United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates ˌærəb sometimes simply called the Emirates or the UAE, is an Arab country in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, as well as sharing sea borders with Qatar and Iran.

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The United Arab Emirates i/juːˌnaɪtɨd ˌærəb ˈɛmɪrɨts/ (Arabic: دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة‎ Dawlat al-ʾImārāt al-ʿArabiyyah al-Muttaḥidah), sometimes simply called the Emirates or the UAE,[7] is an Arab country in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, as well as sharing sea borders with Qatar and Iran. The UAE is a federation of seven emirates (equivalent to principalities), each governed by a hereditary emir, with a single national president. The constituent emirates are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. The capital is Abu Dhabi, which is also the state's center of political, industrial, and cultural activities.[8]

Prior to independence in 1971, the UAE was known as the Trucial States or Trucial Oman, in reference to a 19th-century truce between the local sheikhs, hereditary rulers of the territories, and the United Kingdom. The term Pirate Coast was also used by some to refer to the emirates from the 18th to the early 20th century, owing to the preponderance of pirates operating from Emirati ports.[9]

The UAE is a Federal Monarchy and the political system is based on its 1971 Constitution, which is composed of several intricately connected governing bodies. As a federation of seven monarchies, whose rulers retain absolute power within their emirates, but with a UAE president, it is neither a constitutional monarchy nor a republic. The emirs choose one of their members to be the president of the federation, but this does not alter the monarchical character of the government of the individual emirates. The constitution is concerned solely with the relations between the emirates as members of the federation, and does not prescribe a constitutional system of government. Islam is the official religion of the UAE, and Arabic is the official language.[10]

UAE oil reserves are ranked as the world's seventh-largest[11]. It also possesses the world's seventh largest reserves natural gas resources[12] and it is one of the most developed economies in Western Asia. It is the thirtieth-largest economy at market exchange rates. Per capita income is the world's seventh-highest.[13] UAE has a relatively high Human Development Index among Asian continent, ranking thirtieth globally.[14] The country has been classified as a high-income developing economy by the IMF.


An 18th century watchtower in Hatta

The earliest known human habitation in the UAE dated from 5500 BC. At this early stage, there is proof of interaction with the outside world, particularly with civilizations to the north west in Mesopotamia. These contacts persisted and became wide-ranging, probably motivated by trade in copper from the Hajar Mountains, which commenced around 3000 BC.[15] Foreign trade, the recurring motif in the history of this strategic region, flourished also in later periods, facilitated by the domestication of the camel at the end of the second millennium BC.[16]

By the 1st century AD overland caravan traffic between Syria and cities in southern Iraq began. Also, there was seaborne travel to the important port of Omana (present-day Umm al-Qaiwain) and then to India. These routes were an alternative to the Red Sea route used by the Romans.[17] Pearls had been exploited in the area for millennia but at this time the trade reached new heights. Seafaring was also a mainstay and major fairs were held at Dibba, bringing in merchants from as far as China.[18]

Advent of Islam

The arrival of envoys from the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 630 heralded the conversion of the region to Islam. After Muhammad, one of the major battles of the Ridda Wars was fought at Dibba resulting in the defeat of the non-Muslims and the triumph of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.

In 637, Julfar (today Ra's al-Khaimah) was used as a staging post for the Islamic invasion of Sasanian Iran.[19] Over many centuries, Julfar became a wealthy port and pearling center from which dhows travelled throughout the Indian Ocean especially to neighboring land of Sindh and its cities of Thatta and Debal.

Portuguese control

Portuguese expansion into the Indian Ocean in the early 16th century following Vasco da Gama's route of exploration saw them battle Safavid Persia up the coast of the Persian Gulf. The Portuguese controlled the area for 150 years, in which they conquered the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula.[citation needed] Vasco da Gama was helped by Ahmad Ibn Majid, a navigator and cartographer from Julfar, to find the spice route from Asia.[20][21]

Under British rule

During the 16th century, piecemeal, the entire territory of the nation came under the direct influence of the European colonial empires, with the British eventually getting the upper hand. The region was known to the British as the "Pirate Coast", as raiders based there harassed the shipping industry despite both European and Arab navies patrolling the area from the 17th century into the 19th.[22] British expeditions to protect the Indian trade from raiders at Ras al-Khaimah led to campaigns against that headquarters and other harbours along the coast in 1819. The next year, a peace treaty was signed to which all the sheikhs of the coast adhered. Raids continued intermittently until 1835, when the sheikhs agreed not to engage in hostilities at sea. In 1853, they signed a treaty with the British, under which the sheikhs (the "Trucial Sheikhdoms") agreed to a "perpetual maritime truce." It was enforced by the United Kingdom, and disputes among sheikhs were referred to the British for settlement.[23]

