Abu Dhabi is the story of the Bani Yas tribe, and the history of Abu Dhabi is how this tribe started off in this area. But the history actually goes back way further, and it is only in recent years that remains were found dating back several thousand years BC. Tombs continue to be found in places outside the main city of Abu Dhabi, places like Dalma Island. There is also history of other civilisations being in this part of the world before or alongside the Arabs with evidence of the Greeks being in this part of the world. There is also evidence of Christianity here before Islam arrived. On Bani Yas Island, there is one the oldest churches in Arabia.
Once Islam did arrive, the UAE as a region wasn’t actually a stronghold as power moved steadily west to Egypt, with the Ummayyid and Abbasid dynasties leaving those to fend for themselves in the desert heat. It was only in the early 1760s when the history really did begin for the UAE and modern day Abu Dhabi. And it was all due to a gazelle. The story of the water in modern day Al Ain and the Emirate being named “Abu Dhabi”, literally father of the gazelle, is instilled in the being of the local Emirati. The very existence of water drew the Bani Yas tribe to Abu Dhabi to create what we see today.
The British arrived in the 1800s to maintain stability over the gulf areas, the Bani Yas in the west and the Al Qasimi in the east. It was in the 1830s that a small group from the Bani Yas broke off to claim independence from Abu Dhabi and set up Dubai. Had that group been bigger and claimed more land, history may have been quite different to today. Dubai may have had a larger percentage of land, meaning a larger access to the oil, on which Abu Dhabi’s economy is based. Dubai may not have gone the route of attracting foreign investment.
Diversions aside, oil was discovered in 1958, but the principal moment came with the agreement of union between two great men – Sheikh Rashid of Dubai and Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi. This allegiance at the time of the British withdrawal from the “Trucial States” as they were known then was the founding of what we know now as the United Arab Emirates or Al Imarat Al Arabiyah al Muttahidah. The allegiance between these two powerful sub tribes became the stability of this great country and underpins how the UAE works, from foreign policy to internal government. The economic downturn of the 2008 onwards only sought to bring all the Emirates closer together, strength in power, strength in unity. That unity has continued to exist to the next generation of leaders. Sheikh Khalifa was unanimously sworn in as president on the passing of his father, Sheikh Zayed – and crucially, the friendship between the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and the now Prime Minister of the UAE and Leader of Dubai, Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid bodes well for the future.
The history of the UAE is an interesting one and the times before the union could be turned into a Hollywood epic. But this is no history lesson, nor is this a movie! Below are the main points that you need to know, including some of the newsworthy moments of the last 10 years.
1820 – The Sheikhs of the relevant sheikhdoms sign an agreement with Great Britain for protection.
1892 - The sheikhdoms become known as the Trucial States.
1930 – Pearl trade starts to wane
1954 – Oil is discovered in Abu Dhabi
1971 – UAE Formed as an independent state of 6 states (Emirates), with Sheikh Zayed appointed as the First President of the United Arab Emirates.
1972 – Ras Al Khaimah joins the UAE as the 7th Emirate.
1985 – Emirates Airline launched
1990 – Death of Sheikh Rashid – succeeded by Sheikh Maktoum as Ruler of Dubai
1996 – Dubai World Cup launched
1996 – Dubai Shopping Festival Launched
1998 – Burj Al Arab opens
1999 – Dubai Internet City (Freezone) opens
2001 – Reclaiming of Palm Jumeirah begins
2003 – Freehold property law agreed allowing expatriates to buy property in Dubai
2004 – Death of Sheikh Zayed – succeeded by Sheikh Khalifa as Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President
2004 – Saadiyat Island announced to be the cultural centrepiece of Abu Dhabi with museums from the Louvre and Guggenheim amongst others.
2005 – DIC buys the Tussauds Group
2005 – Ski Dubai, the largest indoor ski slope in the Middle East opens
2005 – Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi’s landmark hotel, which cost $2bn to construct, is opened
2006 – Dubai Ports World buys P&O, leading to a furore within the US regarding security
2006 – Death of Sheikh Maktoum – succeeded by Sheikh Mohammed, his brother – as ruler of Dubai, vice President and Prime Minister
2007 – Dubai World invest in Las Vegas casinos
2008 – Atlantis Hotel opens on the Palm
2008 – Grooverider, a famous British DJ jailed in Dubai on drug possession
2008 – Pakistani cricketer Mohammad Asif detained in Dubai on drug possession
2008 – Abu Dhabi buys Manchester City Football Club
2008 – British couple Vince Accors and Michelle Palmer sentenced, jailed then suspended for having “sex on the beach”
2009 – Dubai denies a visa to Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer provoking an international storm of outrage. Andy Ram, another Israeli, is granted a visa and becomes the first Israeli to play a professional tennis match in the UAE
2009 – Dubai Metro opens
2009 – Dubai bans author Geraldine Bedell from attending the Emirates International Festival of Literature over references to a gay Sheikh in her novel, The Gulf Between Us.
2009 – Dubai World, the emirate’s main holding company asks for a 6 month delay to repay its debt, sending world markets into turmoil.
2009 – Maiden Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix takes place in Yas Marina Circuit
2009 – Abu Dhabi bails Dubai’s out to the tune of $10bn
2010 – Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, opens
2010 – A senior Hamas official, Mahmoud al Mahbhouh is assassinated in the Al Bustan Rotana in Dubai. The hit team had forged European passports and were allegedly from Mossad
2010 – The UAE jails two Brits Ayman Najafi and Charlotte Lewis for kissing in public
2010 – The UAE’s telecom’s authority threaten to block Blackberry services over privacy issues but later comes to an agreement with its owner RIM