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Then and now

posted on 02/12/2006: 1786 views

The UAE's skyline is changing at an incredible pace. The iconic Burj Al Arab in Dubai, the business hub of the Middle East, is already becoming a little dated. Now Burj Dubai's 80 floors tower over everything in sight. In two years, the "world's tallest tower" will have reached double its current height.

Dubai street maps are out of date by the time they are printed as builders shape new districts and communities extend as far away as Jebel Ali, an area that has been subsumed by Dubai's growth and termed 'New Dubai'.

Several years ago, a UAE national or a long-term expatriate might have remarked that things were different 30 years ago, when life moved at a much more slower pace. Today, they joke that by the time they come back from vacation, they find they have new neighbours on the spot that was an empty lot when they left.

But the pace of change and the rush towards progress and development have been tempered by the fact that people from this region do not forget where they came from.

An editor of a European radio station remarked after his visit to Abu Dhabi that the "blend between modernity and ancient heritage has been done so ingeniously that modernity does not overshadow the ancient and indigenous heritage. Modern lifestyle is also pursued, but not at the expense of historical realities. Not many cities in the world have succeeded in striking such a delicate balance."

This balance is also evident in the way UAE nationals dress. They continue to wear the traditional gleaming-white, ankle-length robes called kandoora, which is their symbol of national pride and identity.

"Only rarely will a UAE national appear in Western dress within the Emirates,' says a government website, describing the local


But on the other hand, international fashion has influenced, to some extent, the traditional wear of women. You now see abayas in all sorts of chic cuts and designs, with glittering embellishments and beautiful borders.

It's hard to believe that little more than a generation ago Dubai and the other emirates were sleepy fishing villages.

Through the years

A step back in time and it is 1820, the year a peace treaty is signed between six sheikhs (except Fujairah) and the British government. The aim of the treaty is to stop piracy along the Gulf Coast, which was known then as the Trucial Coast.

Later, in 1952, the Trucial Council is formed between the seven emirates, to forge cooperation.

In 1966, Sheikh Zayed becomes the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and two years later, something happens that makes the formation of a federation a reality - London's announcement of a plan to withdraw all British forces from the Gulf by 1971.

It is the same year that the Federation takes shape. Six emirates join in the endeavour. The emirate of Ras Al Khaimah joins a year later. Sheikh Zayed is elected President and Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum becomes vice president.

The Federation aims to achieve four main objectives: build an educated society; solve regional issues by peaceful means, strengthen ties between Arab countries; and actively participate in international forums and organisations. The UAE then joins the Arab League.

A year later His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasmi becomes Ruler of Sharjah and two years later His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Sharqi becomes ruler of Fujairah.

In 1981 the UAE joins the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and in the same year His Highness Sheikh Rashid Bin Ahmad Al Mualla becomes Ruler of Umm Al Qaiwain and His Highness Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al Nuami becomes Ruler of Ajman.

Something big also happens in the same year: a $700 million (Dh 2.6 billion) project is initiated to develop an oil field on the island of Delma, near Abu Dhabi, which turns out to be one of the world's largest oil fields.

In 1996, the Supreme Council names Abu Dhabi the federal capital.


Back to the present - a time when the UAE thrives on challenges and rejoices in superlatives, as one editor of a major North American newspaper put it. "The Guinness Book of Records is on permanent stand-by to record them," he says.

How the UAE mixes modernity with tradition is best reflected on the Dubai Creek, where the futuristic glass-and-steel buildings overlook the traditional wheels of commerce - old-fashioned dhows that ferry goods between the UAE and its neighbours. (Gulf News)


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