• Ibrahim Insights

From Desert to Dream Destination: The Evolution of the UAE


Visiting the United Arab Emirates has been on many people’s bucket list for a long time, including mine. Was it because of its culture? People? Infrastructure? Lavish cars roaming the streets? Or was it because of its continuous development throughout the years leading to all of the above? After a long awaited trip to the UAE, my colleagues and I learned about what made the UAE the strong nation it is today after several years of it being a mere desert area.

The UAE was established in 1971. Before its tall buildings, tourism sights, and cultural diversity, the Arab nation lacked industrialization and worked its way up. Among the factors that contributed to its current success include international relations, education opportunities, strong hospitality, growing environmentalism, and more. My fellows and I visited Dubai, Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi to explore this growth through a series of conferences and inspirational dialogues.


The gradual development of the UAE allowed for people from all over the world to come to the country located southeast of the Arab Peninsula in search of exciting job opportunities and a fancy lifestyle. Although most of its residents are expatriates, the UAE’s diversity makes it one step closer to following the dream that is similar to that of the United States’.

Going to Jumeirah Beach Residence beach was the perfect start to our visit to Dubai. While half of the breathtaking view was sand and sea, the other half was high buildings making us feel like we were in the middle of two distant worlds. I felt like I was in the middle of a historical timeline. It reminded me of how less than 50 years ago, all this land was indeed only sand and now is flourishing with revolutionary infrastructure.


We then attended the Orient Research Center Conference that covered many aspects and historical events of the Middle East to further expand our knowledge on UAE growth. Khouloud Al Hammed and Khalid Shimmari, two young members of the ORC, were fascinated by UAE’s development and helped the audience picture it as “a country to fall in love with”. In the past, it had been a harsh environment with defined gender roles. However, tribal families had a Majlis in their homes and the economy grew globally. Today, although only men have access to local Majlis’, women in the UAE have more rights than before. They can work in almost any field they desire and some settings allow for women-only lines, no queue.


After 2011, the Arab Spring changed many things and security increased. The country was in a state of emergency which lead to greater foreign policy in the UAE and lead to a new political currency. Although this was the outcome of other countries’ failures, it made the UAE stronger. Former President Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan believed in continuous growth and built everything about his country for the long term.

Zayed’s passion for his country definitely rubbed off on the residents of UAE further adding to the country’s positive reputation. Emiratis occupy only 6% of the country and are privileged with more than the remaining 94% of expatriates are. When I met my cousins in Dubai for dinner on a Wednesday night, we drove past Jumeirah. It is a coastal residential area surrounded by luxury hotels and dwellings. I noticed a long street of mansions owned by only Emiratis, as I was told, and they are given many privileges since birth. Another gift is a government grant and eventually a piece of land when ready to marry. This government-citizen relationship is one of many examples leading to the country’s patriotism.


Loyalty and belonging is very important in Arab countries. UAE shares America’s dream of pursuing and sustaining prosperity but also has strong international ties. In the future, the UAE plans to invest in a group of people able to get politically involved to help Syria and has already given over $500 million in relief aid. It has also previously invested in Egypt’s education and infrastructure.

The UAE is also continuing to grow and flourish technologically. Not only did UAE have a very inspiring past and present, but it also aspires to have an incredible future. We visited Masdar City, in Abu Dhabi, also known as “the city of the future”. The goal of this solar panel-influenced location is to become “the world’s most sustainable eco-city”. It pioneers how a city can function under constant urbanization and development. Masdar city is looking to use only renewable energy as well as solar energy to function and is surrounded by breathtaking Arab architecture. When completed, the city will take in over 40,000 residents.

As I look back on my journey to the UAE, I rethink that bucket list and why so many would want to visit this country. After finally visiting, I found the true essence of more than one Emirate and how gravitating they can be. The journey of becoming a nation with such speedy development is an inspiration to many Arab countries and a bigger spark of hope.


Yarah Shabana is a member of the 2016 Ibrahim cohort.

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