The Underdeveloped Years of Abu Dhabi (1962 – 1965)
“We lived in the eighteenth century while the rest of the world, even the rest of our neighbors, had advanced into the twentieth. We had nothing to offer visitors, we had nothing to export, we had no importance to the outside world whatsoever. Poverty, illiteracy, poor health, a high rate of mortality all plagued us well into the 1960s.” (Al-fahim, 1995, p.88)
Following the exports of oil in 1962, Abu Dhabi first established municipality was primarily concerned with the improvement of living conditions, mainly provision of adequate drinking water supplies and public health. Despite royalty payments from oil concessions in 1953, Sheikh Shakhbout, ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1928 – 1966, was reluctant to engage in any large-scale projects. He was popularly known as a ‘stubborn conservative’ who ‘refused to part with any of his money’. (Halliday, 2003)
Dominance of a Conservative Ruler & Reluctance to Globalize
Observers Donald Hawley noted that one reason for this conservatism is the ruler’s nostalgia for the traditional Arab way of life (Hawley 1970). Within this early phase of Abu Dhabi’s urbanization, the ruler was very determined about preserving a traditional life style. The following are examples that shows the city’s reluctance to globalize.
- In 1958, the ruler expressed a clear desire not to engage foreign teachers in Abu Dhabi.
- He refused to generate electricity with the exception of the palace which was lit using portable electrical generators,
- In 1961, he imposed a ban on any new construction, business ventures had to get permission which was not always forthcoming, which gives further hindrance to Abu Dhabi’s urban development
As a result the town remained in a persistent state of underdevelopment until Sheikh Zayed replaced his brother in 1966 and began a new phase of the city’s urban development.
Elsheshtawy, Yasser. The Evolving Arab City: Tradition, Modernity and Urban Development. London: Routledge, 2011. Print.
Mohammed Al Fahim. “From Rags To Riches – A Story of Abu Dhabi” The London Centre of Arab Studies, 1995