The Dubai Initiative
The Blueprint: A History of
Dubai’s Spaal Development
Through Oil Discovery
Stephen J. Ramos
Stephen J. Ramos
The Blueprint: A History of Dubai’s Spaal
Development Through Oil Discovery
THE BLUEPRINT: | 1
Dubai’s original selements, featuring the creek, Deira to le, Al Shindagah below, and Bur Dubai
To understand Dubai’s modern history since its founding in 1833, one
must go further back in time to explore the regional history that frames its founda-
tion. European powers, beginning with the Venetians, and, then subsequently, the
Portuguese, the Dutch, and ﬁnally the British, were interested in the Gulf region
as a means to secure trade routes to and from the Indian Subcontinent and points
eastward. This meant that from the ﬁfteenth century through the late nineteenth
century, if trade routes could move uninterrupted through the Gulf region, Europe-
an powers were not involved in the societal affairs of settlements as a traditionally
colonial ruling class, nor did European merchants bother to extensively explore
trade within the region, believing that it required more effort than either the climate
or the local economies were worth.2 The region’s local tribes were divided among
the maritime coastal groups and those that were nomadic and land-bound, and
conﬂict among these groups occurred in parallel with the larger European conﬂicts
also playing out in the region. The intersection of the two came with the increase in
piracy, which, in very basic terms, represented a kind of cultural disagreement on
trade customs. The Europeans felt that they were unjustly looted and local groups
simply sought to protect themselves from foreign incursion while taking what they
believed was their share. Historians still debate this issue today, but in relation to
Dubai, the piracy of the times serves as an example of how looser understandings
of the licit and illicit, particularly in terms of trade, could be capitalized upon as
1 Reproduced with permission of Dubai G.I.S. department in the Dubai Municipality.
2 Owen, 2008.
a business venture. The smuggling of gold, weapons, and other goods throughout
Dubai’s history may have been seen as illicit from perspectives outside Dubai’s
ports, but the merchant-friendly environments of these ports and the adherence to
local autonomy allowed them to trade freely.
British incursions into regional affairs increased as the pearl trade sector
grew and, once oil was discovered in Persia and Saudi Arabia at the beginning of
the twentieth century, British ﬁrms entered the region more actively. Inspired by
oil proﬁts and the gold trade after 1947, the British government and ﬁrms behaved
more paternalistically, and established a more direct protectorate relationship with
regional sheikhdoms, including Dubai. The interrelation of the British presence,
resource exploration and wealth, and local aspirations for development deﬁne this
period, which culminates in oil discovery in Dubai in 1966. The emphasis on infra-
structural projects in Dubai marked its development pattern throughout this period,
which would then serve as a blueprint for projects in its post-oil discovery phase.
In this paper, I will trace the regional history of the Gulf, along with the
presence of a continuum of European powers, and then focus more closely on
Dubai’s relationship with the British and how this both inﬂuenced and determined
the emerging sheikdom’s urban development through oil discovery.
Geographical History of the Gulf Region
Dubai is an emirate within the greater United Arab Emirates (UAE), lo-
cated in the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula. The UAE is comprised of seven
emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaima, Fujairah, Umm al-Qaiwain,
and Ajman), and of the total UAE land area of 83,600 square kilometers (32,270
square miles), Dubai occupies 4,114 square kilometers (1,588 square miles), and is
second in size after the signiﬁcantly larger Abu Dhabi.3 This land, in section, falls
into four geographic categories; coast and coastal plain, interior desert, an upland
plain, and interior rugged mountains.4 Traditionally, this geographic diversity has
marked two distinct cultures: coastal settlements dedicated to trade, ﬁshing and
pearling and other socio-economic activities oriented toward the sea, and interior
settlements and nomadic Bedouin communities based on agriculture and animal
husbandry. In her work on the geographic and economic conditions of the lower
Gulf region before oil was discovered, Dr. Frauke Heard-Bey points out that tribes
of the region included many subsections that were individually sea-oriented or
nomadic, but intermingled with one another in tribal confederation as the basis
for “the creation of a nation-state within a large and geographically very varied
territory.”5 This intermingling included marriage within the different sections and
intensive trade based on seasonal pearl and date harvests. I will look further at the
subsections of the regions below, but it is important to recognize that these two
forms of economic cultures within the territory, within larger tribes, were often
collaborative and, taking into account the region’s resource scarcity, both in terms
of limited arable land and seasonal ﬁshing possibilities, this mutual interaction and
dependence was a pragmatic survival mechanism.
3 Kassar, 2007. Land reclamation projects in Dubai and throughout the UAE will expand this total land area signiﬁcantly,
but this is the latest published data.
4 Peck, 1986, p. 6.
5 Heard-Bey, 1982, p.34.
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Though the UAE was only formed ofﬁcially in 1971, the history of the
region is rich, wherein recent discoveries are only now beginning to ﬁll in wide
gaps in the knowledge of this past. For Dubai in particular, in 1981 Iraqi scholars
discovered evidence of a trading center there from 3,000 years ago, which is unsur-
prising, both in light of its geographic location and its subsequent maritime trade
history.6 As pointed out by Geoffrey R. King, the voids in the historical knowledge
of the region appear mainly between the arrival of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad
and the ﬁrst caliphs in the seventh century, and the encounter with the Portuguese
in the late ﬁfteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Despite historical accounts that
seem limited to speculation on changing landscapes of local tribe settlement and
power struggles, the coastal trading settlements of Julfar (present Ras al-Khaimah)
and Dibba (present Fujairah and Sharjah) are mentioned in Arab accounts of this
period and archeologists believe that the Al-Jumayra settlement, just west of Dubai
(and now the name a Dubai neighborhood), was settled in the ninth century.7
Venetian trade within the larger Middle Eastern region, particularly in Da-
mascus, Aleppo, and Alexandria is recorded in the ﬁfteenth century with some
evidence of contact with the Gulf for pearl trading.8 But it was the Portuguese who
were the European power able to take control of the Gulf through the maritime
dominance of their powerful men-of-war ﬂeet in the sixteenth century. Rather than
colonial imposition or re-settlement of the area, their principal objective was to
control spice trade routes from the Indian Subcontinent to Europe. The sea route
around the Cape of Good Hope, which they had discovered, helped the Portuguese
to access the Indian Ocean and, by taking over the Island of Hormuz in the Straits
of Hormuz, the Portuguese could strategically control trade routes throughout the
region. As a precursor to the later British experience, the Portuguese signed a treaty
with the Sheikh of Hormuz to pacify local opposition to their occupancy in ex-
change for Portuguese support for the Sheikh in controlling local matters.9 The
maritime focus of the Portuguese period in the Gulf meant that local institutions
remained essentially unchanged throughout the sixteenth century.10
The decline of Portuguese power in the Gulf came with the aid of both the
Dutch and the British, though each would eventually enjoy power in the region at
different moments. Each country established East Indies companies in the early
seventeenth century, and in line with these trade pursuits, the British and Dutch
helped the Persians recapture the Island of Hormuz from the Portuguese in 1622.11
As was often the case in European political intrigue and shifting allegiances, the
British and Dutch allied to defeat the Portuguese ﬂeet in the Indian Ocean, only
to then ﬁght each other for power over regional trade supremacy. A British-Dutch
war in the mid-seventeenth century extended to the Gulf region, causing dam-
age and losses for the British ﬂeet.12 Though the Dutch achieved power over trade
