Dubai in United Arab Emirates
Dubai today is flashy, fun and slightly surreal. Renowned for its sand, sun and shopping, it was once a tranquil town of coral-and-gypsum courtyard houses built by Persian traders and palm-frond huts housing Bedouin fisherman and pearl divers. Today shiny new skyscrapers reflect the mosques and wind towers of Old Dubai. Read more...
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Dubai today is flashy, fun and slightly surreal. Renowned for its sand, sun and shopping, it was once a tranquil town of coral-and-gypsum courtyard houses built by Persian traders and palm-frond huts housing Bedouin fisherman and pearl divers. Today shiny new skyscrapers reflect the mosques and wind towers of Old Dubai.
Dubai International Airport (DXB) is the busiest airport in the Middle East. The national carrier is Emirates, which flies to more than 80 destinations in the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Africa and the Indian subcontinent. For all the talk of free markets, air fares out of the UAE are just as strictly regulated as anywhere else; there are no bucket shops. Dubai International Airport has no separate airport departure tax; it's included in the price of your ticket.
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Like all major metros experiencing rapid growth, Dubai has its share of problems, which can be easily avoided should you follow common sense.
While petty crime is hardly reported and mentioned in the news, keep an eye on your wallet or purse when in crowded areas like Naser Square or Deira. Also don't leave your engine running and vehicle unattended when picking up takeaways or a quick supermarket run as criminal gangs have been known to drive your vehicle away and have it stripped in no time.
Con-men are ever present in Dubai, especially the Nigeria 419 scammers. Do not arrange meetings or entertain their requests, nor give any personal details. Should they not comply, the police will be happy to listen to them and their propositions.
Eating or drinking publicly during daylight hours is an offence during Ramadan except in hotels and private beach areas.
Drivers are not always as fond of the road rules in Dubai as in other cities or countries. Particularly during the morning and afternoon rush-hours, taking a taxi, bus or abra is often a better bet than crossing busy roads, as even pedestrian crossings are not always observed.
Gay and lesbian travelers should be particularly careful, as the official penalty for homosexual acts in the United Arab Emirates is death. The level to which this law is enforced is not well known.
Dubai is said to be one of the safest cities in the world.
Although little is known about the ancient history of this area, archaeological finds suggest that humans have been living here since at least 3000 BC. Other evidence links the peoples of what are now the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman to the mysterious Bronze Age Magan civilization. Magan ships sailed to Babylonia, Mesopotamia and beyond, trading copper from Oman and pearls from the mouth of Dubai Creek with the heavyweights of the Bronze Age economy. The Magan civilization waned around 2000 BC, but Dubai's instinct for trade remained.
Excavations at Jumeirah, just south of Dubai, recently unearthed a 6th-century caravan station, proving that the area's population was still keeping the trade routes well oiled during this period. Around this same time, the Sassanids, a Persian dynasty who had inhabited the mouth of Dubai Creek since 224, were driven out by the Umayyads, who came to stay and brought Islam with them.
Exploiting their prime location between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean, the new inhabitants, working with the old, began re-establishing old trade routes and spreading the word of Allah, all the while making folks fantastic deals for the lowest everyday prices in the Gulf. As trade began to match pearl diving's importance to the local economy, merchant dhows sailed as far as China, returning with silk and porcelain for Middle Eastern and European markets. This maritime madness reached its peak between 750 and 1258.
Soon everyone wanted a piece of the Gulf's action. By the late 16th century the Portuguese were attempting to control local trade. Their success was such that many coastal settlements were practically abandoned, and the tribes took refuge in oases far from the coast. The British finally gained control of the region's waterways in 1766. Dubai was caught between local power struggles and Europe's imperial dreams, but somehow turned this bad situation to its advantage, expanding its pearl trade through every channel.
In 1833 a neighbouring tribal power, the Bani Yas, decided that Dubai would be its new turf. Eight hundred Bani Yas moved into the Bur Dubai area under the leadership of Maktoum bin Butti, founder of the Al-Maktoum dynasty that still rules the emirate today.
The region's two economic epicentres, neighbouring Sharjah and Lingah in modern-day Iran, were already losing business to bustling Dubai. Sheikh Maktoum decided to capitalise on the opportunity. In 1892 he signed an exclusive business deal with the British and in 1894 permitted a full tax exemption for foreign traders. Persian merchants were the first group of expats to take advantage of the deal, but traders the world over were on the way.
In 1903, when the sheikh convinced a major British steamship line to make Dubai a port of call, a 25-year boom began. The Great Depression, compounded by the emergence of artificial pearls in 1929, cast a dark cloud over Dubai's newfound prosperity. Young Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum, convinced that the pearl trade was dead, decided that this cloud had a 24-karat lining. Dubai wasn't duty-free for nothing. Soon, the re-export business, whereby goods were cheaply imported into a duty-free port and immediately exported to another market, exploded. After Dubai Creek was dredged in 1963, allowing almost any boat safe harbour, gold smuggling took off like a rocket.
Dubai's lucky streak had only just begun. In 1966, oil was discovered and the economy kicked into overdrive. The British had already decided to pack up the empire and head home, and in 1971, Dubai became the seventh emirate of the newly formed UAE. Sheikh Rashid agreed to a formula that gave the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai the most weight in the federation, and made sure that Dubai would continue living life in the fast lane. Border disputes and friction about the integration of the Emirates led to some tension, but in 1979, Sheikh Rashid and Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi sealed a compromise; in effect, Dubai would remain a bastion of free trade while Abu Dhabi imposed a tighter federal structure on the rest of the Emirates.
When Sheikh Rashid, the architect of Dubai's success and unrivalled financial freedom, died in 1990, his son Sheikh Maktoum took the reins of power. The core of Maktoum's policies were economic freedom and the no-holds-barred promotion of Dubai, the public face of which was his brother Sheikh Mohammed, who took over after Sheikh Maktoum's death in 2006.
World-class tennis tournaments, boat and horse races, desert rallies and one of the largest air shows in the world attract millions of visitors to the city. Other high-profile events, such as the Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises, bring hordes of tourists into town. With oil revenues now only for only 6% of Dubai's income, post-petroleum Dubai is going to be in good shape.
The story of Dubai reads like a rags-to-riches tale, and indeed, it is hard to imagine anywhere else in the world that has developed at such a pace, in such a short time, for so many different people.