certain social stigma of working in anything other than oil. Now perhaps this current oil issue can really help move the population to learn from the lessons of depending too much on one resource (think pearls) and move the country on a path for sustainability. What an exciting time to be traveling to the UAE! Now to overcome this 12 hour flight…
-Corey Lian ’16