routes during the seventeenth century, their power slowly waned both in Europe
and then internationally, ending symbolically when they abandoned Bandar Abbas
and Kharg Island in 1765.13
6 Peck, 1986, p. 24.
7 King, 1997,p.76, Wilson, 2006, p. 22.
8 Nyrop, 1977, p. 21.
9 Nyrop, 1977, p.22.
10 Peck, 1986, p. 27.
12 Nyrop, 1977, p.23.
The British commercial interests in the region increased, particularly in
India and along their East Indies Company trade routes. But with the fall of Dutch
power, the rise of what was called “piracy”—Omani, and later Qawasim attacks on
trade ships—created instability for the Gulf. Omani “piracy,” or local Gulf mari-
time power, held sway through the ﬁrst half of the eighteenth century, but a civil
war between the Hinawi and the Ghaﬁri factions weakened Omani power, and the
Qawasim were the principal group attacking British trade ships, particularly in the
lower Gulf area. The Qawasim origins are debated, but it is believed that they were
the Hawala who came from central Arabia in the seventh century and migrated to
lower Persia.14 Eventually crossing the Gulf to Oman through maritime battle and
by taking advantage of Omani internal power struggles, the Qawasim took control
of the area between present-day Ras al-Khaimah down to Sharjah. Inspired by
both strategic and religious interests, the Qawasim allied with the Wahhabis and
intensiﬁed their sea attacks. The British and the British-Indian ﬂeets allied with
the Omanis in retaliation against the Qawasim, but their joint expeditions between
1808 and 1819 were unsuccessful. It was not until November 1819, when a group
of 3,000 British and Indian forces attacked the Qawasim naval base at Ras al-
Khaimah, were the British able to assume control of the region, and a mixture of
treaties, truces, indirect rule, and canon diplomacy would maintain this rule until
their departure from the region 150 years later. In his book on the form of British
rule within what he terms “the Arabian frontier of the British Raj” in the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries, James Onley describes this policy of informal or indirect
rule decided according to their strategic economic interests in the region, based on
the principle of ‘informal control if possible, formal control when necessary.’ As
The method of control the British adopted was largely determined by the
success they had in attracting local collaborators and mediators. The greater their
success, the more indirect their control. Therefore it is the Empire and its periph-
ery, rather than the imperial capital of London, that holds the key to understanding
both the timing and the nature of (British) imperialism.15
The particular “local collaborators” were tribal families that signed Trucial
protectorate agreements that, at least through oil exploration, enabled a more dis-
tant and preferred British participation, within the regional southern Gulf periph-
ery around the central British interests in India.
In January 1820, the British marked the defeat of the Qawasim with
the signing of the General Treaty of Peace with the regional sheikhs of Bahrain
and what was then northern Oman (which included present-day UAE), where all
agreed to end “piracy” attacks both among each other and on British trade ships.
This treaty would commit Britain to maintain and enforce this peace, mostly in
the interest of their trade pursuits. The “Trucial System” was coined ofﬁcially in
1835 when the British declared a truce between the Bani Yas tribe from the lower
Shakhbut area (present-day Abu Dhabi) and the Qawasim, as a means to secure a
peaceful pearling season for merchants of the lower Gulf. This truce was signed
again by all factions in the Ten Year Maritime Truce of 1843, and then ﬁnally rati-
ﬁed into perpetuity (over the next century) through the Perpetual Treaty of Truce
in 1853, which stipulated for the British government to “watch over and protect”
14 Peck, 1986, p.29.
15 Onley, 2007, p.30.
THE BLUEPRINT: | 5
the southern Gulf region “for evermore.”16 The Treaty also renamed the region as
Trucial Oman, or the Trucial States, which was of course, better than the region’s
previous British title, the “Pirate Coast.”
Malcolm Peck points out that the British agreed to back regional sheikhs
in power militarily at that particular moment in exchange for a guarantee of peace,
most importantly for their trade routes through to India, but also for the pearling
sector of the lower Gulf.
By freezing the power relationships that existed between tribes or tribal
confederations, thereby preserving a number of small states that otherwise would
probably have been swallowed by larger neighbors. Eventually the British role in
the affairs of the Trucial States would carry their evolution toward western-style
statehood a step further by deﬁning territorial boundaries.17
With a few strokes, a mix of British magnanimousness and clear economic
self-interest established a static territorial, political, and social structure for the
Trucial States, which were previously characterized by far more ﬂuid inter-tribal
power relationships. The British ofﬁcially installed a Political Resident in Bushire
(Persia), which had already served as a diplomatic base since 1778,18 and in Sharjah
in 1823 to “meet the treaty commitments.”19 The treaties established a precedent
for an increasingly paternalistic British intervention into the inter-tribal affairs of
the lower Gulf as both mediator and military enforcer, wherein British colonial
obligations were not as speciﬁcally deﬁned as in other areas of the Empire. These
treaties brought the region into the sphere of British colonial administration at a
point when many in London believed that the region was not worth what it would
cost to oversee. The resulting “‘cut-price’ imperial system of indirect control re-
quired local rulers to sign anti-piracy peace treaties and to accept the authority of
small British residencies” in exchange for British Trucial protection.20 The military
backing of local sheikhs in exchange for peace for British maritime routes was a
low price for Britain to pay for hegemonic and exclusive control of the lower Gulf,
particularly with regard to other competing European powers, along with Russia
and the United States.
