About Abu Dhabi

about abudhabi

The Cosmopolitan Capital of the UAE

Abu Dhabi is the cosmopolitan capital city and second most populous emirate of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Located on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf, it serves as the political and administrative hub of the federation of seven emirates.

With an economy traditionally dependent on oil and gas, Abu Dhabi has actively pursued economic diversification and established itself as a global leader across various sectors from finance to tourism. Sheikh Zayed, the founder and first president of the UAE, held a bold vision for Abu Dhabi as a modern, inclusive metropolis bridging global cultures while preserving core aspects of Emirati heritage and identity.

about abudhabi

A Brief History of Abu Dhabi

The name Abu Dhabi translates to “Father of Deer” or “Father of Gazelle”, referring to the indigenous wildlife and hunting tradition of the region prior to settlement. From around 1760, the Bani Yas tribal confederation led by the Al Nahyan family established permanent dwellings on Abu Dhabi island.

In the 19th century, Abu Dhabi signed exclusive and protective treaties with Britain that shielded it from regional conflicts and enabled gradual modernization, while allowing the ruling family to retain autonomy. By mid-20th century, following the discovery of oil reserves, Abu Dhabi began exporting crude and using subsequent revenues to rapidly transform into the wealthy, ambitious city envisioned by its late ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Today, Abu Dhabi serves as the political and administrative center of the UAE federation formed in 1971, as well as the hub of all major federal institutions. The city also hosts many foreign embassies and consulates. In terms of economy and demographics however, nearby Dubai has emerged as the most populous and diversified emirate of the UAE.

Geography, Climate and Layout

Abu Dhabi emirate spans an area of 67,340 square kilometers, which represents around 86% of the UAE’s total land area – thus making it the largest emirate by size. However, nearly 80% of this land area comprises the sparsely inhabited desert and coastal regions outside the city boundaries.

The city itself with adjoining urban areas occupy just 1,100 square kilometers. Abu Dhabi features a hot desert climate with dry, sunny winters and extremely hot summers. Rainfall is low and erratic, occurring mainly through unpredictable downpours between November and March.

The emirate consists of three geographical zones:

  • The narrow coastal region bounded by the Persian Gulf on the north, featuring bays, beaches, tidal flats and salt marshes. This is where the city center and most population is concentrated.
  • The vast stretch of flat, desolate sandy desert (known as al-dhafra) extending southwards to the border with Saudi Arabia, dotted only with scattered oases and small settlements.
  • The western region borders Saudi Arabia and consists of the dramatic highlands of the Hajar Mountains that rise to around 1,300 meters.

The city of Abu Dhabi is laid out in the shape of a distorted “T” with a corniche seafront and several bridge connections to offshore islands like the developments in Mamsha Al Saadiyat and Reem Island. Major urban expansion is still underway with a 2030 vision focused on sustainability and livability.

Demographic Profile and Migration Patterns

According to official 2017 statistics, the total population of Abu Dhabi emirate was 2.9 million, making up roughly 30% of the UAE’s total population. Within this, only around 21% are UAE nationals or Emirati citizens, while expatriates and foreign workers comprise the overwhelming majority.

Population density based on inhabited regions however stands at about 408 individuals per square kilometer. The male to female gender ratio within Abu Dhabi residents is highly skewed at almost 3:1 – owing primarily to a disproportionate number of male migrant laborers and employment sector gender imbalances.

Owing to economic prosperity and stability, the UAE and especially Abu Dhabi have emerged among the world’s leading destinations for international migration over the past decades. As per UN estimates, immigrants comprise around 88.5% of the UAE’s total population in 2019 – the highest such share globally. Indians constitute the largest expatriate group followed by Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Filipinos. High-income Western and East-Asian expatriates also occupy key skilled professions.

Within the native Emirati population, society adheres predominantly to patriarchal customs of the enduring Bedouin tribal heritage. Most local Emiratis occupy high-salaried public sector jobs and reside in exclusive residential enclaves and ancestral village towns concentrated mainly outside city centers.

Economy and Development

With estimated 2020 GDP (at purchasing power parity) of US $414 billion, Abu Dhabi constitutes over 50% share of the total national GDP of the UAE federation. Almost a third of this GDP arises from crude oil and natural gas production – comprising 29% and 2% individual shares respectively. Prior to active economic diversification initiatives kickstarted around 2000s, the overall contribution of hydrocarbons often exceeded 60%.

Visionary leadership and astute fiscal policies have enabled Abu Dhabi to channelize oil revenues into massive industrialization drives, world-class infrastructure, higher education hubs, tourism attractions and innovative enterprises across technology, financial services among other emerging sectors. Today, around 64% of the emirate’s GDP comes from the non-oil private sector.

