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“In the race for excellence, there is no finish line” - Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and the Ruler of Dubai.

Inspired by the vision of its ruler, the glittering metropolis of Dubai is moving ahead in dizzying pace to clinch the top position among other global destinations, ahead of other traditional favourites like Hong Kong, Paris and Singapore. The government has projected an ambitious figure of 15 million tourists who are expected to arrive in Dubai by 2010.

The world’s eyes are strained on Dubai where even the most incredible is becoming possible. Man-made islands, building of a new coast-line, the world’s tallest habitable tower, new parameters of leisure water-front living, the world’s largest mall, a rotating tower….the list is seemingly endless.

Billions of dollars are being pumped into spectacular tourism projects like Bawadi fashioned on the Las Vegas model, clusters of man-made islands are being built all round Dubai’s coastline, in the shape of the Palm, and the World.

Then there is the world’s tallest tower Al Burj, dwarfing the Taipei 101 and the Petronas Twin Tower, Al Burj. Dubailand with its themed parks and Disney-style entertainment, world class lifestyle resorts like the Dubai Festival City, you can only see to believe the magical transformation of Dubai’s skyline.

Often described as a city of contrasts, Dubai offers a fabulous cosmopolitan lifestyle with an understated elegance. There are attractions galore for the visitors: sunny beaches, five-star services, legendary hotels, vibrant shopping centres and gleaming skyscrapers vie with the traditional dhows and ancient souks. Where else can a tourist experience everything from large state-of-the art leisure and retail malls to sandy beaches, turquoise waters, lush green parks and the enduring tranquility of the desert, all in a single day of sightseeing.

Dubai’s history could make a script for a Hollywood movie pale into insignificance. Before its massive transformation post oil-strike in the 60’s, its past paints an intriguing story of pearl divers, smugglers, colonial rule and independence all on the fast forward track.

Historical documentation of Dubai is scarce, but the city's emphatic position as the region's leading trading post dates back to the ancient Kingdom of Sumer around 3000 BC. There are even records that link the emirate to the Bronze Age, Magan civilisation of 2000 BC, and suggest that Dubai Port was the main shipping route between Oman and Mesopotamia, as well as other ancient empires.

The list of occupiers from 3000 B.C. onwards was swift, with one civilization overcoming and conquering the last. Among the most influential was the Persian dynasty of Sassanid, who had taken Dubai Creek and its surrounding areas as its own since 224 B.C. But it was a short-lived occupation. Come the seventh century, the Umayyads came, settled, and bought with them Islam from western Saudi Arabia.

The Arabs were followed by the Mongols and soon after the Ottomons, each leaving their mark on the local culture and all championing the Islamic religion. From the eighth century onwards, Dubai strengthened its position as a leading trade port between the eastern and western worlds, with the silk trade from China and the pearling industry of the Persian Gulf earning the region some major maritime brownie points.

Dubai was taken over in 1830 by the Bani Yas tribe from the Liwa Oasis led by the Maktoum family. Commercial success linked to the liberal attitudes of Dubai’s rulers made the emirate attractive to traders from India and Iran who began to settle in the growing town. By the turn of the century Dubai was reputed to have the largest souks in the Gulf Coast with 350 shops in Deira district alone.

While trade developed, Dubai remained a protectorate of Britain as part of the trucial states which extended along the Northern Coast of the Arabian peninsula. When the British withdrew in 1971, Dubai joined Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm-Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah to form the Federation of the United Arab Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates sits proudly on the north-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by Saudi Arabia to the south and west and the Sultanate of Oman to the east and north. The country is made up of seven emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah, Umm AI Quwain, and Ras AI Khaimah. Abu Dhabi, which occupies over 80% of the country, is the biggest emirate, with Dubai the second largest.

In contrast to Dubai's glittering skyline and larger-than-life projects, the coast of the UAE is littered with coral reefs and over 200 islands, most of which are uninhabited. The majority of the country is desert, but to the east, rises the formidable Hajar Mountains. Lying close to the Gulf of Oman, they form a backbone through the country, from the Mussandam Peninsula in the north, through the eastern UAE and into Oman. The Rub AI Khali, more commonly known as the Empty Quarter, occupies a swathe of the south of the country - its desert punctuated by the occasional oasis and spectacular dunes. Common to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen, it is the largest sand desert in the world, covering an area roughly the same size as France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Dubai is made up largely of arid desert and with sometimes breathtaking sand dunes hiding the odd oasis. This juxtaposition of geography coupled with incredibly high temperatures limits the variety of flora and fauna present, but you'll be surprised at just how green parts of the UAE are, and Dubai is no exception with the UAE government spending time and money on its 'greening' programme. Well-maintained grass, healthy palm trees and pretty flowers lining endless roads are a common feature in this part of the world.