The Bani Yas and the Qawasim were rival tribes in the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth century. Because the British treaties focused speciﬁcally on mari-
time truce, the Bani Yas (not coincidentally given the British predisposition against
the “pirating” Qawasim) were beneﬁted due to their land-based power, in contrast
to the Qawasim sea prowess. Though the treaties sought to end the warring factions
of the region, the Qawasim and Bani Yas would continue their inter-tribal battling
until the end of the nineteenth century. The Bani Yas were originally from the Najd
region, and were comprised of many sections, both seafaring and Bedouin.21 Dur-
ing this time, the Bani Yas controlled Shakhbut and areas south, and in addition to
ﬁghting the Qawasim, they were also battling against the Wahhabi, which resulted
in a strained tribal power structure at its base in Shakhbut. In 1833, 800 members
of the Al Bu Falasa subsection of the Bani Yas left to settle in a point between
16 Heard-Bey, 1982, p. 164.
17 Peck, 1986, p.32.
18 See Onley, 2007 for more detailed explanation of British political structure within the region.
19 Nyrop, 1977, p.24. Hamza, 1968.
20 Davidson, 2008, p. 17.
21 Heard-Bey enumerates the many Bani Yas subsections, which along with the Al Bu Falasa, Al Bu Mahair, the Rumai
that, the Qubaisat, the Mazari, the Hawamil, the Maharibah, the Al Mishaghin, and the Sudan. In addition to the Bani
Yas tribe, she also enumerates the subsections of the Manasir and Dhawahir tribes, who were less numerous than the
dominant Bani Yas in the region. For a more elaborate discussion, see Heard-Bey, 1982 chapter two.
most importantly for
their trade routes
Sharjah and Shakhbut led by Maktoum bin Buti and Ubaid bin Said Al-Falasi. By
the late 1820s, the British Political Resident had already reported that the creek of
Dubai had approximately 1,200 residents, so the new arrivals nearly doubled the
population, and this is generally recognized as the ofﬁcial foundation of Dubai.22
Al-Falasi died soon after in 1836, thus consolidating dynastic rule of the Maktoum
family with the ofﬁcial recognition and security of the 1835 British treaty. The
Maktoum dynasty has been the ruling family in Dubai ever since.
Dubai of the Nineteenth Century
. In spite of the
The second half of the nineteenth century proved to be more prosperous
for the lower Gulf region, particularly for the pearling sector run by the merchants.
The maritime truce offered a calmer environment for pearling, and the increased
business demonstrated how the sector beneﬁted from this. Between the 1870s and
the late 1890s, pearl exports from Dubai grew ten-fold,24 and the harvests drew
regional attention that boosted immigration to Dubai, particularly among Persians
and Banians, British Indian Hindu merchants.25 Dubai merchants were well-in-
tegrated into the distribution patterns of the lower Gulf, and operated principally
out of the Persian Lingah port, which was a key hub for British trade between
India, Persia, and Europe. Because banking was considered to be against the Mus-
lim law, it was the Banians, with the support of Bombay banks, who took up the
banking sector in Dubai and funded the yearly pearling expeditions. The Persian
community was involved mainly in retail and food trade, and the Arab bourgeoisie
focused mainly on pearling and trading.26 The 40 shops and 100 traders in the souq
recognized by Sheikh Maktoum in the 1840s grew steadily,27 and by the end of the
22 Davidson, 2008, p. 12-13. Wilson, 2006, p.29.
23 Davidson, 2008, p. 15.
24 Davidson, 2008, p. 22-23. Gabriel, 1987, p.139. Lorimer, 1970.
25 Onley, 2007, p. xviii.
26 Al-Sayegh, 1998, p.88.
27 Davidson, 2008, p.68.
THE BLUEPRINT: | 7
century, Dubai claimed the highest number of men employed in the pearling sector
in the region (6,936), 335 pearling ships, and was clearly becoming the economic
and commercial center of the Trucial States.28
While successful pearling expeditions intensiﬁed trade for Dubai, during
the latter part of the nineteenth century it was still the Persian port of Lingah on
the other side of the Gulf that served as the principal distribution center for Indian
goods for the region. Lingah’s hub status was established since the eighteenth cen-
tury and continued throughout the nineteenth century, which attracted many Indian
traders to settle in Lingah and mix in with the Persian trade community. Over time,
Dubai traders also mixed with this trading group, and from 1873 through 1902
they controlled distribution trade from Lingah to the Trucial Coast.29 At the turn of
the century, however, Lingah’s fate would suffer drastically due to the imposition
of Tehran’s restrictive Imperial Customs tariffs and controls for re-exported goods,
which reached up to 400 percent on some goods, particularly for Arab traders.30 In
1904, in what would prove to be a regional coup, the ruler of Dubai, Maktoum bin
Hashar, at the majlis, declared the Dubai port to be tax-free and control-free by re-
moving the already low 5 percent customs fees, and this quickly attracted re-export
activities from Lingah across the Gulf to the Dubai Port.31 All commerce between
Great Britain and India would then pass through Dubai, such that by 1905, some 34
steamers were calling regularly, raising the annual volume of cargo to 70,000 tons.
The prominent British India Steam Navigation Company essentially shifted its dis-
tribution center, ﬁrmly establishing Dubai’s vocation as a strategic entrepôt for
British imperial trade routes. As a result, the merchant class greatly beneﬁted from
the rapid increase in trade throughput, and large sectors of the Lingah Persian and
Indian trading communities migrated to Dubai along with the trade route business.
Maktoum bin Hashar’s free port policy announcement at the majlis was
not coincidental, as it was this council that was chaired by the leaders of the mer-
chant community. Fatmah Al-Sayegh’s research explores the relationship between
the Dubai merchant class and the ruler throughout the twentieth century, and un-
derscores the importance of this sometimes delicate relationship in understanding
the development projects of the emirate. The free port policy attracted a larger
merchant community from Lingah, which meant that this tacit balance of power
needed to be cared for all the more prudently. Al-Sayegh describes this understand-
ing between ruler and merchant class at the beginning of the twentieth century as
Since the ruler’s income was not as high as that of the pearl merchants, and
sometimes ﬂuctuated with the market, the ruler often turned to the merchant for
ﬁnancial assistance, a fact which increased his dependency on them. This caused
a unique situation where in fact the merchants were often in a position to dictate
their wishes. The ruler was fully aware of this fact, and in return for merchants’
ﬁnancial contributions he appointed them to his Majlis, or advisory board.32
The majlis then served as a kind of pre-municipal group, led by the ruler,
wherein merchants’ ﬁnancial power gave them signiﬁcant sway over governing is-
sues. The merchant leaders promoted certain civic initiatives through philanthropic
projects for several schools and a hospital, which established a precedent both
28 Al-Sayegh, 1998, p.89.
29 Al-Saleh, 1998, p.89.
31 Gabriel, 1987, p. 71.
32 Al-Sayegh, 1998, p.90.
declared the Dubai
port to be tax-free
for speciﬁc concern for these kinds of foundational infrastructures, and to a more
general degree, a blurring of public and private spheres within the ruling system.
Urban Morphology at the Beginning of the Tweneth Century
While the port was taking on increased international trade functions, at
the turn of the century Dubai was still a town of 10,000 people, of which almost
7,000 were involved in the pearling sector. The urban layout included three areas
located around the mouth of the Creek: Deira, consisting of 1,600 houses and 350
souq shops for the Arab merchant community, Al Shindagah, a residence of the
ruling family that included 250 houses, and Bur Dubai, the smallest of the settle-
ment areas with 200 houses and 50 souq shops, mostly populated by Persian and
Indian merchants.33 Spatially, the town was perhaps more divided than the blurred
public and private functions mentioned above, with the ruler’s fortress located in Al
Shindagah, across the creek from the merchant area of Deira. Oddly, the Bur Dubai
area was perhaps the lesser important of three areas in terms of Dubai’s political
economy, but it housed the cemetery, which holds symbolic importance for many
It is important also to underscore the morphological precedent of this out-
lay in order to better understand subsequent urban development. First, the simul-
taneous separation and agglomeration of the three settlements around the water
element of the creek required a transportation mechanism (dhow river transport,
later enhanced through bridge and tunnel construction) in order to communicate
each area. While the silt accumulation allowed residents to cross the creek during
seasonal low tides, the creek generally required a form of transportation to cross.