Other economic indicators also showcase Abu Dhabi’s rapid transformation and current stature among the most advanced and wealthy metropolises globally:

  • Per capita income or GNI stands very high at $67,000 as per World Bank figures.
  • Sovereign wealth funds like the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) have estimated assets of $700 billion, making it among the world’s largest.
  • Fitch ratings assign Abu Dhabi the coveted ‘AA’ grade – reflecting robust finances and economic outlook.
  • The non-oil sector has achieved a compound annual growth rate of over 7% between 2003 and 2012 riding on diversification policies.
  • Approximately $22 billion has been earmarked for ongoing and future development projects under government accelerator initiatives like Ghadan 21.

Despite economic ups and downs from fluctuating oil prices and current issues like high youth unemployment and excessive reliance on foreign workers, Abu Dhabi looks poised to leverage its petro-wealth and geostrategic advantages to cement its global position.

Major Sectors Contributing to the Economy

Oil and Gas

Home to over 98 billion proven barrels of crude reserves, Abu Dhabi holds around 90% of the UAE’s total petroleum deposits. Major onshore oilfields include Asab, Sahil and Shah while offshore regions like Umm Shaif and Zakum have proven very productive. Altogether, Abu Dhabi produces around 2.9 million barrels daily – most for export markets.

ADNOC or Abu Dhabi National Oil Company remains the leading player overseeing upstream to downstream operations spanning exploration, production, refining to petrochemicals and fuel retailing through subsidiaries like ADCO, ADGAS and ADMA-OPCO. Other international oil giants like British Petroleum, Shell, Total and ExxonMobil also maintain extensive operational presence under concession contracts and joint ventures with ADNOC.

As part of economic diversification, increasing emphasis is placed on capturing value from higher oil prices through downstream industries instead of merely exporting crude. Ambitious downstream operations in the pipelines include Ruwais refinery and petrochemical expansion, the carbon-neutral Al Reyadah facility and a crude flexibility program by ADNOC.

Renewable Energy

Aligned with greater environmental consciousness and sustainability goals, Abu Dhabi has emerged among global leaders championing renewable and clean energy under the guidance of visionaries like Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber who heads the prominent Masdar Clean Energy firm.

Masdar City, located near Abu Dhabi international airport, serves as a low-carbon neighborhood and cleantech cluster hosting research institutes and hundreds of specialized firms undertaking pathbreaking innovation in spheres like solar energy, electric mobility and sustainable urban solutions.

Outside the sphere of Masdar, some milestone renewable energy projects in Abu Dhabi include the large solar plants at Al Dhafra and Sweihan, waste-to-energy plants, and the Barakah nuclear power plant undertaken with Korea’s KEPCO – which when completed will generate 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs.

Tourism and Hospitality

Abu Dhabi holds immense tourism appeal stemming from its rich cultural heritage converging with modern attractions, luxury hospitality offerings, pristine beaches and warm climate. Some stellar attractions put Abu Dhabi firmly among the Middle East’s most popular leisure destinations:

  • Architectural marvels – Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the resplendent Emirates Palace Hotel, Qasr Al Watan presidential palace
  • Museums and cultural centers – Globally renowned Louvre Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum
  • Theme parks and leisure hotspots – Ferrari World, Warner Bros. World, Yas Island attractions
  • Upmarket hotel chains and resorts – Renowned operators like Jumeirah, Ritz-Carlton, Anantara and Rotana hold major presence
  • Shopping malls and entertainment – Fabulous retail destinations include Yas Mall, World Trade Center and Marina Mall located by the luxury yacht harbor

While the COVID-19 crisis hit the tourism sector severely, medium to long term growth prospects remain very positive as Abu Dhabi bolsters connectivity, taps new markets beyond Europe like India and China while enhancing its cultural offering.

Financial and Professional Services

Aligning with economic diversification objectives, Abu Dhabi has actively nurtured a conducive ecosystem enabling growth of private non-oil sectors, particularly sphere like banking, insurance, investments advisory among other knowledge-intensive tertiary industries where skilled talent availability remains scarce regionally.

The Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) launched in vibrant Al Maryah Island district serves as a special economic zone with its own civil and commercial laws, offering firms 100% foreign ownership and zero taxes on profit repatriation – thus attracting major international banks and financial institutions.

In similar vein, Abu Dhabi Airport’s Free Zone (ADAFZ) near the airport terminals facilitate 100% foreign owned companies to use Abu Dhabi as a regional base for expansion into the wider Middle East-Africa markets. Professional service providers like consultancies, marketing firms and tech solution developers leverage such incentives for smooth market entry and scalability.

