Dubai, Abu-Dhabi and the UAE

Last weekend I visited Abu-Dhabi. It was about a 2 hour bus-ride from Dubai and only 20 AED (about $6 USD). It was a nice opportunity to get outside of Dubai and check out another part of the UAE. Abu-Dhabi, the city,  is the capitol of the United Arab Emirates and the emirate of the same name is the largest emirate in the federation. Below are some interesting facts about Abu-Dhabi, Dubai, the relationship between these cities and the UAE in general.

Abu-Dhabi: As I could notice while I was there, Abu-Dhabi seems far less developed than Dubai. Without describing more how glamorous Dubai is, suffice it to say that Abu-Dhabi was not nearly as glamorous. I walked around Corniche Road, which is the main tourist area including the beach front, saw some parts of the business and downtown district and the Grand Mosque (which as it turns out is the World’s third largest mosque, with number 1 and 2 being in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia).

Although Abu-Dhabi seemed less over-the-top than Dubai, it in fact is home to more than 90% of the country’s oil revenues. It is by far the richest city and emirate, so much so that it provides a majority of the budget-needs of some of the smaller emirates. Culturally, Abu-Dhabi has tried for a long time to keep a distant relationship between itself and Dubai. According to Davidson (citation below), Abu-Dhabi has always had a tremendous amount of stability because of its oil revenues (let’s just say that certain estimates put per capita GDP in Abu-Dhabi near $275,000). This has allowed Abu-Dhabi to continue a steady sense of growth, instead of taking the risks that Dubai has taken.

Dubai: As a city and an emirate, Dubai has taken some incredible risks in its history. From opening up ports and free zones for foreign investment to investing heavily in the tourism industry to antagonizing its cultural partners in other emirates and Gulf states in order to please expatriates, Dubai has seen a dynamic development to reach where it is today.

Between Dubai and Abu-Dhabi: Essentially, these are the two emirates of 7 in UAE that really matter the most. Dubai is the social, financial and international capitol and Abu-Dhabi the economic, financial and cultural capitol (although the culture point is arguable, because Dubai has a culture of its own). Although Dubai and UAE have been at odds over many issues at times, they are at the end of the day, still very closely related and will continually come to each other’s aid in times of need.

UAE as a model is fascinating because although it is a federation each emirate really has a great deal of autonomy, and even as a federation only one emirate (ruling family in essence) controls the majority of legislation, policy, finance, etc.  I’d highly recommend looking up the Davidson article, as well as some of his other works, if you find yourself interested in learning more about UAE.


Davidson, Christopher. 2007. “The Emirates of Abu-Dhabi and Dubai: Contrasting Roles in International System.” Asian Affairs, Vol 353. No. 1.