The Bedouin of the Bani Yas tribe settled on the island of Abu Dhabi in 1761. Early on, the centre of power for the tribe remained at Liwa Oasis, where the ruling Al-Nahyan family was based, but in 1793 the family moved to Abu Dhabi. At this time a haven for wildlife (Abu Dhabi literally means ‘Father of the Gazelle’), the town expanded rapidly during the heyday of the pearl trade in the late 19th century. In 1892 its ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Mohammed al-Nahyan (known as Zayed the Great), agreed that the emirate would become a protectorate of Britain and it joined the Trucial States. Zayed the Great died in 1909, and under five subsequent rulers the emirate’s power and prosperity declined, largely due to the collapse of the pearling industry.
Everything changed in 1958 when oil was discovered, and it is from this date that the development of modern Abu Dhabi can be said to have commenced. The current ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, staged a coup against his brother, then the ineffectual ruler, in 1966. Sheikh Zayed subsequently used his vast diplomatic skills to be the main player in creating the UAE and became its first president, a role he held up until his death in November 2004. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Zayed’s oldest son, became ruler of Abu Dhabi and was elected President of the UAE soon after.