Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Dubai served as a transit point for goods and merchants from South Asia, Persia, East Africa, central Arabia and Mesopotamia, its free-port environment protected and promoted by the ruling Maktoum family. Oil concessions were signed in the 1930s and Dubai began building a modern city in the 1950s. The Maktoums' strategy has been to retain the free-port model, and the building of modern Dubai saw the rise of tax-free Special Economic Zones and a state-of-the-art port facility. Sheikh Mohammed, the current ruler, has stated that his vision for Dubai is a modern version of 10th-century Cordoba, a center of Arab enlightenment, although the modern city is often assumed to follow the mold of Las Vegas. In reality, of course, the result is somewhere between the two. Based on the Chazen study tour's observations, many of the professionals in Dubai are focused on investing, trade and advisory services for the hydrocarbon-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that form the Arab Gulf - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While many of the flashy real estate projects do exude a Vegas approach, these have been pulled back during the current recession, leaving the economic core of professional services.
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