The United Arab Emirates
Compared to other places in the Arab World, the emirates does not enjoy a long, or particularly deep history. As in Qatar people only went there out of a lack of better places to go. One can think of it as, basically, a series of fishing village and oasis. As the musuem in Dubai demonstrates, the typical village of 400 years ago doesn't much differ from those of the pre-oil era 50 years ago. The Emirates, then, held most of the values, better or worse of the local bedouin. Each emir jealously guarded his own independence. Physically, the coastal forts asserted this independence, and each ruler lived and worked in his own fort. Two rival families, however, ruled the most important emirates, one in Sharjah and the other in Dubai and Abu Dubai. The arrival of, first, the British, and then, oil, dramatically changed this. The British came to try stamp out the local pirates. They treated all of the local rulers as part of one "nation." When they left, their new entity, "The United Arab Emirates," seemed unlikely to surive. Surprizingly, the Emiratis adjusted to the new reality of oil and their independence in an adept way. The oil did not distribute evenly. Abu Dubai, especially, ended up enormously rich in oil and, later, natural gas. Dubai, alreadly developing in a totally different direction, benefitted from its own oil stocks. Sharjah also found some oil. The other four emirates, however, developed as cargo ports and through the sharing of the richer emirates. In effect, Dubai and Abu Dubai emerged as the rulers of a stable country by spreading around their wealth. While the system of the emirati "democracy" might not work anywhere else (though Malaysia has something not too dissimilar), it does deserve attention because it works.
The most amazing thing about Dubai is its location in the Middle East. It functions as a free port in which most anything goes. The city actually goes out of its way to accomodate guests and take their money. Those guests come from all over. From the East, they come to trade. From Europe they come for the climate. From Africa, they come to bargain, and from India and Pakistan, they come to work. I made Dubai my departure point for a number of reasons. Partly, it offers an easy transportation hub. Second, it offers a room to fit almost any budget. Third, it has the best nightlife by far. Thus, I begin and end my tour at Dubai.
Ras is small and "quaint." It's further up on the west coast. When I read the advertisement for its musuem, I had the feeling that the museum was the emirate's prize possession other than its fishing fleet.
Abu Dubai almost defines the term "oil state." It appears visibly in the ultra-modern real estate. In a more subtle way, it shows in the fact that no one going to Abu Dubai on the bus with me wore anything other than business clothes. Abu Dubai presents an almost clinical prettiness. Perhaps if I'd stayed there longer, I would have found the charm of the city. As it was, I found myself thinking of the Emerald City, Oz. It went back to the woods that spawned me.
Normally you can visit the palace and tour. I came on the wrong day. "Come back tomorrow," the guard said. "There is no tomorrow for me here," I replied.
Abu Dubai owns the oasis (as it owns the majority of the Emirates proper). Still, Al-Ain has its own culture and sites particular to, well, an oasis and its own history. Actually, Oman owns the other side of the oasis.
Fujairah lies to the east and somewhat in the mountains, away from the emirates. At various points in its history it enjoyed a lucrative trade with Iran.
Sharjah led the confederation that rivaled that of Dubai, Abu Dubai, and jealously guarded its independence even after the discovery of oil. Eventually, Sharjah found some of its own oil. Sharjah, in many ways, has the most diversied identity. It has oil, like Abu Dubai. It has a lot of port activity, like Dubai. Yet, it also houses the Emirate's University, at Sharjah. It retains more of an "Arab flavor" than Dubai simply because Arabs form a higher percentage of its current population.
One of the smallest of the Emirates, Ajman almost seems a satellite of Sharjah while Sharjah is a satellite of Dubai. How many, I wonder, visit this small emirate.
Back to Virtual Tours
Back to Fruit Home