Dubai is a fascinating destination. The city and country are brand spanking new (UAE was formed in 1971) but the people are of another time and way of life.
I am so impressed by the way that they are adapting and the rapid growth, even while the Emiratis are obviously long-term planning. Dubai proper was designed for tourism and trade to cater to westerners and allows alcohol, bars (with restrictions), and women have the option to go around in western garb. While the other Emirates, there are 7 in total, are more reserved if you will. Sharjah, for example, is a “dry” Emirate (dry in the desert, imagine that!? Heehee) there is no alcohol and it is much more religiously oriented there. Abu Dhabi is also more flexible with foreigners but it is where the many locals live, thus, much less of a party scene. Dubai was developed for the expats and visitors to come enjoy the beaches, shop and live and feel at ease in an Arab world.
If you think about it 50 years ago, this was a fishing village. Bedouins used to come to (what is now called) Dubai to trade. Iran & India are historically the oldest trading partners of Dubai. Traders would come on boat with goods like spices, fabric, food to sell to the tribes. And many of them made their homes in Dubai. There are many nationals of Indian decent that have been living in Dubai since before it was Dubai. It is their home now. Though a large part of the expats mainly come from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal & Philippines.
The story, according to my desert safari guide Bobby, 2 leaders of 2 different tribes were sitting under a tree and came up with the idea of creating the United Arab Emirates. One of these leaders was the famous Sheik Zayed. Before this, these men were not Sheiks of old families, like the equivalent of the Kennedys in the states or the nobility in Europe. They were nomadic tribesmen who came up with a business plan to unite and develop the region. And it was a good one. Sheikh Zayed also known as the ‘Father of UAE’ & Sheikh Rashid also known ‘Builder of Dubai’ will always be remembered as the greatest leaders the country every had.
Dubai itself has a very Las Vegas -y feel to it, with the exception of the women wearing the burka walking around and the Bedouin men wearing their garb. The clubs are big, the malls are huge, the cars are expensive and everything is for sale.
Why the burka, you ask? There is a reason for it, and it is actually a valid one, in my opinion, outside of the religious one, I mean. Again, the Bedouins are nomadic. They roamed the deserts with their camels and families. They would set up camps for periods of time. It is a mans culture. Treking across a desert could invite any number of perils, not least of which, is the threat of other men with less than honorable intentions. Having your women covered from sight arouses less attention and invitation to such dangers.
Additionally, when the women are in their camps and the men have to leave to do whatever they do in the desert (forgive my ignorance) they are all by themselves and they are unprotected. I remember when I went to the dead sea in Israel and we saw some Bedouin camps. When the entrance flap was up, the man was home, when down, no man–do not approach. While it sounds very foreign and sexist, it is actually for the woman s safety. And having been in the desert, I could understand how men could be out there for months or years at a time and not see a woman, let alone touch one…
Yes, times are changing. No, they are not living like Nomads anymore. However this is their lifestyle and heritage. I am not here to judge, only see and hopefully learn and connect. And change is difficult, try changing how you eat… now tell me how hard you think it would be for them to change their very way of life and all at once! We hold onto the things we are used to, just sayin .
So, if they were nomads wandering around, how did they get rich, you ask? Good question! Well, there is oil in 3 of the 7 Emirates. They first discovered oil in Abu Dhabi in 1958 and then in Dubai in 1966. There was a bit of a pause for WWII and then with the “help” of the Brits, they started extracting and selling it.
Now, because this oil is from the earth and the people are from the earth. The governments distribute the profits to the Emiraties in the forms of benefits. And, they get a lot of them, good for them! They get free school, free homes, healthcare, monies from the government, business opportunities from FDI (a foreign company needs a national partner in order to open up shop, pick me! Pick me!). There are strings attached, of course, one of which– they have to marry their own. The population of Bedouins is not that large, and they want to keep all these benefits in the family (so to speak). You do have to be a national in order to receive these benefits, and no it is not easy to become one. And if you marry a local, he loses his so that s not cool.
This area is freshly created. But, the culture is as old as time. I am amazed by how much they have done in such a short time. And, with their partnerships and planning, it looks like they are doing it well, they are paying attention to details that I would never have even thought of (check out a parking garage when there if you can, notice the lights for available spots… WTH so simple, yet GENIUS). This growth and change has got to be a shock to the people. Change is a wonderful thing, but it is scary too.
I hope this helped to enlighten a bit on the people and region. The UAE is a wondrous place, enjoy it! And try to keep in mind, we are more alike than we are different.