While Dubai often hogs the limelight, the principal emirate in the United Arab Emirates is Abu Dhabi which holds over 8 per cent of the world's oil reserves. It is a key regional player and an economic power in its own right, yet few written works have examined its culture, politics, influence and economic prowess on a standalone basis. Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond is author Christopher Davidson's commendable attempt at addressing the perceived information gap.
The author justifies his quest to write a comprehensive volume on Abu Dhabi by noting that with 90 years of remaining hydrocarbon production and with plans to increase oil output by 30% in the near future, the emirate will have the resources and surpluses it needs - regardless of the vagaries of broader economic trends. Simply put, ignore Abu Dhabi in a regional or global context at your peril.
Yet it is not all about the oil as Davidson explains via his book of just under 250 pages split by seven detailed chapters. He dives into history and sequentially charts Abu Dhabi's transformation from an 18th century sheikdom to its current status in the global economy.
Dynastic politics, culture, strategic investment (via its mammoth sovereign investment fund), regional influence, have all been examined in some detail, along with the emirate's "new economy" and its moves away from a traditional oil and gas export oriented structure. However, the book need not be mistaken for a glorified tale or positive spin about Abu Dhabi.
Rather it is a pragmatic examination of the emirate. To this end, the author does not shy away from discussing a number of problems that may surface to impede economic development and undermine political stability in his concluding chapter. Civil and socio-economic issues, media censorship, an underperforming education sector, terrorism and rising federal unrest have all been discussed.
Overall, Davidson's work is interesting and informative. It is a must read for those interested in Middle Eastern geopolitics and oil. That aside, students of history, the oil business and those of a curious disposition fascinated by the Emirates might find it well worth their while to pick this title up.