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Dubai at the Beginning of the 20th and 21st Centuries

Dubai is currently the most populous and thriving city in the United Arab Emirates. However, it has recently obtained its new appearance, namely at the beginning of the twentieth century Dubai looked strikingly different from what it is possible to observe nowadays. Modern Dubai owes its social and economic growth to the oil boom at the end of the twentieth century that significantly modified the city. This essay is devoted to the comparison and contrast of Dubai at the beginning of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with the focus on four aspects: trade and commerce in the city, general looks and architecture, population and social issues, and religion.


First of all, it is essential to pay attention to the factor that explains the appearance of all the alternations in Dubai within the last century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the basis of Dubai’s trade and commerce was pearls. The pearl industry built the relatively prosperous city, but the economy of the region lacked stability. Besides, Dubai was a huge port that forced many international companies that existed at that period in the country to manage their offices in Dubai. However, in the 1960s, the oil era commenced in the region, and it completely transformed its economics. This business sphere was so profitable that the scale and the tempo of Dubai’s economic development became exceptional. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Dubai is a huge international commercial hub where profits from oil industry allowed launching the development of technologies, knowledge sphere, etc. Moreover, Dubai is aware that oil deposits are limited and tries to boost the tourism by promoting the entertainment sphere and attracting foreign visitors.

Another alternation that to a certain extent resulted from the significant economic boost of Dubai in the second half of the twentieth century is the city’s general view and architecture. At the 1910s and 1920s, the city occupied the relatively small territory in comparison with enormous European cities, like Paris or Berlin. In 1894, the great fire destroyed the vast territories in the region, so Dubai was mainly concerned with the reconstruction of the buildings rather than with the expansion. However, oil profits allowed the city to grow at a very significant tempo, and nowadays the territory of Dubai metropolis reaches more than 4 thousand square kilometers. Dubai’s skyline has dramatically changed from relatively low rural-type buildings to the plenty of skyscrapers of steel and glass that provided the city with a profound modern international look. The two special skyscrapers in Dubai that became famous all over the world are Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest man-made structure, and Burj Al-Arab, the third tallest hotel in the world. Furthermore, it is crucial to mention that the revolutionary project of the Palm Islands with Palm Jumeirah has already completed.

The population of Dubai and all relevant social spheres also witnessed a significant number of changes. Although the beginning of population growth in the first decades of the twentieth century was undoubtedly huge (+700% in 1900 and +100% in 1930), the general amount of people living in the city remained at a relatively low level – only about 10 thousand people in 1900. However, nowadays Dubai has about 2.5 million residents that insert it close to such large European cities, as Paris, Rome or Kyiv. Moreover, in comparison to Dubai of the 1900s, the city now witnesses the greater ethnic diversity as only about 15% of the population consists of the UAE nationals. Another social issue that has drastically altered within the period of about one hundred years is the situation with women’s rights in Dubai and UAE in general. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Dubai society was totally patriarchic. Women were mostly restricted to the family and house affairs. Nowadays there are still many limitations for women as they are obliged by religion and law, but they have become more active in various spheres of life – they occupy high posts in the government, can conduct their own business, etc.

All the above mentioned spheres witness many significant changes, but the comparison of the role of religion in Dubai’s culture at the beginning of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries allows arguing that Islam has always been the defining element of Dubai’s spiritual life. In the 1900s, Islam was not fixed as the state religion and the Sharia law was not officially accepted as the basis of the judicial system, but they were as significant as they are nowadays. Islam remains in its functions as a factor that defines the cultural and artistic life in Dubai. Muslims constitute the most considerable group in Dubai, and the state protects and funds almost all mosques in the Emirates. This situation proves that Islam has always been the driving force and the main regulator of all spheres in Dubai in both the 1900s and the first decades of the twenty-first century.

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Having considered all the above-mentioned aspects, it is obvious that the alternations that occurred in Dubai within the last hundred years are of a tremendous scale. One of the most substantial changes happened in the field of business and commerce shifting Dubai’s economic preferences to the oil industry. Another crucial advance is the way Dubai altered its general skyline and introduced a variety of new modern international architectural forms, such as Burj Khalifa and others. The social sphere in modern Dubai is also almost completely divergent from what it was in the 1900s. However, one of the stable areas that have remained almost stable is the religion as Islam occupies one of the crucial places in the life of people in Dubai.