|The major part of the Dubai emirate consists of rolling sand dunes lapping the foothills of the arid Hajar mountains in the east. Until a decade or two ago, the dunes were inhabited by nomadic bedouin roaming with their flocks and herds. Today the nomads have all settled, in villages in the few fertile oases or valleys, or else in the city.
Modern Dubai is the product of the past 20 years of intensive development. Prior to that, Dubai was a small trading port, clustered around the mouth of the Creek.
It had grown gradually from a fishing village inhabited in the 18th century by members of the Bani Yas tribe. Its origins, however, go back into the far more distant past. The town's museum displays a rich collection of objects found in graves of the first millenium BC at nearby Al-Qusais, while a caravan station of the sixth century AD was excavated in the expatriate suburb of Jumairah.
The village really began to grow in the early 19th century, when some 800 members of the Bani Yas tribe, the Al Bu Falasah, moved north and settled in Dubai.
Dubai lacked the productive hinterland of Abu Dhabi, with its fertile oases of Liwa and Al Ain - its inhabitants were committed to life on the coast, and looked to the sea for their living. They based their livelihood on fishing, pearling and sea trade.
By the turn of the 20th century Dubai was a sufficiently prosperous port to attract settlers from Iran, India and Baluchistan, while the souk on Deira side was thought to be the largest on the coast, with some 350 shops. The facilities for trade and free enterprise were enough to make Dubai a natural haven for merchants who left Lingah, on the Persian coast, after the introduction of high customs? dues there in 1902. These people were mostly of distant Arab origin and Sunni, unlike most Persians, and naturally looked across to the Arab shore of the Gulf finally making their homes in Dubai. Theymost Persians, and naturally looked across to the Arab shore of the Gulf finally making their homes in Dubai. They continued to trade with Lingah, however, as do many of the dhows in Dubai Creek today, and they named their district Bastakiya, after the Bastak region in southern Persia.
Meanwhile a flourishing Indian population had also settled in Dubai and was particularly active in the shops and alleys of the souk. The cosmopolitan atmosphere and air of tolerance began to attract other foreigners too: by the 1930s, nearly a quarter of the 20,000 population was foreign, including 2,000 Persians, 1,000 Baluchis, many Indians and substantial communities from Bahrain, Kuwait and the Hasa province in eastern South Arabia. Some years later the British also made it their center on the coast, establishing a political agency in 1954.
The international trade which flowed from Dubai?s cosmopolitan contracts was the basis of rapidly increasing prosperity. This gave the city an early start in development before the beginning of oil production in the late 1960s. Like the other towns along the coast, Dubai had been severely affected by the decline of the pearling industry, due to competition in the 1930s from Japanese cultured pearls, and by the drop in trade in the Second World War. But Dubai contacts and mercantile skills increased resilience and the ability to profit from favourable conditions for entrepot trade with Persia and India after the 1939-45 war.
The successful early development was due in large part to the foresight of Dubai's rulers. During the 20th century the city has benefited from the stabilizing influence of two exceptionally long rules: that of H H Shaikh Saeed Bin Maktoum from 1912 to 1958, followed by that of his son, H H Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed al-Maktoum. For many years prior to his father's death in 1958 Shaikh Rashid has played a leading role in directing the state. Since then he has guided Dubai in its expansion from a small, old-world town to a modern state with excellent communication, and industrial infrastructure, and all the comforts of contemporary life. Since 1980 Shaikh Rashid has played a background role due to ill health but his four sons have continued his policies in exactly the same mould.