What has had the biggest effect on your life in Dubai over the past 10 years? No, we’re not talking about the opening of a swanky new restaurant or spa. We’re referring to the bigger things; things that have improved thousands of lives and helped to push Dubai into the forefront of 21st-century living. Whether it’s the opening of the metro or the introduction of key labour laws, the past 10 years have seen some big social changes in the city. We look at 10 of the most significant.
Free zones, 1985 onwards
Dubai currently has more than 30 free zones, offering company benefits such as 100 per cent foreign ownership (companies outside the free zones must be part-owned by a local partner) and a zero per cent tax rate. Though free zones were first set up before 2001 (the oldest being Jebel Ali), their number has rapidly risen in the past decade and Dubai now has no less than 17.
Abolition of child camel jockeys, 2002
Think children riding camels sounds like a laugh? Well, it isn’t – the practice of using children as jockeys for camel races (the thinking being that they’re lighter) had links to reported child slavery and abuse. The UAE was the first Gulf state to ban the use of jockeys under 15; HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, then chairman of the Emirates Camel Racing Federation, announced the ban in July 2002. Camels are now jockeyed by remote-controlled robots. Seriously.
Property ownership, 2002
Dubai’s construction boom was a result of an amended law passed in 2002 that allowed non-UAE nationals to own property (though not land) for up to 99 years. Nakheel (responsible for The Palm) and Emaar (responsible for Downtown Dubai and the Burj Khalifa) are the leading property tycoons. Rental prices soared a few years ago as companies and expats headed to Dubai in their droves to enjoy the sunshine and non-existant tax, though rises were capped to 7 per cent a year in 2007.
Knowledge Village, 2003
In 2003, Dubai enhanced its educational facilities by creating a dedicated education zone (the aptly named Knowledge Village, located near Media City). As of 2010, Knowledge Village had seen a 40 per cent business growth, with 28 new companies setting up there, and has helped to fulfil the emirate’s increasing demand for higher education. The KHDA (Knowledge and Human Development Authority) actively encourages the improvement of educational standards.
Dubai International Financial Centre, 2004
Since its launch in 2004, DIFC has become a business hub connecting the region’s markets with the rest of the world, and in doing so has made Dubai a business and commercial gateway into the Middle East. It has also encouraged plenty of positive economic growth and development in the region, with more than 800 companies now operating from within the centre, employing an estimated 11,000 people.
Dubai Cares, 2007
In September 2007, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, launched the Dubai Cares campaign to raise money to educate a million children in the Middle East’s poorer countries. The campaign is Dubai’s contribution to the UN Millennium Development Goals, a global scheme to provide children’s primary education to every child by 2015. Sheikh Mohammed donated more than Dhs1.65 billion to the cause.
Labour laws, 2007
The UAE published its revised labour laws in 2007; the decision was made to publish the draft labour law online, thereby allowing the public to comment. The Human Rights Watch has commended the move as a step towards transparency and taking all views into consideration. In June 2011, the Ministry of Labour also issued a labour law guide in five languages. Among other issues, the guide outlines the labourers’ midday break rule, and stresses the importance of abiding by safety standards, as well as instructions on first aid and ways to deal with sunstroke. The Human Rights Watch is also urging for the anti-strike rule to be abolished, although these labour laws are definitely a step in the right direction.
Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum Foundation, 2007
At the World Economic Forum for the Middle East, held in Jordan in May 2007, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum donated Dhs37 billion to set up the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation. This was one of the largest charitable donations in history and was used to set up an educational foundation in the Middle East that has been tasked with finding solutions to challenges faced by the Arab world, such as literacy and cross-cultural programmes. Initiatives so far include The Arab-German Cultural Dialogue, The Turkey-UAE Cultural Dialogue and Casa Árabe in Spain, all of which promote cultural understanding between Arab nations and the rest of the world.
Nuclear power, 2009
The past 10 years haven’t heralded the arrival of nuclear power in the UAE, but significant steps were made towards going nuclear in 2011. Formal construction applications for the first two units were filed with the UAE’s Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) in December 2009, and construction on the UAE’s first nuclear power plant in Braka, 75km from the Saudi border, is expected to begin in 2012. The ominously named ‘Unit 1’ is scheduled to start up in 2017, and Unit 2 will start lighting up skyscrapers in 2018.
Dubai Metro 2009
Environmentalists (and anyone who can’t afford to pay for taxis every day) rejoiced as Dubai Metro partially opened on September 2009, and became fully operational in 2011 (services on the Green Line started last month). But how does Dubai’s metro stack up against comparable transport systems across the world? Our metro is the second most affordable metro transport worldwide, behind Tehran’s metro in Iran. Dubai’s Green and Red Lines span more than 75km from Al Rashidiya to Jebel Ali, and future extensions are a possibility. The metro also sparked an increase in the number of buses, with 68 more bus stations added to help feed passengers to the metro. As an added bonus, the Palm Jumeirah monorail line opened on April 30 2009 to connect Atlantis on the tip of the Palm to the mainland.