Originally a trading centre, Dubai's development was kickstarted by the discovery of oil
Sheikh Mohammed is a direct descendent of the founders of Dubai, who led 800 members of the Bani Yas tribe out of Abu Dhabi in the 1830s to bloodlessly take over a settlement of pearl divers, date palm growers and fishers on the banks of Dubai Creek. By 1930, the 20,000-strong port town’s strategic location had made it a bustling centre for trade and export. But it was the discovery of oil in 1966 that caused Dubai’s first growth spurt. Dubai gained independence from Britain and joined the United Arab Emirates (UAE) when the federation was founded in 1971.
By the time the oil drilling began, Sheikh Mohammed’s father, Sheikh Rashid, knew the limited reserves would run dry in 30 years, so prudently tunnelled Dubai’s windfall into strengthening its port and trade industry. Port Rashid, the world’s largest deep-water harbour, was built in the 1960s and Port Jebel Ali, the world’s largest man-made harbour and the largest port in the Middle East, was built in the 1980s. These two ports established Dubai as the gateway between East and West trade routes. Free zones were also created around the ports to encourage businesses to relocate there.
When Sheikh Rashid died, his son, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, became ruler and appointed Sheikh Mohammed crown prince. Four years later, with oil reserves dwindling, Sheikh Mohammed hatched his Vision 2010 plan to diversify the emirate’s economy, reduce the percentage of the emirate’s GDP from oil, and kickstart the city’s transformation into a cosmopolitan metropolis.