Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

HAPPY BIRTHDAY UAE . . . A Proud Nation on the Move

Forty years ago, on December 2, 1971, six tribal leaders gathered in Dubai. Surrounded by throngs of their people they pledged their allegiance to a new country. A seventh leader would join the allegiance a short time later.

Faced with the prospect of the loss of British protection, these brave men banded together and set a new course for their small bit of ancestral land on the southeaster side of the Arabian peninsula. Reaching from the Arabian Gulf coast encompassing parts of the vast Empty Quarter desert, over the rugged Hajar Mountains and ending on the Oman Gulf coast, this small seemingly insignificant piece of land became the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  At that time, their only resources were sand, dates, camels and a proud heritage.

I wonder if they guessed what an amazing future they were going to have.

Celebration photos courtesy of The National web site
Today, Flags are flying, cars and homes are decorated. There are parades, sword-throwing contests, camel festivals, dhow sailing races, polo and horse races, marathons, and entertainment events happening all across the seven Emirates.

Songs and videos celebrating the 40th anniversary are seen on TV and are being posted on You Tube. Firework displays are bursting every night!

Congratulations to the United Arab Emirates on their 40th year as a united nation!

What an amazing feat for a people who, a very short period of time ago, were disparate nomadic desert tribes.

Forty-years ago this country was known as the Trucial States and was a British protectorate  whose future looked bleak.

It once had a thriving pearl industry but that dissipated with the introduction of Japanese cultural pearls. By the 1950s it was mired in poverty and old traditions, inhabited by nomads roaming the desert or living in mud houses in small villages, had no medical facilities, no electricity, no running water, no road system, or infrastructure. It was the poor relation of its oil rich relatives. Today it is a leader among nations.

As with the birth of many countries, the arduous task of forging a new country takes exceptional leadership and in the UAE that leadership came from Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

As Emir of Abu Dhabi, it was he who sought the alliance of the other six tribal leaders to form the UAE. The brotherly consideration he always showed to all the tribes convinced the leaders to “forget old feuds for the sake of the new country.”

The Sheikhs of Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujariah, Umm Al Quwaim and Ras A Khaimah, through tribal consensus, elected Sheikh Zayed as the country’s first President. And even with his elevated and prestigious status, Sheik Zayed remained close and approachable to his people who loved and admired him for his leadership, humility, compassion and generosity.

Everything I have read and hear about Sheik Zayed paints a picture of a humble man endowed with a strong will and possessing remarkable leadership skills. While his lands of Abu Dhabi comprise 85% of the country, his love and generosity for his brother Emirs enabled this country to be born and become the highly respected Arab country it is today.

And as Sheik Zayed wished, the next generation of leaders is carrying on his vision and continues to develop the UAE people into a well educated, prosperous country while holding onto their traditional Islamic values.

Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Nahyan
Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Nahyan, son of Sheikh Zayed and current President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, current Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, along with the other five Sheikhs that make up the Supreme Council, all embrace Zayed’s vision and values and continue today to make them a reality.

Sheikh Mohammed
Bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Roger and I have enjoyed our almost two years here. The amazing mixture of people from all over the world, the amazing sites, think Grand Mosque, Liwa, Falcons in Ras Al Khaimah, Antique Car Museum and unique experiences, think bull-butting, Ramadan, Lucky’s in Sharjah, Fish souq ,  Jumeriah Mosque all have made our stay in the UAE an interesting and rewarding episode in our lives.

And, I have 20 more experiences on the must-see list! We just love this country!

As I researched for this blog and pulled together the story I was astounded at every corner. To think what they have achieved in 40 years is just one amazing feat. But then the Emiratis pride themselves on accomplishing amazing feats - Inshallah - think Burj Arab, Burj Khalifa, Palm Jumeriah just to name a few.

Want a history lesson?

Here are some interesting facts about the development of UAE into the country it is today. In the short span of 40 years – “less than a lifetime” – their accomplishments rival any country in the world. Their progress is a great study in contrasts . . .

. . . from seven disparate tribes to a unified nation working together to better their communities.

2007 the first election of the Federal National Council was held with 6,500 Emiratis eligible to vote. In the 2011 elections, 130,000 Emiratis were eligible to vote.

“ … a road map to the path of shura, the sovereignty of law, accountability, prevalence of justice and the empowerment of all individuals in the community so that they may contribute effectively to building our future.” Sheik Zayed understood the strength was in unity among the tribes,

. . . from a small impoverished protectorate to a respected political and business leader among its fellow Arab countries and the world.

Queen Elizabeth and Sheikh Khalifa
In 1972, the UAE joins the United Nations and Ali Hummaidan is named the first Ambassador.Today, H.E. Mr. Ahmed Al-Jarman represents the UAE. 

Sheik Zayed, one of the prime movers behind the formation of the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC), opens it first session in 1981. Today the GCC is a strong bloc of nations that has taken a leadership role in maintaining peace in the region and, in recent months, worked assertively to deescalate the “Arab Spring” violence.

