Christopher M. Davidson. Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond.

AuthorCoury, Tarek
PositionBook review

Christopher M. Davidson. Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2009. 256 pages. Hardcover $35.00.

FOR THOSE NEW TO STUDYING the region, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) conjures up visions of mega-construction projects in the emirate of Dubai. With its man-made islands visible from space in the shape of giant palms, ski slopes in the desert, and the soon-to-be completed Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the world, the emirate dominates much of the coverage coming out of the Gulf region. Media coverage and studies of the region, in particular, have tended to ignore its neighbor to the south, Abu Dhabi, something Christopher M. Davidson, in the thoroughly documented and referenced "Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyona", aims to rectify. While Dubai is fast running out of oil, Abu Dhabi still controls about 8% of the world's oil reserves and commands one of the wealthiest sovereign investment funds in the world. With its careful development plans, Abu Dhabi is coming out of the world financial crisis in much better shape than its more famous and highly indebted neighbor. Davidson, in his latest book, sheds light on the historic and economic evolution of the emirate of Abu Dhabi dating back to the early 1800s. More significantly, his analysis of political intrigue goes a long way in explaining the political economy of decision-making within a tribal system and highlights some of the structural challenges facing the Gulf region as a whole. While an introductory chapter presents the earlier history of the emirate, the book's primary focus lies in the post-1950s period.

In the first few chapters, Davidson vividly describes the transition of Abu Dhabi and neighboring emirates from an economic backwater to a somewhat united federation of emirates under the leadership of Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan. The transition from the less-than-effective leadership of Shakhbut bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, his predecessor, at the helm of the fledgling Sheikdom highlights the vagaries of economic, social and political development in the context of the complex political maneuverings taking place within Abu Dhabi's ruling family. Davidson also highlights the form that accountability takes in a government lacking in direct political representation: Abu Dhabi residents enjoy the benefits of a very generous welfare state while members of the ruling family control the helm of various government institutions. While the current rentier model is likely to ensure...

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