The development of a strong economy requires strong investments into infrastructure, particularly with regard to transportation terminals and roads. In the United Arab Emirates, a part of the world that is mostly defined by large swathes of sandy desert land, modern transportation projects are awe-inspiring, and they are also a far cry from what the situation was like in the 1970s. Back then, and despite the accumulation of riches from oil exploration and production, getting around the UAE was difficult.
One of the first inter-Emirates highway projects was financed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and it connected Dubai with Ras al Khaimah; it was a single-lane road with no illumination, but it was an improvement over the dangerous coastal sand trails that only trucks and old Land Rovers were able to drive on. As for a highway connecting Dubai to Abu Dhabi, it took considerable bargaining between the two Emirates to come up with a way to finance the project, which was inaugurated in 1973 with two lanes and no lighting system.
Decades later, when the maritime ports of Jebel Ali in Dubai and Khalifa expanded and modernized to adjust to the emerging sector of global trading, the highway system of the UAE was vastly improved. Unfortunately, Ras al Khaimah fell behind in terms of transportation infrastructure as its local economy stagnated because of a lack of oil riches. Prior to the ascension of RAK ruler Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, son of the late Sheikh Mohammed bin Saud al Qasimi, this sleepy Emirate was still hoping that hydrocarbons prospectors would find an oil reservoir, but this never happened; to make matters worse, exploration contracts granted to British oil companies had been granted through corrupt means.
These days, the highway infrastructure of Ras al Khaimah has been thoroughly expanded and modernized, and this has a lot to do with the vision and governance of Sheikh Saud, a political leader whose mandate has been characterized as a golden age for an Emirate that many believed was destined to languish. What Sheikh Saud has been able to accomplish since before his royal succession in 2010 is amazing, but it also recalls the days when RAK was the center of trade for the Julfar region, which extended from Dubai to the northern region of Oman.
In medieval times, when Julfar was still part of the Islamic Empire, this peninsular part of the Persian Gulf attracted British piracy and repeated invasions. At that time, Bedouin tribes and traders from across the Arabian Peninsula arrived in Julfar through established desert routes; moreover, ships from China, India, and Persia regularly landed in the port city. The ancient port of Julfar had various advantages in terms of geography and climate; elevation plus a nice rainy season combined with aquifers and rivers means fertile soil and many oasis spots, which provides an abundance of camels and nice place to rest. The modern RAK port of Saqr is strategically located in the southern part of the Strait of Hormuz; it is a busy maritime center because of the Emirate’s strong ceramics and construction materials industry, and it is in a good position to connect with the nearby port of Bandar Abbas in Iran, but this is not happening at the moment because of the complicated geopolitical situation in the Middle East.
The highway system of RAK has many roads connecting the various industrial, business, and free trade zones; however, it is in need of improvement. The two-lane roads that used comfortably carry traffic throughout RAK are being improved to accommodate more vehicles and connect with Emirates Road 611, which links RAK to Dubai.
As for air travel, RAK has been working to compete with the busy international airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. At one point, the Emirate had its very own national carrier, RAK Airways, but it had to suspend operations more than five years ago. In the meantime, the Ras Al Khaima International Airport has greatly expanded to accommodate the growing number of foreign visitors. In 2019 alone, two airlines announced the operation of international flights from this airport: Pegasus will fly to Istanbul and SpiceJet intends to offer connections to India and various European destinations.