Flag of the Trucial Coast

Primarily in reaction to the ambitions of other European countries, the United Kingdom and the Trucial Sheikhdoms established closer bonds in an 1892 treaty, similar to treaties entered into by Britain with other principalities in the Persian Gulf. The sheikhs agreed not to dispose of any territory except to Britain and not to enter into relationships with any foreign government other than the United Kingdom without its consent. In return, the British promised to protect the Trucial Coast from all aggression by sea and to help in case of land attack.[24] British suppression of piracy meant that pearling fleets could operate in relative security. However, the British prohibition of the slave trade meant an important source of income was lost to some sheikhs and merchants.[25]

Pearling industry

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the pearling industry thrived in the relatively calm sea, providing both income and employment to the people of the Persian Gulf. It began to become a good economic resource for the local people. Then the First World War had a severe impact on the pearl fishery, but it was the economic depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, coupled with the Japanese invention of the cultured pearl, that all but destroyed it. The industry eventually faded away shortly after the Second World War, when the newly independent Government of India imposed heavy taxation on pearls imported from the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.[26]

The decline of pearling resulted in a very difficult era, with little opportunity to build any infrastructure.

Dubai in the mid-20th century

Beginning of the oil era

At the beginning of the 1960s, the first oil company teams carried out preliminary surveys and the first cargo of crude was exported from Abu Dhabi in 1962. As oil revenues increased, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, undertook a massive construction program, building schools, housing, hospitals and roads. When Dubai’s oil exports commenced in 1969, Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the de facto ruler of Dubai, was also able to use oil revenues to improve the quality of life of his people.[27]

In 1955, the United Kingdom sided with Abu Dhabi in the latter's dispute with Oman over the Buraimi Oasis, another territory to the south.[28] A 1974 agreement between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia would have settled the Abu Dhabi-Saudi border dispute; however, the agreement has yet to be ratified by the UAE government and is not recognized by the Saudi government. The border with Oman also remains officially unsettled, but the two governments agreed to delineate the border in May 1999.[29]

Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the union

In the early 1960s, oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi, an event that led to quick unification calls made by UAE sheikdoms. Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966 and the British started losing their oil investments and contracts to U.S. oil companies.[30] The British had earlier started a development office that helped in some small developments in the emirates. The sheikhs of the emirates then decided to form a council to coordinate matters between them and took over the development office. They formed the Trucial States Council,[31] and appointed Adi Bitar, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum's legal advisor, as Secretary General and Legal Advisor to the Council. The council was terminated once the United Arab Emirates was formed.[32]


By 1966 it became clear the British Government could no longer afford to govern what is now the United Arab Emirates. British MPs debated in Parliament that the Royal Navy would not be able to defend the trucial sheikhdoms. Denis Healey, who at the time was the Secretary of State for Defence reported that the British Armed Forces were seriously overstretched and in some respects dangerously under-equipped to defend the trucial sheikhdoms, yet to continue spending even along current lines would mean imposing an increasing burden on the British people which none of their competitors in world trade are carrying. On 24 January 1968, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced its decision, reaffirmed in March 1971 by Prime Minister Edward Heath to end the treaty relationships with the seven trucial sheikhdoms which had been, together with Bahrain and Qatar, under British protection. Days after the announcement, the ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, fearing vulnerability, tried to persuade the British to honour the protection treaties by providing the full costs of keeping the British Armed Forces in the Emirates. Not only did the British Labour government rebuff the offer, it did so in a way that offended the Emirati rulers.[33] After Labour MP Goronwy Roberts informed Sheikh Zayed of the news of British withdrawal, the nine Gulf sheikhdoms attempted to form a union of Arab emirates, but by mid-1971 they were still unable to agree on terms of union even though the British treaty relationship was to expire in December of that year.[34]

Bahrain became independent in August, and Qatar in September 1971. When the British-Trucial Sheikhdoms treaty expired on December 1, 1971, they became fully independent.[35] The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai decided to form a union between their two emirates independently, prepare a constitution, then call the rulers of the other five emirates to a meeting and offer them the opportunity to join. It was also agreed between the two that the constitution be written by December 2, 1971.[36] On that date, at the Dubai Guesthouse Palace, four other emirates agreed to enter into a union called the United Arab Emirates. Ras al-Khaimah joined later, in early 1972.[37][38]

The UAE supported military operations from the United States and other Coalition nations that are engaged in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan (2001) and Saddam Hussein in Iraq (2003) as well as operations supporting the Global War on Terrorism for the Horn of Africa at Al Dhafra Air Base located outside of Abu Dhabi.[citation needed] The air base also supported Allied operations during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and Operation Northern Watch. The country had already signed a military defense agreement with the U.S. in 1994 and one with France in 1995.[citation needed]

On 2 November 2004, the UAE's first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died. His eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, succeeded as Emir of Abu Dhabi. In accordance with the constitution, the UAE's Supreme Council of Rulers elected Khalifa as president. Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan succeeded Khalifa as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.[39] In January 2006, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, died, and the crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum assumed both roles.


