x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Abu Dhabi before the oil

Depending who you are the city of Abu Dhabi has invisible boundaries that are sometimes hard to cross. They affect both expatriates and Emiratis alike.

For her chapter in the anthology about migrant labour in the Arabian Gulf, Jane Bristol-Rhys also wrote about the history that shaped the city.

Before oil was discovered, Emirati homes were concentrated near Qasr Al Hosn, the white fort. There were foreigners, mostly Indian and Iranian traders, who lived "like everybody else lived", Ms Bristol-Rhys said, but they did not mix much with Emiratis. The first western expat family arrived in the mid 1950s.

The oil boom, and the arrival of huge numbers of foreign men, was a turning point.

The UAE's tribally-organised society "was suddenly surrounded by males of various ethnicities and religions", Ms Bristol-Rhys wrote in the book chapter.

"Where should these men live?" she wrote. "The first answer was 'away from us'."

Dormitory housing was constructed on the outskirts of town, foreshadowing today's labour camps.