The small oasis city of Al-Ain is one of the most politically important places in the UAE. It is the second-largest city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and historically has been the home of the ruling Al-Nahyan family.

The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan was the ruler’s representative for Al-Ain before he became Abu Dhabi ruler in 1966. His sons still consider the city to be home, with current Abu Dhabi ruler and UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan spending much of his time there. Al-Ain’s political importance, however, has not been reflected in matched construction activity in the city, and it remains dwarfed by the projects being built in and around Abu Dhabi island. According to MEED Projects, there were just $696m construction and infrastructure contract awards in Al-Ain in 2010 compared with $11.3bn in Abu Dhabi city.

Before the collapse of the UAE’s real-estate market in 2008, there were a number of major masterplanned projects planned for the city, such as Al-Qudra Real Estate’s Ain Al-Fayda and an artificial ski slope on the side of Jebel Hafeet planned by Tamouh.

Like other real-estate schemes, these projects have now stalled. This difference is the government has not stepped in to fill the vacuum. In 2010, all major contract awards in Abu Dhabi city were on government funded projects, such as Cleveland Clinic and New York University.

In Al-Ain there were none. That now looks set to change as the government plans to build a major new mosque and hotel. These projects will not only provide contractors and consultants with work, they will also help raise
Al-Ain’s profile and help develop its economy.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Emirates Palace hotel were the two most important building projects to be completed in Abu Dhabi over the past decade and both have helped establish the city as a tourist destination. If the new mosque and hotel are built in Al-Ain, then the emirate’s rulers will be hoping the same thing happens to the city they call home.