When His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi formally assumed leadership of Ras al Khaimah in 2010, a new chapter opened in the long history of this Emirate. The Ras al Khaimah of today is known as a progressive jurisdiction where people from all over the world are invited to pursue business opportunities and enjoy its many tourism treasures. There is no question that RAK is going through one of the most prosperous periods in its economic history; however, this is not the first time the Emirate has flourished.
RAK has a certain historical distinction in terms of antiquity: It is estimated to have been continuously settled since 7,000 B.C., and it is quite rich in terms of archaeological findings. At at time when the Emirate is going through a real estate and infrastructure boom, it is not unusual for construction crews to unearth graves and ruins from the Wadi Suq period, which dates back about four millennia; this most recently happened in 2012 near Seih Al Harf.
The Julfar medieval kingdom was based near the coastal area north of the modern downtown district, and this is where Sheba’s Palace once sat adjacent to the bazaars. With more than 60 kilometers of coastline running along the Persian Gulf, RAK also boasts a great maritime legacy that made it a significant trading spot in the Arabian Peninsula. Unfortunately, the strategic location and trading activity of the Julfar society was eventually discovered by British pirates. The Royal Navy attempted to keep piracy under control, but the rise of the Al Qasimi dynasty had a greater effect on the reduction of pillaging, smuggling, and other nefarious activities in the RAK ports and territorial waters.
Al Qasimi rulers were able to repeal Persian invasions, but they suffered heavy losses to the Royal Navy throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. RAK eventually fell to British forces, and a treaty to end violence and work together towards interdiction of piracy was signed in 1820, thus enjoining RAK into the Trucial States. The Julfar region split up into RAK and Sharjah with the Al Qasimi dynasty retaining control of the northern and control regions.
The modern era of RAK began in earnest during the final years of World War II. Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi rose to power by means of a peaceful coup that deposed Sheikh Sultan bin Salim Al Qasimi, a leader who neglected his people and abused his mandate through a series of shadowy deals with British companies eager to discover major oil reservoirs; alas, decades of exploration failed to yield any significant discoveries, and the burden of ruling an Emirate that did not possess the crude oil resources and fortunes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi rested on the shoulders of Sheikh Saqr.
It was during the early years of Sheikh Saqr’s benevolent rule of RAK that he realized his Emirate was as rich as Allah had planned. During the Julfar period, RAK was a prosperous region that took full advantage of its agricultural blessings and marine resources. Farmers, pearl divers, merchants, and fishing boat captains made significant economic contributions, but Sheikh Saqr knew that more had to be done in order to make RAK a worthy competitor to oil-rich Emirates such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The economic diversity that can be admired in the modern RAK free trade zones was part of the development blueprint formulated by Sheikh Saqr in the early 1970s; when his son returned from abroad after having graduated from the University of Michigan with degrees in political science and economics, he assumed duties as Crown Prince and set about to augment the aforementioned blueprint. One of the first tasks was to modernize the industrial sectors by taking full advantage of the raw materials found in the deserts; it only took a couple of decades for RAK Ceramics to become a global leader in the tile and slab production sector, and it would later expand its operations with the fabrication of advanced materials.
The revenue derived from ceramics and pharmaceuticals allowed RAK to create a sovereign fund that has been managed with strong focus on economic development. The portfolio of the RAK Investment Authority now holds more than 3,000 companies, most of them doing business in the Emirate, and the future of RAK looks as prosperous as it was during the Julfar era.