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The emirate of Abu Dhabi is located in the oil-rich and strategic United Arab Emirates and is an active member of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). It borders with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to its south and the Sultanate of Oman to its east. The emirate borders the emirate of Dubai to its northeast, surrounding half that state’s territory, and has a short frontier with Al-Shariqah. In the north is the Persian Gulf.
With an area of 26,000 sq m (67,340 km2) it is unquestionably the largest of the UAE’s seven constituent emirates, covering in excess of 75 percent of the entire country.
The emirate has oil rich fields, both onshore and in the Persian Gulf. Along with Dubai, it leads the UAE in prosperity.
Abu Dhabi has 280 miles (450 km) of coastline on the the Persian Gulf. The coast is somewhat desolate, with many areas of salt marsh. There are numerous offshore islands. The emirate’s main city, also called Abu Dhabi (with “city” often added to distinguish the two) is located on one of these islands, less than .25 kilometers from the mainland and joined to the mainland by the Maqta and Mussafah bridges. Most of Abu Dhabi city is located on the island itself, but it has many suburbs on the mainland, such as the Khalifa Cities, Between Two Bridges, Mussafah Residential and more.
The emirate has a sunny climate, though the summer months of June through September are generally hot and humid with temperatures averaging above 40°C (110°F). During this time, sandstorms also occur intermittently, in some cases reducing visibility down to a few meters. The weather is usually pleasant from October to May. January to February is cooler and may require the use of a light jacket. This period also sees dense fog on some days.
The oasis city of Al Ain on the Oman border, regularly records the highest summer temperatures in the country, however the dry desert air and cooler evenings make it a traditional retreat from the intense summer heat and year round humidity of the capital city.
Parts of Abu Dhabi were settled as early as the third millennium B.C.E. and its early history fits the nomadic herding and fishing pattern typical of the broader region.
Modern Abu Dhabi traces its origins to the rise of an important tribal confederation, the Bani Yas, in the late eighteenth century, which also assumed control of Dubai. In the nineteenth century the Dubai and Abu Dhabi branches parted ways. The Al Nahyan branch of Al Falahi is the ruling family in Abu Dhabi, while the Al Maktoum, a branch of Al Falasi, rules Dubai. Both stem from Bani Yas, which has an additional 13 main branches.
Into the mid-twentieth century, the economy of Abu Dhabi continued to be sustained mainly by camel herding, production of dates and vegetables at the inland oases of Al Ain and Liwa, and fishing and pearl diving off the coast of Abu Dhabi city, which was occupied mainly during the summer months. Most dwellings in Abu Dhabi city were, at this time, constructed of palm fronds (barasti), with the wealthier families occupying mud huts. The growth of the cultured pearl industry in the first half of the twentieth century created hardship for residents of Abu Dhabi since natural pearls represented the largest export and main source of cash earnings.
In 1939, Sheikh Shakhbut Bin-Sultan Al Nahyan granted petroleum concessions, and oil was first found in 1958. At first, oil money had a marginal impact. A few low-rise concrete buildings were erected, and the first paved road was completed in 1961, but Sheikh Shakbut, uncertain whether the new oil royalties would last, took a cautious approach, preferring to save the revenue rather than investing it in development. His brother, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, saw that oil wealth had the potential to transform Abu Dhabi. The ruling Al Nahyan family decided that Sheikh Zayed should replace his brother as ruler and carry out his vision of developing the country. On August 6, 1966, with the assistance of the British, Sheikh Zayed became the new ruler.
With the announcement by the United Kingdom in 1968 that it would withdraw from the Persian Gulf area by 1971, Sheikh Zayed became the main driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates. Together with the other Trucial States, Bahrain, and Qatar, Abu Dhabi negotiated the formation of a nine-member federation. However, Bahrain and Qatar both went on to separate independent status. The United Arab Emirates came into being with seven states, with Abu Dhabi becoming a leading member. Abu Dhabi city became the provisional capital of the UAE; its status was extended several times until it was made the permanent national capital in the early 1990s.
Oil wealth continued to flow to the area and traditional mud-brick huts were rapidly replaced with banks, boutiques, and modern high-rises.