United Arab Emirates cover a total area of about 83,600 square kilometers along the south-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula with Qatar to the west and north-west, Saudi Arabia to the west and south and Oman to the north, east and south-east.
The UAE was founded in 1971 and the founder was the forward thinking Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayan of Abu Dhabi. He was the ruler of Abu Dhabi from just after oil was discovered there in 1962 Just two years after he came to power in 1966 the British withdrew from the Gulf States leaving them to manage their own affairs.
Sheik Zayed worked with Sheikh Rashid bin Said Al-Maktoum of Dubai to form the UAE as he felt that the states should look after each other. Despite a great deal of skepticism from Western powers this uniting of these small sheikdoms which had previously been rivals did work. This is largely due to the considerable generosity of the Abu Dhabi sheik towards the poorer emirates over the years. He has recently bailed out Dubai to the tune of several billion so it is in the interest of poorer states to be nice really to Abu Dhabi.
Ras Al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah is the most northerly of the seven United Arab Emirates and it boasts a population of 300,000 and has the largest local inhabitant population of any of the emirates. It is quite under developed as yet but was known as an area of date palm groves, grazing plains for sheep and cattle and of course sea faring people both fishermen and pirates of old.
The ruling family of RAK is Al Qawasim who claim to be ‘sharifs’ or descendants of the prophet Mohammed. In 1806 the Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr signed a treaty with the British agreeing’ not to molest English ships in the future’ so whether the pirate stories are true or just that ‘stories’ in up to personal historical interpretation.
RAK is one of the better of emirates as it has oil reserves but its oil reserves are only 0.5 billion barrels compared to 92 billion in Abu Dhabi, 4 billion in Dubai and 1.5 billion in Sharjah. Therefore RAK’s oil reserves will be exhausted in the next few years then Sharjah’s compared to Dubai’s in the next 20 years and Abu Dhabi’s will probably last another 130 years.
Umm Al Qaiwan
Now I had never previously heard anything of this emirate prior to coming over this way. It is known in the area as UAQ after the letters on its car number plates. This is the second smallest in size but least populated emirate and is really a bit of a sleepy backwater and its main industry is fishing. There are only about 40,000 people living here which is possibly while it is able to be a haven and sanctuary for the estimated 1000 dugong population off the island of As Siniyyah which you need permission to visit.
We didn’t visit this emirate.
Ajman is the smallest of the emirate states and covers only 100sq miles and it sits on the Arabian Gulf coast surrounded by Sharjah. It was most well known for its dhow building which were beautiful wooden boats used by pearl fishermen. The pearl industry has been wiped out by the Japanese cultivated pearl industry so today dhows are mainly for fishing and built of fiberglass rather than the traditional wood. Today the boat building industry also supplies the oil industry with its supply vessels and has the largest ship repair yard in the UAE.
Sadly this was another emirate we just drove past.
Sharjah is in the shadow of is shiny neighbor emirate Dubai. This is a strict Muslim state and it is illegal to drink anywhere in the state, even in your own home. This emirate is known for its architecture and history and its ruler Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi is largely responsible for initiating the restoration and reconstruction of historic buildings in the Al Marija and Al Souq Al Shuhen districts which are of great historical interest to visitors. This are resulted in Sharjah being awarded the Cultural capital of the Arab world by UNESCO in 1998.
We visited a small part of this emirate while we were in Dibba in Fujairah but we would loved to has visited the area near Dubai, the main part of Sharjah but sadly we ran out of time. The sheik Dr Sultan is one of the youngest leaders and is considered to be very academically inclined, he has two honorary doctorates from different universities in Europe and the USA I was informed by our guide in Fujairah but I have not checked this information through other sources.
The once small fishing village has become an architect’s dream. Dubai may not have quite the same oil reserves as Abu Dhabi but it has spent, spent, spent in the last twenty years and now its first industry is tourism, the second (until the recent crash) was finance and then oil third. Dubai has had to be helped out by the very generous Abu Dhabi as it was financially in dire straits. Building has slowed but it still has quite the most amazing buildings to be admired.
You only have to say Dubai and most people will think of the Burj Al Arab or the amazing palm islands off the main land that have been reclaimed to provide miles of extra coast line. It all has to be seen to be believed and they are still working on the ‘World Island’ so hopefully the crisis will allow the completion of this ambitious project.
It is still possible to see parts of the old Dubai, not just in the museum but also in the souks where life carries on much as before but the majority of the city is gleaming, high rise and fast.
I will write more about individual aspects of Dubai in other reviews.
This is a mountainous region and is the only emirate in the UAE not to be located on the Arabian Gulf it sits facing the Gulf of Oman to the east. We spent a day in Fujairah and did a day trip from the boat and got a pretty good look at the main sights recommended to see.
It was not until 1952 that Fujairah was acknowledged by the British as the 7th Trucial State ( theses later joined to become the UAE). We visited the Fujairah Fort which is a small mud brick fort but we could only photograph the outside, we were not allowed in for some reason.
We passed by Bitnah fort and oasis and had a very speedy photo stop before driving on through Masifa where there is water bottling factory providing water throughout the emirates. We stopped at the Friday market, which is now open every day, which is on the road leading to Dhaid and Sharjah .We spent some time browsing the stalls before retracing out steps to Masifa roundabout and heading towards Dibba. This was a pretty spectacular drive through the Hajjar Mountains with deep wadis and steep rocky mountains either side.
Dibba is a city divided into three main parts, a small enclave belongs to Oman, another section to Sharjah and then the rest is still in Fujairah. The Oman part we were not able to pass through as we needed passports but we did drive through the Sharjah enclave and it was a big contrast to Fujairah as the houses were bigger, the place just looked generally wealthier and the university building was quite spectacular.
We ended our trip by visiting what is reputedly the UAE’s oldest mosque which was a small mud brick building at Khor Fakkan which is actually in Sharjah and this has been restored so actually looked like a new mud brick building but it was a very interesting shape and quite unlike any mosque I have seen anywhere previously so it was interesting to see.
I have written a more detailed account of Fujairah in a separate review.
Finally the 7th and richest emirate is Abu Dhabi and this is also the largest and most oil rich emirate of them all and it is the capital of the UAE with their ruling family being the president of the UAE as well.
Abu Dhabi covers 86% of the country of the UAE’s total area and their ruling sheik is HH Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The Al Nahyan are of the Al bu Falah tribe and they have ruled Abu Dhabi since 1690 but they originally came from Yemen. The present president Sheik Khalifa came to power in 2004 but has continued in his father’s footsteps looking after his people.
I shall write a separate review on Abu Dhabi after we have been in the next few days.