Don’t Stop Me Now

The UAE's 40th Anniversary

An inimitable social and economic story reached its 40th year in December 2011, as the UAE celebrated its anniversary with lavish festivity. The groundwork is now being laid for the next 40 years.

The successor to the Trucial States Council that had been set up under the British protectorate system to coordinate investments from growing oil wealth, the UAE was formed after negotiations prompted by the British announcement of the end of its protectorate system. Dubai, which had already become a significant port under the British, thus joined Abu Dhabi, which had already begun pumping oil in the early 1960s, to convince the other sheikhdoms to join. While six agreed to unification on December 2, 1971, the seventh, Ras al-Khaimah, joined in 1972.

The following boom, propelled by significant investment in its historic trade vocation, is credited to the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Between 1973 and 1980, increasing oil revenues were pumped into large-scale cluster developments in Dubai, including the World Trade Center, an extension of Port Rashid, and the Dubai Dry Docks. The Jebel Ali Port and Industrial Area, however, stands as the most significant economic development in Dubai’s history, evolving into the Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) in 1985. With a combined investment of $2.3 billion, Dubai thus filled a gap in transshipment infrastructure that followed an explosion in imports into the GCC region caused by increasing oil revenues.

Today then, under HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai, with significantly less carbon resources than Abu Dhabi, continues as a transshipment hub as well as an expatriate haven. Emiratis form a minority of Dubai’s population, and the overall UAE, as a legacy of the drive to attract foreign skills to best exploit the nation’s resources. In a progressive move, however, and in celebration of the UAE’s 40th anniversary, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, granted the children of Emirati women married to foreigners the right to apply for citizenship. In another gesture, he also ordered pay raises of up to 45% for all federal government employees.

The celebration itself embodied the history of the Emirates, under the “Spirit of the Union” slogan, and was a weeks’ long culmination of national pride and festivity. With much to celebrate, Dubai now looks to carry its economy forward on the same growth arc, opening Dubai Maritime City, the latest addition to its maritime trade infrastructure portfolio between Port Rashid and Dubai Dry Docks. Equally, Jafza retains its significance today, with construction also underway to develop the South Zone. The zone already hosts 6,700 global companies, and contributes 20% to Dubai’s GDP. Jafza is also now home to Al Maktoum International Airport, which began cargo operations in 2010, to be followed later by passenger operations. Complementing Dubai International Airport, the hub is planned to become the largest airport in the world by freight handled, processing up to 12 million tons per year. The celebrations, then, were a keen reminder of the origins of the city, and the Emirates at large, and poignant at a time when Dubai seeks to boost its traditional role as trade hub.