Furthermore, the creek served as center, because it was the essential entry and exit
point for the pearling economy, and because it was the element that joined the three
separate settlements. Second, the spatial separation of function, maintaining the
Al Shindagah area dedicated to the ruler and his family, and the Deira area for the
merchant class, along with Bur Dubai, though to a lesser extent. While this would
eventually change, with a mixing of spatial functions among the three settlements
and beyond, the initial urban layout served as a blueprint for later modern and
modernization projects that spatially isolated districts for speciﬁc functions, and
equally importantly, while always subordinate to the ﬁnal power of the ruler, differ-
ent areas of the burgeoning town could be understood as overseen and associated
with certain communities in addition to the ruler. Finally, and related to each of the
previous points, Dubai was a megalopolitan urban structure. By this I mean that
while the creek must be understood as a central urban element and a structuring
mechanism for urban articulation and development, these three settlements were
also separated by the creek, and each settlement required a transportation arma-
ture for functional coherence.35 Thus, the ﬂuid nature of the creek as center was
essentially centrifugal, such that as development moved beyond the walled areas
of the city with infrastructural developments during the latter part of the twentieth
century, Dubai’s polycentric character, and its ability to have a moving or shifting
center hierarchy, was established within Dubai’s initial settlement pattern.
33 Heard-Bey, 1982, p. 242.
34 Mumford, 1961. See discussion of the “necropolis” on p. 7.
35 Gottman, 1961, introduces the concept of the “megalopolis,” and Pope, 2008, describes Dubai’s contemporary form as
THE BLUEPRINT: | 9
The Dubai Reform Movement
While World War I had little impact on Dubai, it was the period between
the wars that would greatly alter Dubai’s economic structure. The worldwide cri-
sis precipitated by ﬁnancial events in October 1929 would devastate international
markets, and Dubai was hit heavily, essentially ending the pearling sector and the
associate ancillary activities. As early as July 1929 there were already signs of
pearling ﬂeets that could not go out because of lack of ﬁnancing, and by 1933,
the international price for pearls had dropped by 20 percent.36 Once the crisis hit,
sectors of the merchant class felt part of the blame should be directed toward Brit-
ain. The British treaties had prevented other countries from investing in the local
pearling industry, and merchant leaders felt that this had denied them access to
improved technology for more competitive and efﬁcient pearling.37 Indeed, Britain
sought to prevent international interlopers into their Gulf “lake,” but also con-
sciously wanted to block excessive economic success for the Gulf, particularly in
a sector that they did not beneﬁt from directly. The Banians, who were hit particu-
larly hard by the crisis as the principal ﬁnanciers, requested that Britain intervene
to pursue their debtors, but these pleas went unanswered.38 The introduction of
the cultured pearl by the Japanese would also bring international prices down for
pearls, and mark the end of this long pearling history in the lower Gulf which had
lasted thousands of years.
The end of the pearling industry also interrupted the tacit governing agree-
ment between the ruler and the merchant class in Dubai. This occurred for two
reasons. First, while sectors of the merchant class and the majlis were involved
in port and regional distribution activities, most of the merchant class wealth was
based on proﬁts from pearling. Once this ended, they no longer controlled Dubai’s
purse strings, and thus, there was a shift in the balance of power established during
the pearling era to the beneﬁt of the ruler. Second, this shift also occurred because
of concessions for oil exploration and air use. In 1939, the British Political Resi-
dent for the lower Gulf remarked, “…a key reason for the goodwill between the
British and the rulers was that negotiations over air and oil gave the rulers a square
deal which carried a money bag rather than a big stick.”39 British oil exploration
throughout the Gulf region dated back to the turn of the century, as I will explore
in greater detail later, but similar preventative strategies that inspired the 1892 Gulf
treaties to keep Russia and other European countries away from Gulf resources also
drove the British to establish oil exploration concession agreements with countries
in the region. In 1935, the London-based Anglo-Iraqi Petroleum Company (later
renamed Petroleum Development (Trucial States)) formed a subsidiary company
called Petroleum Concessions Ltd., which was responsible for signing exclusive
oil exploration concession agreements in the lower Gulf.40 In 1937, Dubai’s ruler
Sheikh Said Al-Maktoum signed a twenty-ﬁve-year oil concession agreement with
Petroleum Concessions Ltd., wherein the ruler received 60,000 rupees at signing,
an annual income of 300,000 rupees, with an additional 200,000 rupees if oil were
discovered, and an export price of 3 rupees per barrel.41
36 Al-Sayegh, 1998, p.94.
37 Davidson, 2008, Chapter 2.
39 Davidson, 2008, p. 24.
40 Peck, 1986, p.37.
41 Davidson, 2008, p. 27.
The end of the
interrupted the tacit
and the merchant
class in Dubai.
In addition, the British sought exclusive air rights in the region for their
Imperial Airways line to be able to land and refuel for ﬂights from Basra to Bom-
bay and Cairo to Karachi. Again, these concessions were signed directly with the
rulers, beginning in the early 1930s with Ras-al Khaimah and Sharjah, and then
again in 1937, with Sheikh Said in Dubai. While it was initially believed that there
was no appropriate land site for an airstrip, the agreement took advantage of the
linear form of the Dubai creek as a landing site for water planes. Sheikh Said
received 5,000 rupees in the ﬁrst year of this agreement, and it is believed that in
order to secure this agreement, he would buy up all empty seats on planes that were
not full when leaving Dubai to retain Imperial Airways patronage.42
With direct passive revenue streams coming from air and oil concessions,
Sheikh Said assumed a much stronger position vis-à-vis the majlis and the mer-
chant class, placing him in a position of greater ﬁnancial power after having to
depend on pearling merchants for an income. Other Gulf countries that also de-
pended on pearling faced similar shifts in the ruler/majlis power shares, which
precipitated a wave of reform movements in the region, particularly in Kuwait and
Bahrain. Clearly these movements were the result of disgruntled merchants that
had previously controlled local affairs, who, with the end of the pearling industry,
lost much of their wealth, but perhaps even more importantly, much of their power
and status. Merchant leaders in Dubai emboldened by the success of the reform
movement in Kuwait and Bahrain sought similar reforms.
