Straddling the northern most tip of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Ras Al Khaimah has a different aesthetic from most other Gulf cities. With light traffic, an unpolluted skyline, miles of untouched white sandy beaches and towering mountains, the emirate has always been an ideal escape — mixing striking scenery with its own, laid back rhythm.
Strategically positioned on the old trading routes running from Europe to the Far East, RAK was a stopover point for merchants from as far away as China. In ancient times, it was called Julfar, a major city in the Qawasim dynasty, which at various times held land on the Iranian islands of Kush and Hulaya, as well as in Pakistan and the area that is now the UAE.
At their peak, the Qawasim dominated trade in the lower Gulf, gaining a reputation in commerce and business. After the 14th century, the Qawasim tribes began leaving Kush and Hulaya and settled on the Arabian peninsula.
The UAE is a federation of seven sheikhdoms: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Umm al-Quwain and Ras al-Khaimah. These sheikhdoms, along with Qatar and Bahrain, signed the General Maritime Treaty with the UK in 1853. In effect, this ushered in a period of stability along the Gulf coast, and the states which adhered to this agreement became known as the Trucial States. Following British withdrawal from the region between 1968 and 1971, and wary of larger neighbours like Iran and Iraq, the sheikdoms drew together to form the modern-day federation of the UAE in 1971. However, RAK did not join the federation until 1972.
The UAE occupies some 83,600 sq km on the southern and eastern shores of the Gulf. The country borders Saudi Arabia to the west and the south, and Oman to the east. Most of the emirate lies at the far north of the UAE, along the Gulf coast. RAK is the fourth-largest emirate in the federation, occupying 1,700 sq km, or just over 2% of the total area of the UAE.
Its landscape is quite varied compared to the rest of the country. It boasts some 40 km of coastline along the Gulf, in addition to fertile plains and the great Hajar Mountains, which reach heights of up to 1,900 metres. Temperatures in the summertime often reach the upper 40s with high humidity. In winter, the weather is rather pleasant and remains relatively dry.
RAK’s total gas reserves amount to about 33.96m cu metres, and its oil reserves are estimated at 400m barrels, or 0.4% of the UAE’s total reserves. RAK also boasts the largest rock quarry in the Gulf and has been blessed with high-quality limestone and clay deposits, which underpin the emirate’s successful cement and ceramics industries. In addition to this, the fertile plains in the south-east around Digdaga produce fruits and vegetables, as well as milk and poultry for the local UAE market.
Exact population figures are difficult to come by, but a government census in 2005 calculated that the total population of the UAE was 4.3m. Many suspect that the actual figure is closer to 5m due to the large numbers of expatriate workers residing in the UAE, some of which may have been unaccounted for in the census. RAK is estimated to have a total population of 250,000. While UAE citizens officially make up less than 20% of the population in the UAE, this figure is higher in RAK. Emiratis are thought to make up at least 50% of the emirate’s population.
The official language of the UAE is Arabic, although English is widely used in business circles. A significant portion of the expatriate population also speaks Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Tamil and other languages of the subcontinent.
The current president of the UAE is Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Sheikh Mohammed was elected president in 2022 after the death of his half-brother and who served as president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The emirs of the other seven emirates of the federation form the UAE’s Supreme Council, headed by a president who is elected by the council every five years. The current president of the UAE is Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi. There is an implicit understanding in the council that the president will always be from Abu Dhabi, due to its substantial political and economic clout.
The Supreme Council ratifies all the laws in the country, while the Council of Ministers, a 20-member cabinet headed by the prime minister, is the executive branch of the government. The prime minister is appointed by the president, and the post is currently held by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the ruler of Dubai. The Federal National Council, a 40-member consultative body, represents the interests of each emirate in the federal government.
In 2005, the government announced a new policy of political liberalisation. At the end of 2006, elections were held for half of the seats of Federal National Council, while the other half will continue to be appointed by the government.
The UAE’s economy, fueled by surging oil prices, has seen unprecedented growth in recent years. Although RAK does not have abundant energy resources, it does produce about 500 barrels per day of condensate. While there are undeveloped tracts of land that have shown traces of oil and gas, the emirate has had to look beyond its borders to fullfill its demand for gas.
As the emirate will never be a major oil producer, RAK has instead had to concentrate on developing its industrial sector. It opened the UAE’s first cement company in the early 1970s and is now the UAE’s largest producer of cement. In the 1980s, the emirate formed RAK Ceramics, which has become the world’s largest ceramics producer, and Julphar, the Gulf region’s first pharmaceuticals company.
Also the first medical supplies company in the Gulf, Julphar has developed into a global brand and now sells its products, which meet the rigorous US Food and Drug Administration and European Commission guidelines, to almost 50 countries.
More traditional industries, such as fishing and agriculture, continue to play an important role in RAK’s economy. In 1955, the first agricultural research centre in the UAE was established there, and since then, innovative methods of arid zone cultivation have made the emirate one of the leading agricultural producers in the UAE.
There have also been recent efforts to diversify the emirate’s economy. Since Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi became crown prince in 2003, the emirate has embarked on an aggressive development programme, with a particular focus on tourism and real estate. Capitalizing on its virgin coastline and mountains, RAK has launched several mixed-use projects that will feature five-star hotels, residential units and resorts. Some of the more ambitious plans include a mountain resort with an artificial ski slope and a spaceport to host the Middle East’s first suborbital flights.
To bring in the people, the emirate will launch the UAE’s fourth national carrier, RAK Airways, in 2007. Thus far, $230m has been raised, in addition to the $410m in authorized capital, which includes a five-year expansion plan for the emirate’s RAK International Airport.
Ras Al Khaimah Championship presented by Phoenix Capital