Where Is Dubai?

Map of the Middle East, highlighting Dubai, in the UAE
Map of Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. Kallie Szczepanski

Dubai (or Dubayy) is one of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), situated on the Persian Gulf. It borders Abu Dhabi to the south, Sharjah to the northeast, and Oman to the southeast. Dubai is backed by the Arabian Desert. Its population topped 2 million in 2018. Statistics from 2017 counted only 8% of the population as native Emirati.

Oil was discovered offshore in 1966, and though Dubai has less oil than its neighbor Abu Dhabi, oil revenues plus other economic activity such as aluminum have made the emirate prosperous. Other industries include real estate, financial services, trade through its port, and tourism.

Capital and Major Cities

The capital and major city of the emirate is also called Dubai, where 90% of the emirate's people live, in and around it. The population was estimated in 2019 as 2.8 million, after growing by more than 230,000 people in the previous 12 months. It has a "daytime" population of nearer 4 million, which includes people who aren't residents.

Area and Land Expansion

The urban area around the city is 1,500 square miles (3,885 square kilometers), and the city proper is about 15.5 sq mi (35 sq km). The construction of man-made islands in the gulf, to be called Marsa Al Arab, as well as some construction in the desert areas, is expanding Dubai's land area.

The newest manmade islands, begun in 2017, will be 4 million square feet (.14 square miles, .37 sq km) and add 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the city's coastline. They'll include luxury resorts and apartments, a marine park, and theater.

These new islands are not the first manmade islands added to the city's coastline. One rose up in 1994 and others in 2001–2006, which include hotels and residences. Also, 300 private islands ("The World") were built as well, starting in 2003, to be sold to developers or wealthy owners for private luxury homes (or multiple homes per island), and resorts. They are priced from $7 million to $1.8 billion.

Construction had stalled in 2008 during the worldwide recession but rebounded beginning in 2016 in the area known as The Heart of Europe, though most of the 300 islands are undeveloped. They do have the challenge of the sand that erodes naturally needing replenishing regularly and being accessible only by boat or seaplane.

History of Dubai

The first written record of Dubai as a city comes from the 1095 "Book of Geography" by the geographer Abu Abdullah al-Bakri (1014–1094). In the Middle Ages, it was known as a center of trade and pearling. The sheiks who ruled it made a deal in 1892 with the British, under which the United Kingdom agreed to "protect" Dubai from the Ottoman Empire.

In the 1930s, Dubai's pearl industry collapsed in the global Great Depression. Its economy began to boom again only after the discovery of oil. In 1971, Dubai joined with six other emirates to form the United Arab Emirates. By 1975, the population had more than tripled as foreign workers flocked into the city, drawn by freely flowing petrodollars.

During the first Gulf War of 1990, the military and political uncertainty caused foreign investors to flee Dubai. However, it provided a refueling station for coalition forces during that war and the 2003 U.S.-led Invasion of Iraq, which helped to cushion the economy.

Today, Dubai has diversified its economy, which relies ​on real estate and construction, transit exports, and financial services in addition to fossil fuels. Dubai is also a tourism center, famed for its shopping. It has the largest mall in the world, just one among more than 70 luxury shopping centers. Famously, the Mall of the Emirates includes Ski Dubai, the Middle East's only indoor ski slope.