Government and Administration

The hereditary rule of Al Nahyan family continues uninterrupted since 1793, from when the historical Bani Yas settlement in Abu Dhabi began. The President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi assumes the designation of Prime Minister within the higher federal government of the UAE.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan currently holds both posts. He remains however largely aloof from routine administration, with his trusted and highly respected younger brother Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed wielding greater executive authority as Crown Prince and de-facto national leader steering Abu Dhabi’s machinery and federal vision.

For administrative convenience, Abu Dhabi emirate is divided into three municipal regions – Abu Dhabi Municipality overseeing the main urban center, Al Ain Municipality administering inland oasis towns, and Al Dhafra region monitoring remote desert areas in the west. These municipalities handle civic governance functions like infrastructure, transport, utilities, business regulation and urban planning for their jurisdictions through semi-autonomous agencies and administrative departments.

Society, People and Lifestyle

Several unique facets intermingle within the social fabric and cultural essence of Abu Dhabi:

  • The strong imprint of indigenous Emirati heritage remains visible through aspects like the enduring primacy of tribes and large families, popularity of camel and falcon racing as traditional sports, importance of religion and national institutions like the armed forces in public life.
  • Rapid modernization and economic prosperity has also ushered in a vibrant cosmopolitan lifestyle replete with elements of consumerism, commercial glamor, mixed-gender social spaces and a globally inspired arts and events scene.
  • Lastly, the high ratio of expatriate groups has infused tremendous ethnic diversity and multiculturalism – with many foreign cultural festivals, places of worship and cuisine finding firm foothold. However, the expensive living costs also inhibit deeper assimilation between locals and foreign residents who usually consider Abu Dhabi as a transient work destination rather than home.

Responsible resource utilization adhering to tenets circular economy and environmental stewardship are also increasingly becoming new markers of Abu Dhabi’s aspirational identity as reflected in vision statements like Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030.

Areas of Collaboration with Singapore

Owing to similarity in economic structure marked by a small domestic population base and entrepôt role bridging global commerce, Abu Dhabi and Singapore have forged strong bilateral ties and frequent exchanges across spheres of trade, investments and technology cooperation:

  • Abu Dhabi firms like sovereign wealth fund Mubadala make substantial investments into Singaporean entities across technology, pharmaceuticals and real estate sectors.
  • Singaporean entities like investment company Temasek and port operator PSA have similarly funded key Abu Dhabi based projects like realty and logistics infrastructure around Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD).
  • Abu Dhabi ports and terminals connect to more than 40 Singaporean shipping lines and vessels calling there.
  • In spheres of culture and human capital, youth delegations, university partnerships and research fellowships enable deeper ties.
  • Memorandums of Understandings exist around cooperation areas like transport, water conservation technologies, biomedical sciences and the Al-Maryah Island financial center.

The strong bilateral relations are also boosted by frequent high-level ministerial exchanges and state visits, Singapore Business Federation opening a local chapter and Ethihad airlines operating direct flights reflecting growing traffic. Emerging opportunities around technology co-creation and food security herald an even stronger nexus ahead.

Facts, Superlatives and Stats

Here are some stellar facts and figures summarizing Abu Dhabi’s pre-eminent status:

  • With a total estimated GDP exceeding $400 billion, Abu Dhabi ranks among the 50 wealthiest country-level economies globally.
  • Sovereign wealth fund assets under management believed to exceed $700 billion make the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) the world’s largest such government-owned investment vehicle.
  • Close to 10% of the world’s total proven global oil reserves located within Abu Dhabi emirate – amounting to 98 billion barrels.
  • Home to branches of eminent institutions like the Louvre Museum and Sorbonne University – both firsts outside of France.
  • Received over 11 million visitors in 2021, making Abu Dhabi the 2nd most visited city in the Arab world.
  • The globally acclaimed Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with over 40 hectares area and 82 white domes remains the 3rd largest mosque worldwide.
  • Masdar City is one of the most sustainable urban developments with 90% green spaces and facilities entirely powered by renewables.
  • Emirates Palace hotel with 394 luxury rooms contains over 1,000 Swarovski crystal chandeliers.

Outlook and Vision

While current economic realities and reliance of foreign labor pose tricky challenges, Abu Dhabi seems firmly poised for sustained ascendancy as theGCC region’s economic dynamo and foremost global city blending Arab heritage with cutting-edge ambition.

Its petro-wealth, stability, vast hydrocarbon reserves and rapid strides around renewable energy place it advantageously for strategic leadership roles addressing climate change and energy security issues confronting the world. Meanwhile, flourishing sectors like tourism, healthcare and technology exhibit tremendous potential for knowledge economy jobs catering global markets.

Binding these multiple threads is the inclusive Emirati ethos emphasizing multiculturalism, female empowerment and positive disruptions propelling sustainable human progress into a bright future. Abu Dhabi indeed seems destined for even more sensational transformation in the years ahead.

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