Dubai: Country and Foreign Investment
Population, Language and Culture
Modern Dubai is the product of more than 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.
Beginning in 1820, Great Britain entered into treaties with various leaders in the area out of a desire to protect its ships in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. In addition, Britain was allowed to handle foreign relations for the area known as "Trucial Oman" or "the Trucial States" because of the Perpetual Maritime Truce which the Arab rulers signed with the British in 1853. The United Arab Emirates became fully independent on December 2, 1971, although Ras al-Khaimah did not join until 1972.
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.
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 population has increased more than tenfold since the 1960s to just over 2 million, and now hundreds of hotels accommodate the expat workers and tourists who help run the economy. Indeed, only around 22% of the emirate’s population, at the last count, were actually ethnically emirati in a population mixture that has to be one of the world’s most cosmopolitan.
This diversity discourages any real ethnic tensions and while war and the threat of war might simmer further north, it creates far less tension in Dubai than many might imagine it would. There are large groups of Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians and Southeast Asians. The population is, however, 95% Muslim. Arabic is of course the official language but English is widely spoken as are Urdu, Malayalam and from the Philippines, Tagalog.