Aden & Dubai: from where to where! [Archives:2004/778/Viewpoint]

October 4 2004

If there is a contrast that can be seen in the comparison of two portal cities in the Arabian Peninsula, it would be the changes witnessed in the ports of Dubai and Aden. It is fascinating to observe the growth that Dubai had experienced in the last fifty years, and simultaneously, the decline of Aden since the 1960s.
To appreciate the level of change of in these two cities, let us have a brief historical review of the two cities.

Aden from glory to vulnerability
Aden was once one of the most prosperous hubs and ports of the world. Its most glorious time followed the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 when it became the most important transit port on the sea route between the Mediterranean and Asia. It continued its growth to become one of the strongest economic trade centers, especially as the British colonial authorities (who occupied it) ensured that it remained a free zone for trade, and even for tourist visits from the UK and elsewhere.
By the middle of the 20th century, Aden had become a city with modern infrastructure: from wide boulevards and tall buildings, to highly advanced electricity and communication services. At the time, Aden rivaled many European cities, and surpassed many more.
But the glorious days didn't last forever. The city started its decline in the 1960s with a socialist regime that deprived the city of many of the advantages of the past. Then the city suffered from violence and war, which caused even greater damage.
Hope was revived when unification took place in 1990, and promises were made to convert it once again to an international free hub by re-establishing the free zone. But it wasn't long before hopes were shattered with successive blows to the city such as the 1994 war, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, which devastated the city and condemned it to the stagnancy it continues to suffer from.
With its desperate need for new infrastructure and investment, and with its huge unemployment rate and crushing poverty, the city is barely staying alive in a time of regional competition and the rapid growth of rival ports including Dubai.

Dubai: the miracle of the Gulf
The story of Dubai is perhaps the opposite to that of Aden. This coastal city has grown in 50 years from a small seaport in the Gulf, used for limited trade and fishing, to a major hub in the Asian continent. International trade, which has flowed from Dubai's cosmopolitan contracts, has been the basis of rapidly increasing prosperity. This gave the city an early start in development before the beginning of oil production in the late 1960s.
The rulers of Emirates and of Dubai, had a vision of the conversion of the city to an international hub that facilitates investments and builds an infrastructure to match and surpass that of other countries. Dubai's largest urban development project, just outside Dubai city, is the industrial complex of Jabal Ali, 20 kilometers southwest along the coast. The government of Dubai has built the largest man-made harbor in the world, with a dredged deepwater approach channel stretching far out to sea, and to create a complete industrial complex, it has established such major undertakings as an Aluminum smelter and gas separation plant, as well as a residential village of more than 300 houses.
Today, Dubai is one of the fastest growing urban cities of the world. It already has a highly valued reputation for being a tourist destination and a trade center. It has also demonstrated the potential of visionary Arab entrepreneurs, who can create and develop cities that fascinate and baffle visitors from the most advanced countries of the world.

A lesson to be learnt
If we examine two pictures, one of Aden and one of Dubai, in the 1930's, we would see that Aden was much more advanced, however, the pictures of the two today show the total opposite. Why and how this happened is a lesson that we all need to learn. In my opinion, it all comes down to leadership, vision, determination, and courage in applying new initiatives and ideas.
Aden could certainly have been a much more developed city than Dubai, if we had had the vision. But so as not to put things so negatively: I still feel that Aden can again surpass Dubai if the required vision comes – even today.
It is not too late, the question should not be whether Aden will regain its glorious position of the past, the question should be when!