“We hope the Gulf Cooperative Council would be a source of strength for the Arab world and proof for other Arab countries that cooperation is beneficial,” President Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the GCC was stated in a 1981 interview with Al Khaleej.

. . . from structures made of “arish” (palm-front) and mud huts to modern mansions and gleaming, architecturally unique high-rise towers.

In 1979, the World Trade Building in Dubai becomes the tallest building in the Middle East and by 2010 Dubai’s Burj Khalifa claims the title of the tallest building in the world.

Unveiled in 2000 is the iconic Burj Al Arab, the Middle East’s first mega-project that becomes the rallying point for the development of Dubai’s tourist and hotel industry. In 1975 the UAE has only 39 hotels and by 1991 the number rises to 189. By 2010, there are 566 hotels in Dubai alone.

In 1992, the government opens the first 100,000 free housing units in Abu Dhabi for nationals, mainly Bedouins. Another of Sheikh Zayed’s dreams is currently rising on the barrier islands off of Abu Dhabi. Saadiyat Island is a glimmering 27 square kilometers of homes and a cultural district.

“Our plans do not flow from mere ambition; they are from necessity. Consider that only 3% of our (Dubai) revenue is from exports of diminishing crude-oil reserves; 30 percent is from tourism,” Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in 2008 states in a Wall Street Journal interview.

. . . from an impoverished economy to a vibrant diversified prosperous nation.

Oil was elusive for the UAE until 1960 when it was finally found off shore Abu Dhabi by the drilling platform ADMA (Abu Dhabi Marine Area) Enterprise. The shipping of UAE oil commenced on July 4, 1962 and by the time the UAE is formed in 1971 it was estimated to have one sixth of the entire world’s oil.

In the 1950s, the emirates population is 30,000 with an economy based on fishing and subsistence farming. By the end of the 1970s, the population is 862,000 and the UAE is recognized as one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

In 1972, the GDP is 6.5 billion dhs rising to 87 billion dhs by 1987 when the effort to diversify the economy away from oil begins. By 1991 the UAE’s GDP is 129 million dhs and the portion of the country’s GDP recorded for oil drops from 63% to 41%.

. . . from no medical care, electricity, telephones, or roads to a modern system infrastructure.

A 6.8 billion dhs project was undertaken in 1972 to construct water mains for Abu Dhabi.

Roads were built of coral and “sabkha,” a combination of salt and sand, until the first asphalt road was built in the 1970s. And the first traffic light is erected in Abu Dhabi in 1973. By 1990, the paved road system in the UAE reaches 2,700 KM.

In 1975, the £1 million Al Maktoum Bridge in Dubai is built. In 1976, Dubai builds the longest span in the UAE – the Al Garhound Bridge.

The first telephone call from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is made in 1974 between Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. In 1978, phone service is established between Sharjah and Fujairah.

The Abu Dhabi International Airport opens in 1982. Emirates Airline starts service in 1985 with flights between Dubai and Pakistan and India. Etihad Airlines establishes its first service between Abu Dhabi and Beirut in 2003. In 2011, both airlines are listed in the Top 10 of the world’s best airlines.

The first hospital in Dubai opens in 1983. The life expectancy in 1979 was 49 but by 1992 when the UAE opens its 42nd hospital the life expectancy has risen to 73. By 1992, the infant mortality rate has fallen from 138 per thousand to 11.7 per thousand.

. . . from having no currency of its own to a “global financial hub” and a leader in the financial world.

The UAE’s own currency – the dirham (dhs) - is introduced in 1973 and is tied to the gold at a rate of one dirham to 0.186621 grams of pure gold. 1974 marks the first time the dirham is used in international commerce. In 1997, the dirham is pegged to the US dollar.

The UAE joins the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 1972. In 2003, the two organizations come to Dubai for their annual meeting. In 1978, the World Bank declares that the UAE has the highest average income in the world.

Sheikh Mohammed announces the creation of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) to establish the UAE as a regional financial centre. The DIFC opens in 2004.

. . . from a country where women stayed at home to today’s female business, educational and political leaders.

The UAE is recognized as a leader of women’s right among the Arab countries. Its constitution guarantees equality between men and women in areas including legal status, claiming of titles, and access to education.

1977 marked the first time women were able to attend the UAE University. In 1998, the government opens the first university solely for women.

In 2004, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi is appointed Minister of Economy and Planning and in 2008, Khulood Ahmed Jawan Al-Dhaheri becomes the first Emirati woman to be named a UAE judge. In 2011, Amal Al Qubaisi is elected Deputy Speaker of the Federal National Council (FNC).

“ … that women, like men, must contribute to the building of our nation and that each individual has a duty to strive for excellence and one to which we give all our attention and concentrate our efforts,” Sheikh Zayed’s vision.

. . . from transportation dependent on donkeys, camels and dhows (small fishing boats) to a major Middle East port of entry for International air and sea travel and commerce.

