Abu Dhabi, the largest part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), was the first emirate state to discover oil. It currently holds 9% of the world’s proven oil reserves (98.2bn barrels) and almost 5% of the world’s natural gas (5.8 trillion cu metres). Abu Dhabi (whose city of the same name had a population of 921,000 in 2013) lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf from the central western coast. It acts as the seat of the UAE’s federal government, and the home for both the Abu Dhabi Emiri Family and the President of the UAE (from that family).
Abu Dhabi is home to important financial institutions such as the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates and the corporate headquarters of many companies and numerous multinational corporations. One of the world’s largest producers of oil, Abu Dhabi has actively attempted to diversify its economy in recent years through investments in financial services and tourism.
Like the other emirates, especially Dubai, Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth has transformed it into an advanced metropolis with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. In 2008, Abu Dhabi alone generated 56.7% of the UAE’s GDP. Abu Dhabi is the second most expensive city for expatriate employees in the region, and 67th most expensive city in the world. International media outlets like CNN and Fortune Magazine declared Abu Dhabi the richest city in the world. Before significant amounts of oil were discovered in Abu Dhabi in the late 1950s, it was best-known for pearl diving, a trading activity that goes back hundreds of years for its locals.
Due to Abu Dhabi’s economic transformation since the discovery of oil, its population has mushroomed. As of 2001, the native UAE population was 25.6%, with the other 74.4% being expatriates from various countries, ranging from the nearby South Asian countries (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka), to the Philippines, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and the UK.
This unique socioeconomic development in the Persian Gulf has meant that Abu Dhabi is generally more tolerant than its neighbors. While Islam is the main religion, Emaritis have been known for their tolerance; Christian churches, Hindu temples, and Sikh gurdwaras can be found alongside mosques. The country is home to several communities that have faced persecution elsewhere. The cosmopolitan atmosphere is gradually growing and as a result, there are a variety of Asian and Western schools, cultural centers and themed restaurants.
Arab food is very popular and is available everywhere in the city, from the small shawarma to the upscale restaurants in the city’s many hotels. Fast food and South Asian cuisine are also very popular and are widely available. The sale and consumption of pork, though not illegal, is regulated and it is sold only to non-Muslims in designated areas. Similarly, the sale of alcoholic beverages is regulated. A liquor permit is required to purchase alcohol; however, alcohol, although available in bars and restaurants within four or five star hotels, is not sold as widely as in its more liberal neighbor Dubai.