In October 1938, four hundred merchants from various families, includ-
ing the ruler’s, tried to impose a set of political and economic reforms on Sheikh
Said. The reforms included a new ﬁfteen-member consultative majlis, of which
the ruler would be president, whose main functions would be to administer the
public coffer consisting of 85 percent of the concession revenues. Importantly, the
reforms also included a list of infrastructure investments, such as the dredging and
widening of the creek to help boost trade throughput and increase economic activ-
ity for the merchants, still reeling from the end of pearl trade, particularly to create
advantage over the competing port of Sharjah, which also silted heavily. While
comprised of disgruntled, status-stripped merchant leaders, the democratic aims of
the reforms strove to extend the political and economic decisions of Dubai beyond
simply those of the ruler. The reform movement enjoyed some initial success, but
Sheikh Said, with the continued support of the British, along with Bedouin tribes
on the outskirts of Dubai, was able to regain power. While the power had shifted
locally in Dubai because of the end of pearling, the power agreement between the
British and the regional rulers, and Sheikh Said in particular, had not changed. And
the British, at least at this point, preferred to continue to conduct their business
with one person and not a potentially quarrelsome, elected majlis. A combination
of gun-boat diplomacy (several ships from the Royal Navy were stationed within
sight of Deira), several low-ﬂying Royal Air Force planes, and the kind of Al-
Maktoum cunning that had kept usurpers at bay for over a century, helped Sheikh
Said to regain power.
On March 29, 1939, through what appeared to be a peace offering, Prince
Rashid, son of Sheikh Said, was to marry the daughter of a prominent merchant
class family involved in the reform movement. Since the October initiative, the
Deira side of the creek, controlled by the merchants, had been guarded against
any kind of retaliation from the ruler. After some months, this guard seemed un-
42 Davidson, 2008, p.25-6.
to extend the po-
decisions of Dubai
beyond simply those
of the ruler.
THE BLUEPRINT: | 11
necessary for the event of the March wedding. On the day of the wedding, how-
ever, Bedouin troops crossed the creek and declared that Dubai was once again
uniﬁed.43 Instead of the consultative majlis that the reform movement demanded,
a Majlis al-tujjar was established, which would continue to include some selected
merchant leaders, but only at the ruler’s discretion. From this point forward, Prince
Rashid took over the affairs of Dubai in the name of his father, though Sheikh Said
would live on until 1958. Rashid was more sympathetic with the merchants’ plight,
and upon taking power ofﬁcially, he would proceed to implement many of the in-
frastructural projects that the reform movement petitioned. Once Sheikh, Rashid
would also establish a municipal council that would open some of the technocratic
municipal decision-making processes. The important difference, however, is that
the merchant class could not force his hand into these projects, and he made sure
that the projects were cleared and coordinated with the British political agents.
The reform movement marks the beginning of the era of Prince, and subsequently
Sheikh, Rashid, as a kind of trial by ﬁre in political intrigue. His marriage into the
reformist merchant family, and the intelligence to understand the logic in some of
the requests of the reform movement, particular as a means to further Dubai’s de-
velopment, helped form a more cooperative collaboration with the merchant com-
munity. Nevertheless, the outcome of the reform movement, the counter-reform if
you will, signiﬁed that an unclear distinction between overall development objec-
tives and those of individual merchant interests could continue to exist comfort-
ably, with the very clear understanding that each was ultimately subordinate to
the Al-Maktoum ruler and his British backing. The outcome also demonstrated
that the infrastructural reforms to promote economic concerns for the merchant
class were attended to (albeit not until the 1950s), but the political reforms calling
for democratization were ignored, which again, would serve as a kind of modus
operandi for what could and could not change within the regime, essentially until
Oil Exploraon and Increased Brish Paternalism
The end of World War II marked the beginning of the Cold War, and soon
after, Indian independence in 1947 ended the British colonial project in the Sub-
continent. However, the British Raj remained in the Gulf region for twenty more
years for various reasons: ﬁrst, the oil interests pursued since the beginning of
the twentieth century; second, cold war motives to keep Russian inﬂuence in the
resource-rich region at bay; and ﬁnally, the remaining hubris of Empire, and an
inertia that saw no reason to abandon a situation of good relations with the rulers
of the region.44 J.P. Bannerman suggests that before oil explorations, the political
unit in the Trucial States was understood as “people-centered,” based on personal
agreements, and not territorially deﬁned with speciﬁcity.45 Once oil exploration
concessions were established with the British, however, territorial domain took on
a much greater signiﬁcance for Gulf rulers. We’ve already seen how this impacted
local ruling dynamics, but at the same time, when oil concessions were signed with
both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the late 1930s, an initial disagreement on territorial
boundaries was sparked. Though World War II temporarily halted explorations,
43 Davidson, 2008, p.34.
44 Peck, 1986, p.40.
45 Bannerman, 1986, p. 76-77.
they resumed in 1945, as did the border dispute, which ﬂared in 1948 when a Dubai
raiding group killed ﬁfty-two Manasir allies of Abu Dhabi in a border battle.46
British political intervention helped resolve the conﬂict by drawing up territorial
boundaries from the coast to the interior that both Abu Dhabi and Dubai agreed to,
but the border would remain a point of contention between Dubai and Abu Dhabi
through the Emirates’ formation in 1971. Clearly, the British understanding with
Trucial rulers could be used to back those rulers against reformist merchants and
to pit the rulers against one another, again with British paternalist intervention as
the ﬁnal word on matters.
As oil exploration resumed after World War II, British institutions moved
to Dubai to establish a presence in the growing town. In 1947 a British political
resident was set up in Dubai, and in the previous year the British Imperial Bank of
Iran (which would change its name to British Bank of the Middle East—BBME—
in 1952) signed an agreement with Dubai to set up an ofﬁce there that would enjoy
a banking monopoly until 1963. While proﬁts for BBME were initially more mod-
est in Dubai compared with other Gulf branches in Kuwait and Bahrain, the bank
enjoyed good relations with Prince Rashid, and this would eventually pay off well
for them. Beginning in the early 1950s, gold became the new resource to replace
pearls in Dubai. While Kuwait had previously been the principal exporter of gold
to India, their discovery and subsequent concentration on oil in 1950, along with
Dubai’s economic growth and geographic proximity to India, attracted gold trade
ﬂows southward.47 After India’s independence was declared, the sale of gold was
ofﬁcially outlawed for Indian merchants. For the merchants of Dubai, who were
forced to ﬁnd other sectors for business opportunities (both legal and illicit) after
the pearl decline, a market for the covert sale of gold to Indian merchants through
dhow trade began. Thus, all international gold trade with India (including Britain’s
and Switzerland’s) would pass ﬁrst through Dubai, where its dhow traders would
then transship the gold for the ﬁnal trek to meet with Indian traders off their coasts.
