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History of Dubai

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.

Recent History 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.

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