But one issue that the UAE is still struggling to overcome is water consumption - currently the highest per capita in the world. A desalination complex has been built in Jebel Ali in an attempt to combat the lack of ground water and meet this near-impossible demand, but long-term solutions are still awaited.

Although Dubai represents vast stretches of desert land, there are over 3,500 plants endemic to the country, as well as extensive fauna. The birdlife here is reasonably extensive too, but it's the coastline, that is home to an impressive array of natural life, that really takes your breath away. A myriad of tropical fish, as well as a variety of sharks, dolphins and the dugong (sea cow) make up the awesome marine life, which draws divers and snorkellers from all over the world. With various breeds of turtle also indigenous to the region, you could be lucky enough to see Loggerhead, Green and Hawksbill turtles - three of the planet's most endangered species.
 
Dubai is well-known as the gateway between the East and the West infusing modernity and style with the traditional Arabic hospitality. Here you can take your pick from the world’s richest horse race and traditional sport of falconry, make merry at the night clubs, shop for the world’s biggest brands or go hunting for spices in primitive souks –Dubai has managed to achieve what other Arab cities have failed to do, create the right balance western influence and eastern tradition. Its culture is rooted in Islamic traditions that penetrate the Arabian peninsula and beyond, but the city’s visionary development is evident proof of an open-minded and liberal outlook.

The timeless values of Islam lie at the heart of Dubai’s living heritage providing a strength and inspiration that touches all aspects of everyday life. Ramadan is the holy month in which Muslims commemorate the revelation of the holy Quran and every healthy Muslim is expected to fast from dawn to dusk.

During daylight hours, those fasting and required to abstain from food, drinks and alcohol. The call for prayers at sunset marks the end of the fast for the day and before praying the fast is broken with dates and water. After breaking of the fast, the Iftar meal is eaten with family and friends. In the UAE, traditional Iftaar dishes include Harees (made with meat and cracked wheat), fareed (meat and vegetable stew) and lugamat (deep-fried dough balls with date syrup and honey). The timing of Ramadan is not fixed according to the Gregorian calendar and goes back approximately 11 days every year, subject to the positioning of the moon.

In Dubai Ramadan sparks the spirit of charity among residents as one of the biggest charity campaigns takes off during this time. Initiated by Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and the Ruler of Dubai, the campaign saw community organizations, sports, clubs, schools, businesses and philanthrophists championing the cause of poverty and social development in the world. In 2007, a whopping Dhs. 3.48 billion was raised to help educate poor children throughout the world.

Perpetual sun and clear blue skies sum up Dubai's weather. The emirate has a sub tropical and arid climate that gets very hot in the height of the summer. Rainfall is infrequent and normally only occurs in winter. Occasionally there are sandstorms when the sand is whipped off the desert. Temperatures range from a low of around 1 D'C (SD'F) in winter, to a high of 48C (118'F) in summer. The mean daily maximum is 24'C (7S'F) in January, rising to 41 'C (1 D6'F) in August.

In sharp contrast to other neighbouring Islamic countries, Dubai has consistently encouraged an open-minded and open doors policy. While some of Dubai’s neighbouring countries do not allow women to be seen without heir male escorts, Dubai presents a very progressive and liberal outlook. Women safely negotiate their way on Dubai’s roads even late at night without any eyebrows being raised. There is no dress code and tourists and residents are welcome to embrace any fashion as long as it does not offend anybody’s sensibilities.

All this said and done, the rulers of the Emirates are still very active in preserving the country's heritage and safeguarding the culture from erosion and the negative influence of tourism. Visitors can expect to be charmed by the genuine warmth and friendliness of the people here. And there's no way that you're going to miss the distinct sense of national pride that is prevalent. It's incredibly common, for example, to see locals in their traditional dress. For the men this is a dishdash(a) or khandura - a full-length shirt-dress that is worn with a white or red chequered headdress (gutra) and secured in place with black cord (agal). Women wear a black abaya - a long, loose black robe that opens from the front. Names are usually taken from an important person in the Quran or the person's tribe. This is followed by the word bin (son of) for a boy, or bint (daughter of) for a girl, and then the name of the child's father. The last name indicates the person's tribe or family. For prominent families, this has Al, the Arabic word for 'the; before it.

While oil has been crucial to Dubai’s development since the late 1960’s, the non-oil sector currently contributes more than 90 per cent of the total gross domestic product. Tourism, directly and indirectly adds up to 30 per cent of Dubai’s non-oil GDP while real estate and construction adds upto 19.4 per cent of the GDP.

In business, the government of Dubai is dedicated to liberal and free market policies and to the creation of a business environment conducive to commercial activity. This is well illustrated by the incentives available to investors at the Dubai Airport Free Zone, Dubai Cars and Automotive Zone, the Gold and Diamond Park, Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and Jebel Ali Free Zone and also in the latest projects like the Dubai Healthcare City, Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai Investments Park, Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, Dubai Silicon Oasis and the Mohammed bin Rashid Technology Park among others.
 
 

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