The BBME in Dubai would offer “free dollars” for gold trade, even though Dubai
was still part of the sterling region, and in this way, a curious three-way exchange
for currency and bullion traders emerged that generated proﬁts of 300 percent or
more. The BBME, of course, also proﬁted handsomely. With the same vision and
ﬂexibility demonstrated in competition with Persia, Dubai, again, utilized a lax
regulatory system and a willingness to encourage business to solidify its economic
Dubai Urban Infrastructure
The historical relationship between Dubai and the British government, and
their associate interests in promoting British banking through institutions like the
BBME — as well as British consulting groups, as we shall see — cannot be over-
emphasized as part and parcel of the modernization project of the emirate. Geof
frey Jones’s history of the BBME underscores the kind of unorthodox relationship
established between the Bank and Sheikh Rashid:
As in Kuwait, BBME had a monopoly of banking in Dubai after opening in
1946. In Dubai, as elsewhere, the responsibilities of monopoly encouraged BBME
46 Peck, 1986, p.41.
47 Green, 1973.
48 Gabriel, 1987, p.142. Green, 1973.
and bullion traders
percent or more.
THE BLUEPRINT: | 13
to undertake functions beyond the scope of a normal commercial bank…Moreover,
from the late 1950s BBME played an important part in the Ruler’s plans to mod-
Since proposed in the majlis reform movement of the late 1930s, the
dredging and widening of the creek was understood as Dubai’s most imperative
infrastructural project to help increase throughput of trafﬁc, as well as accommo-
date the landing of heavier equipment necessary for oil exploration. In 1954, using
contacts both through the political agencies of the British Raj along with those of
the BBME, Prince Rashid called upon Neville Allen, an engineer for the British Sir
William Halcrow ﬁrm who was working on hydrographic surveys for the develop-
ment of the Shuwaikh Port in Kuwait, to carry out similar surveys for the creek for
its eventual dredging scheme. Allen’s survey determined that the cost for dredging
would be £388,000, and in 1955 Prince Rashid and the British political agent ap-
proached BBME to try to secure a loan for the project. The Bank would not agree
to the loan without the British government’s guarantee that it would pay in case of
default, which was not immediately forthcoming. An alternative route through this
same network helped to secure a £400,000 loan from the Ruler of Kuwait, under
the auspices of the Kuwait Development Fund that offered regional help to devel-
oping neighbors since Kuwait’s discovery in 1938. The BBME helped to negotiate
favorable lending conditions and also agreed to guarantee payments in case Dubai
defaulted.50 The initial dredging and widening of the creek was completed by the
end of the decade, and increased throughput capacity to allow local vessels and
coastal steamers of up to 800 tons to enter. Grey Mackenzie & Sons, also a Brit-
ish ﬁrm working in the Gulf since the late nineteenth century, operated barges that
unloaded cargo in the creek for offshore ships over the 800-ton limit.51 The Sharjah
creek had silted to a point beyond use, long enough for Dubai to secure the infra-
In addition to creek dredging, through the same regional networks, Dubai
also contracted the British architect/planner John R. Harris to draft the ﬁrst 1960
master plan to direct booming expansion and infrastructure projects. Harris had
also been involved in architecture and planning work in Kuwait, but as creek activ-
ity and development increased, Sheikh Rashid either foresaw, or was persuaded,
that this kind of urban development and expansion needed proper planning to
guide it. The sources on this matter diverge according to who is writing the history,
but whether Sheikh Rashid saw what was happening in Kuwait and Bahrain and
wanted to follow their example with the advice of British institutions and consul
tants who would beneﬁt, or whether these infrastructure projects were part of his
larger vision for Dubai is conjectural. Clearly Sheikh Rashid’s political cunning,
along with a family history of business-friendly policy to facilitate trade, demon-
strated the intelligence to both identify and create opportunities for Dubai. But it
was with the ﬁnancing and technical expertise of both British and Gulf networks
that these projects were ultimately realized.
Harris’s 1960 document was principally a road map outlining the trans-
portation armature to help structure the city’s growth, which also included gen-
eral land use indications for industrial, residential, commercial, and public (future
schools, hospitals) use, but these were broad-brushed, and could later be changed
49 Jones, 1987, p. 150.
50 Jones, 1987, p. 154.
51 Gabriel, 1987,p.141. Jones, 1986.
circumstantially according to new project and investment requirements. A 1968
promotional booklet on Dubai announces as much in its “Town Planning” sec-
tion: “The whole plan has an inbuilt ﬂexibility enabling it to be adapted to new
conditions and major development projects.”52 Again, while initially a part of the
reform movement’s petitions, the Dubai Municipality was ofﬁcially established
in 1957 as the institution in charge of carrying out the indications of the Harris
plan. By the end of the decade, the small ﬁshing town began to grow southward
along the creek’s natural urban axis with the help of muscular, ambitious engineer-
ing projects to guide expansion. Dredging and land reclamation, and Harris’s ﬁrst
master plan, occurred at the same time as Sheikh Rashid promulgated the Land
Law of 1960, which essentially was a homestead declaration giving land owner-
ship to those Dubai nationals who could prove that they had lived on their property
for a certain period of time. All other land belonged to the ruler - land could not
be owned by non-nationals - and if the municipality needed private land for infra-
structural purposes, it was committed to paying the appropriate price. Prince Mak-
toum bin Rashid Al Maktoum headed the land regulation committee, with the Land
Law structured speciﬁcally on the Sudanese land law, which had recently been
completed after Sudanese independence in 1956,53 and Sudanese consultants were
contracted to help formulate the law based on their recent experience.54, The Land
Law is another example, though in a different sector, of consulting expertise con-
tracted through regional networks based on British spheres of inﬂuence (the Sudan
was also a part of the British Raj at this time). The law was also an essential step
to deﬁne land capitalization for wealth accumulation and should be understood as
directly linked to the ﬁrst master plan as part of the larger strategy to both invest in
Dubai as a territory through large infrastructure projects and take advantage of the
resulting land value increase from these projects. The law also helped to guarantee
the loans needed for these projects by capitalizing land for wealth accumulation.
Other infrastructural projects were also initiated during this period with ﬁ-
nancial help from the above-mentioned networks, including the Qatari ruling fam-
ily, which like Kuwait, had also recently discovered oil within its territory. Projects
included drilling for additional fresh water resources for the growing population
(the site of Al-Awir would become an important water resource, along with the
enhanced Bedouin well systems),55 the Dubai State Telephone Co., along with the
founding of the Dubai Electric Company, which the BBME also helped form based
on the foundational structure and articles of the Baghdad Electric Company.56 The
British Halcrow ﬁrm, which by this point was ﬁrmly established as the chief en-
gineering group for Sheikh Rashid’s plans, was also contracted to build the ﬁrst
bridge across the creek. The Al-Maktoum Bridge ﬁnally connected Bur Dubai with
Deira, facilitating alternative passage for vehicles beyond the creek water passage
through dhows and abras.