In the 1980’s, there were only a handful of donkeys and a few lorries that traveled the two lane road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This road would become the infamous multi-lane expressway affectionately named Sheikh Zayed Road.

The extensive road system has enabled a busy trucking industry to grow and allows room for classy, expensive cars and 4X4 favored by the Emirati.

Today the UAE has a modern ship building industry that is “considered the most highly sophisticated naval shipyard in the Arabian Gulf.”

The Dubai Metro lines begin operation in 2009.

. . . from a barely literate populace taught in schools run by the local “mutawwa” (teacher) and based on religious texts to a progressive, highly accredited educational system from primary grades through PHDs available free to all Emiratis.

IN 1997 American University opens in Sharjah. In 2003, Abu Dhabi University opens. In 2006, the Paris-Sorbonne University opens in Abu Dhabi. 2010 marks the beginning of classes at NYU in Abu Dhabi.

Today, 95% of the female students and 80% of the male students apply for admission to higher education institutions both in the UAE and abroad.

Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) was established in 2007. Dedicated to develop the region’s talent pool and establish the UAE as a knowledge-based economy, it currently has 27 Academic institutions from 11 countries and is host to more than 18,000 students from over 100 nationalities.

“The greatest use that can be made of wealth is to invest it in creating generations of educated and trained people,” said Sheik Zayed in 1982.

. . . from being uneducated on the importance of preserving the environment to being an innovator in developing ways to be more environmentally sustainable.

In 1978, Sheik Zayed bans the hunting of birds and wild animals in the UAE. In 2009, the UAE pledges to eliminate the use of thin plastic bags by 2012.

1998 sees the first “Environmental Day” in the UAE to raise public awareness of the need to create a sustainable community.

Sharjah announced in 2011 that it is investing 100 million dhs to reach its goal of not sending any waste to landfills by 2015. Currently it recycles 1/3 of its waste.

Masdar Institute of Science and Technology opens in 2007 as a graduate-level institution integrating research and education to advance energy and sustainability. It works with “green” companies around the world to find alternative energy sources.

In 2008, the UAE publishes its policy on the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy and in 2009 signs the “123 Agreement” with the US to work in co-operation on a nuclear energy program. The UAE becomes the first Arab country with peaceful nuclear capability.

. . . from a people whose only allegiance was to their ancestral tribes to a patriotic nation whose people are fervently loyal to the principals and tenets upon which their country was built.

December 2, 1972 marked the first National Day celebration where the new national anthem was sung for the first time.

“It is my duty to provide the basics of a decent life for every citizen in the country. Our goal is to prepare the next generation to carry the responsibility.” 1957 Sheik Zayed told American reporter Wanda Jablonski.

Postscripts . . .

Celebrating National Day . . . I was so looking forward to a long weekend in the outer regions of the UAE but alas I was too slow getting reservations and everything, and I mean everything is booked solid. So we are enjoying Dubai this National Day and celebrating our good fortune in having the opportunity to live, work and breathe in the UAE.

The National . . .Many thanks to The National for the material used in this blog. Their daily series Forty Years has been fascinating to read and their magazine, A Nation’s Journey 4 Decades, 4 Stories, published on November 30, 2011, is an excellent resource for those wanting to know more about the building of this marvelous country. This government owned, English language newspaper, is published in Abu Dhabi and circulated throughout the Emirates.

Old UAE photos . . . the old photos used in this blog were borrowed from with the exception of the Queen Elizabeth and Sheikh Khalifa photo which was borrowed from


  1. A beautiful tribute to an amazing country Katie! I can't believe there are still 20 UAE experiences on your list. It seems like you've done it all.
    Anne :)

  2. Hi Katie: Found you via the Travel Bloggers Network on LI.

    Wow to you and Roger for moving to the UAE! Friends of ours did that a few years ago but only lasted one year.

    I had the good fortune of visiting them while they were there and wrote a story about it for a Canadian mag. Please drop in and visit my travel blog at You'll find the UAE story there.

    Doreen Pendgracs

  3. Great post, Katie. I am sharing with my family state-side. Merry Christmas!

  4. Very professional blog but unfortunately a couple of the dates and facts are incorrect

  5. So sorry if there is incorrect info. Please let me know what they are. Thanks.

  6. Katie
    Al Maktoum Bridge opened in 1963 and extended in 1975.
    First stage of Al Maktoum Hospital opened in 1951. Hospital completed in 1973.
    There was considerable traffic between Dubai and Abu Dhabi prior to the road being built. Opening of the road in 1980 enabled movement of cargo from Dubai not only to Abu Dhabi but also to Saudi Arabia and countries further north. No donkeys just lots of trucks!

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  8. i impressed by your article ,you are doing a very nice job. I really appreciate your work.
    Arun Panchariya

  9. Amazing post about UAE unveiling some of the amazing points about UAE. I on behalf of Khalifas Hotels thank you a lot for sharing such beautiful information about UAE.

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