Sheikh Rashid initiated many infrastructural projects during this boom
period between 1958, when he assumed the title of ruler, and 1966, when oil was
struck. It is important to underscore that, along with the more traditional infrastruc-
tural and municipal services projects mentioned, there was also a conscious effort
to establish a banking and hotel infrastructure to further attract trade and diversify
52 Hamza, 1968. The Engineering Department of the Dubai Municipality was responsible for the Plan’s implementation.
53 Balfour-Paul, 1991, Chapter 2.
54 Hamza, 1968.
55 Davidson, 2008, p.92. Wilson, 2006 p. 177.
56 Jones, 1987, p.155.
and hotel infrastruc-
THE BLUEPRINT: | 15
ﬁnancial possibilities. The ﬁnancial arrangements with local and British contacts
to ﬁnance the engineering projects often resulted in Dubai‘s use of borrowed mon-
ey to pay international (mostly British) consultants to carry out ambitious projects,
such as creek dredging and road construction. But Sheikh Rashid also understood
that at some point, these institutions would need to be created locally.
The BBME had enjoyed a monopoly in the banking sector in Dubai since
the late 1940s and, though ofﬁcially their proﬁts where less than in other parts of
the region, gold trade throughout the 1950s earned the bank an important income.
During a trip to London in 1959, Sheikh Rashid is said to have made an agreement
with the BBME to extend their monopoly banking privileges, which were previ-
ously scheduled to end in 1967, for an additional seven years, or through 1974.
Nevertheless, beginning in 1962, Dubai representatives went to Kuwait to study
the National Bank of Kuwait and to offer them a 30 percent share in the establish-
ment of a National Bank of Dubai in 1963.57 The National Bank of Dubai, to the
BBME’s surprise, opened in May 1963. In Geoffrey Jones’s history of the BBME,
with an obvious bias, he states, “BBME’s decision not to oppose the formation
of the National Bank was the only practical choice…There was great disappoint-
ment, however, when further breaches of BBME’s monopoly followed.”58 These
“further breaches” included the opening of the First National City Bank of New
York (Citibank) in January 1964 as a part of the 1963 oil concession agreement
with the United States ﬁrm the Continental Oil Company. By 1968, along with
these three banks, six other banks from neighboring Gulf countries, the U.K. and
the U.S. had opened ofﬁces, and this number, of course, would continue to grow
apace with Dubai’s economic prosperity.59 Sheikh Rashid’s decision to ﬁrst estab-
lish a National Bank and then to diversify the international bank presence in Dubai
may have origins in the fact that the BBME had initially refused his petition for a
loan to widen and deepen the creek, and that his desire to use their presence as a
quasi-public coffer had clear limits. The merchant community, which had a history
of anti-British sentiment, may also have inﬂuenced Sheikh Rashid’s decision but it
seems just as likely that he observed the moves of neighboring Gulf countries and
believed that Dubai’s ﬁnancial autonomy would require the founding of a national
bank as well.
Dubai also saw the beginnings of its hotel sector in the early 1960s, with
an increasing number of visits from international businessmen attracted by the
prospect of oil exploration, along with gold trade activities. The three ﬁrst-class
hotels, the Carlton (112 rooms) on the Deira side of the creek, the Bustan (32
rooms) by the airport, and the Airlines Hotel (26 rooms) in Bur Dubai, were ad-
vertised with swimming pools and tennis courts.60 Additional hotels included the
Ambassador (46 rooms) and the Oasis (36 rooms).61 In the following decade, in-
ternational hotels would become towers lining the creek, but at this point, they
were still ground+nine buildings. Foreshadowing future supply-side infrastructural
decisions, hotel construction preceded the demand capacity, and many rooms were
initially vacant. As the decade would progress and investments increase, these
kinds of vacancies would not last.
57 Jones, 1987, p. 156.
59 Hamza, 1968.
60 Wilson, 2006, p. 186. Gabriel, 1987, p. 143. Hamza, 1968.
61 Harris, 1994, Section 4.2.8.
Air- and Seaports
The municipal services, ﬁnancial institutions, and nascent tourist infra-
structure projects sought to complement those core elements of Dubai’s trade and
entrepôt functions, but Sheikh Rashid’s projects still centered on large-scale trade
infrastructure. Though the creek had been widened and dredged in the late 1950s,
the 1930s air concessions agreement with the British R.A.F. to use the creek as a
landing strip for water planes was signed mainly with the interest of warding off
other international courters. The creek’s actual use as an airstrip is recorded only
from 1942–1947.62 The principal airport for the lower Gulf was the Sharjah Inter-
national Airport established in 1939, but just as Dubai wanted to compete for mari-
time trade with Sharjah by dredging the creek, Sheikh Rashid realized quickly that
an airport would be necessary to attract international business directly to the city.
When presenting the idea to the merchant community, however, he made sure to
underscore his ﬁrm belief in an “open skies” policy63 and not repeat the exclusive
agreement signed in the late 1930s by Sheikh Said. Sheikh Rashid also emphasized
these different circumstances to downplay any bad memories of the power change
that the air concessions deal of the 1930s had caused the majlis. Easa Saleh Al-
Gurg, who served as an advisor to Sheikh Rashid and an early employee of the
BBME, recounts in his autobiography how he and Sheikh Rashid, during their
1959 trip to London, met with International Airadio Limited, the British air-trafﬁc
control ﬁrm, where they committed to running a new Dubai International Airport.
They identiﬁed a plot of land between the Al-Ghusais and Al-Rashidya areas in
early 1960 and, by the end of the year, the terminal and air tower were complete.
The airport was managed by International Airadio Limited, and ﬂights from Gulf
Aviation and Kuwait Airways immediately began routing through Dubai. British
Overseas Aviation Company, though initially reluctant, also eventually began ﬂy-
ing through Dubai, as the result of Sheikh Rashid incorporating his father’s policy
of buying up any vacant seats on ﬂights so that the BOAC could meet its minimum
of 60 percent occupancy.64
By 1965, increased trade along the creek continued to serve the construc-
tion and oil exploration boom of the 1960 and it was clear that a deep-water port
was needed to alleviate month-long queues of ships waiting to unload cargo for
the city. While forty Grey and Mackenzie barges worked to unload offshore ships,
it simply could not keep apace, and, in several cases, helicopters were contracted
to help throughput. In 1965, Halcrow was summoned once again to begin surveys
for a deep-water port just south of the creek’s entrance in Al Shindagah. The initial
plans for the new Port Rashid were complete in 1967, but based on conservative
British growth projects for trade, included only four berths,. As we will see, even
Sheikh Rashid’s insistence on sixteen berths proved below the mark, and all berths
were oversubscribed when Port Rashid opened in 1971, which would then have to
be expanded to thirty-seven berths by the end of the 1970s.
62 Al-Gurg, 1998.
63 Davidson, 2008, p.94.
64 Davidson, 2008, p. 95.
THE BLUEPRINT: | 17
By the early 1960s, the twenty-ﬁve year oil concessions contract that
Sheikh Said had signed in the late 1930s with Petroleum Concessions Limited
(PCL) was ending. The ﬁrst round of concessions contracts throughout the Gulf,
roughly from 1910 through World War II, were generally forced on rulers through
the British political agencies, wherein the oil exploration was not required to train
nor include local labor, offer participation of the host country, foster any com-
mitments toward industrialization development, and were generally established on
unjust ﬁnancial arrangements.65 In the case of Dubai, the end of the pearl trade,
and the ﬁnancial advantage of direct payments to Sheikh Said, offered a politically
attractive way to strike a new power contract with the local majlis, but this is not
to say that the concessions contracts were just. After PCL acquired the concession
rights, World War II interrupted oil exploration in Dubai but when it resumed,
PCL explored three separate sites for onshore drilling (notably, Jebel Ali) dur-
ing the 1950s. By the time the contract was up, oil had been discovered in com-
mercial quantities in other regions of the Gulf and the frustration of unsuccessful
drilling meant that the British were not as eager to renew the existing contract.
In 1963, Dubai signed an oil exploration contract with the U.S. Continental Oil
Company (CONOCO), and set up the Dubai Petroleum Company (DPC) to run the
onshore concession. The Dubai Marine Areas Limited was also set up as a joint
venture with British Petroleum and Compagnie Française de Pétroles for offshore
exploration.66 This arrangement would change several times through quick sales
of percentages within these joint ventures from one international oil company to
another, but on June 6th, 1966, the DPC discovered crude oil in the offshore “Fateh”
ﬁeld (meaning “good fortune” in Arabic) at 7,600 feet below sea level. Subsequent
ﬁelds known as “Fateh South” and “Rashid” were also successful, and oil produc-
tion began three years later in 1969. On September 22, 1969, the ﬁrst shipment of
180,000 barrels arrived at the U.K. CONOCO reﬁneries, and on October 15, 1970,
Dubai became an ofﬁcial member of the club of oil exporting countries.67 By the
end of the ﬁrst year, the Dubai oil ﬁelds yielded 3,561,094 barrels of crude oil, with
revenues of $376,114. By the end of 1970, revenue jumped to $11,556,000 and by
the end of 1975 estimated revenue reached $600,000,000.68
While oil discovery brought revenue to Dubai and would change the city’s
physiognomy, moving it beyond the initial three settlements along the creek, it is
clear that Dubai’s status as a dynamic entrepôt for international trade and trans-
shipment, its foundational infrastructure projects, and its “free port” policies to
attract merchant communities from throughout the Gulf and the Indian Ocean,
along with licit and illicit trade for re-export to Persia/Iran and India, were solidly
established before “black gold” was struck in Fateh ﬁeld. Dubai’s trade vocation
existed before the arrival of the British, but their indirect protection (with clear
costs and beneﬁts to Dubai), along with the fact that British merchants were not at-
65 Al-Otaiba, 1977, p.39-40.
68 Al-Otaiba, 1977, p.67.
the club of oil export-
tracted to local Gulf trade because proﬁts were considered too low for their efforts,
allowed for a community of Banian, Persian and Arab merchants to settle in Dubai
and assume their own positions of power and inﬂuence.69 Though before the arrival
of oil, because of the ruler’s dependence on the merchant community for their pearl
trade wealth and subsequently because of Sheikh Rashid’s sympathies with the
importance of trade for the emirate, Dubai was, as Enseng Ho states, “a ‘trading
state’ in which the ruling family, the Maktoums, combined the role of both ruler
and chief merchant.”70 Indeed, through both marriage and family, Sheikh Rashid
is perhaps the best example of this, so much so that his example would become
imbued in both the responsibilities and political understandings expected of the
sheikhdom title itself.
Sheikh Rashid was able to carry out the infrastructure projects solicited by
the majlis in their reform movement, and though the merchant community was hit
strongly by the end of pearling, gold trade proﬁts for the Dubai merchant commu-
nity helped to quell reform rumblings. Once the creek was dredged and widened,
with Harris’s master plan and the 1960s Land Law in place, the Dubai municipality
saw the strategic opportunity to reclaim land on the Deira side of the creek by using
what was removed from the dredging project. Creek dredging and land reclama-
tion in the late 1950s and early 1960s provided a new surface on which to guide
southern creek development. This reclaimed land then became the corridor for of-
ﬁce, hotel, and municipal development, which the municipality was in turn able to
either lease or sell without having to buy out any existing landowner plots within
Deira—one of the densest parts of the city. Thus Baniyas Road would become the
city’s central business district, mixing heavier industry with commercial and ofﬁce
uses. This strategic use of ambitious infrastructural projects, and those institutions
that would help establish future economic sectors for Dubai (i.e., numerous banks
as a ﬁnancial infrastructure, hotels as a tourism infrastructure) with multiple devel-
opmental objectives, would also mark future infrastructural projects and overarch-
ing developmental strategies.
Thus Dubai’s development blueprint was being forged while the city was
still a Gulf outpost and British protectorate up through oil discovery: large-scale
engineering projects to facilitate trade movement (which, in turn, attracted more
trade); urban expansion along the new trade route (initially, the creek); and spatial
planning reduced essentially to providing transportation infrastructure to facilitate
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THE BLUEPRINT: | 21
The Dubai School of Government (DSG) is a research and teaching institution
focusing on public policy in the Arab world. Established in 2005 under the
patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice Presi-
dent and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, in
cooperation with the Harvard Kennedy School, DSG aims to promote good
governance through enhancing the region’s capacity for effective public policy.
Toward this goal, the Dubai School of Government also collaborates with regional and global institu-
tions in its research and training programs. In addition, the School organizes policy forums and interna-
tional conferences to facilitate the exchange of ideas and promote critical debate on public policy in the
The School is committed to the creation of knowledge, the dissemination of best practice and the train-
ing of policy makers in the Arab world. To achieve this mission, the School is developing strong capa-
bilities to support research and teaching programs including
The Dubai Initiative is a joint venture between the Dubai School of Government (DSG) and the
Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), supporting the establishment of DSG as an academic, research,
and outreach institution in public policy, administration, and management for the Middle East. The
primary objective of the Initiative is to bridge the expertise and resources of HKS with DSG and
enable the exchange of students, scholars, knowledge and resources between the two institutions in
the areas of governance, political science, economics, energy, security, gender, and foreign relations
related to the Middle East.
The Initiative implements programs that respond to the evolving needs of DSG and are aligned with
the research interests of the various departments and centers of HKS as well as other schools and
departments of Harvard University. Program activities include funding, coordinating and facilitating
fellowships, joint fellowships with DSG, internships, faculty and graduate research grants, working
papers, multi-year research initiatives, conferences, symposia, public lectures, policy workshops,
faculty workshops, case studies, and customized executive education programs delivered at DSG.
For more information, please visit us at www.dubaiinitiative.org