The landscape of Sir Bani Yas Island

The United Arab Emirates is situated in Southwest Asia, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia; it is in a strategic location along southern approaches to the Strait of Hormuz, a vital transit point for world crude oil.[40]

A view of the desert landscape on the outskirts of Dubai

The mountainous region in the north

The UAE lies between 22°30' and 26°10' north latitude and between 51° and 56°25′ east longitude. It shares a 530-kilometer border with Saudi Arabia on the west, south, and southeast, and a 450-kilometer border with Oman on the southeast and northeast. The land border with Qatar in the Khawr al Udayd area is about nineteen kilometers in the northwest; however, it is a source of ongoing dispute.[41] Following Britain's military departure from UAE in 1971, and its establishment as a new state, the UAE laid claim to islands resulting in disputes with Iran which remain unresolved. UAE also disputes claim on other islands against the neighboring state of Qatar.[42]

The largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, accounts for 87% of the UAE's total area (67,340 square kilometers). The smallest emirate, Ajman, encompasses only 259 square kilometers (see figure).

The UAE coast stretches for more than 650 kilometers along the southern shore of the Persian Gulf. Most of the coast consists of salt pans that extend far inland. The largest natural harbor is at Dubai, although other ports have been dredged at Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and elsewhere. Numerous islands[which?] are found in the Persian Gulf, and the ownership of some of them has been the subject of international disputes with both Iran and Qatar. The smaller islands, as well as many coral reefs and shifting sandbars, are a menace to navigation. Strong tides and occasional windstorms further complicate ship movements near the shore. The UAE also has a stretch of the Al Bāţinah coast of the Gulf of Oman, although the Musandam Peninsula, the very tip of Arabia by the Strait of Hormuz is an enclave of [Oman within the UAE.

South and west of Abu Dhabi, vast, rolling sand dunes merge into the Rub al-Khali (Empty Quarter) of Saudi Arabia. The desert area of Abu Dhabi includes two important oases with adequate underground water for permanent settlements and cultivation. The extensive Liwa Oasis is in the south near the undefined border with Saudi Arabia. About 100 kilometers to the northeast of Liwa is the Al-Buraimi oasis, which extends on both sides of the Abu Dhabi-Oman border.

Prior to withdrawing from the area in 1971, Britain delineated the internal borders among the seven emirates in order to preempt territorial disputes that might hamper formation of the federation. In general, the rulers of the emirates accepted the British intervention, but in the case of boundary disputes between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and also between Dubai and Sharjah, conflicting claims were not resolved until after the UAE became independent. The most complicated borders were in the Al-Hajar al-Gharbi Mountains, where five of the emirates contested jurisdiction over more than a dozen enclaves.

Flora and fauna

Acacia trees growing in desert suburbs near Fujairah

The oases grow date palms, acacia and eucalyptus trees. In the desert the flora is very sparse and consists of grasses and thornbushes. The indigenous fauna had come close to extinction because of intensive hunting, which has led to a conservation program on Bani Yas island initiated by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in the 1970s, resulting in the survival of, for example, Arabian oryx and leopards. Coastal fish and mammals consist mainly of mackerel, perch and tuna, as well as sharks and whales.


The climate of the U.A.E is subtropical-arid with hot summers and warm winters. The hottest months are July and August, when average maximum temperatures reach above 40 °C (104.0 °F) on the coastal plain. In the Al Hajar Mountains, temperatures are considerably lower, a result of increased elevation.[43] Average minimum temperatures in January and February are between 10 and 14 °C (50 and 57.2 °F).[44] During the late summer months, a humid southeastern wind known as Sharqi (i.e. "Easterner") makes the coastal region especially unpleasant. The average annual rainfall in the coastal area is less than 120 mm (4.7 in), but in some mountainous areas annual rainfall often reaches 350 mm (13.8 in). Rain in the coastal region falls in short, torrential bursts during the summer months, sometimes resulting in floods in ordinarily dry wadi beds.[45] The region is prone to occasional, violent dust storms, which can severely reduce visibility. The Jebel Jais mountain cluster in Ras al-Khaimah has experienced snow only twice since records began.[46]

Government and politics


Current President of the United Arab Emirates, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan

The politics of the United Arab Emirates take place in a framework of a federal, presidential system of a federation of absolute hereditary monarchies. The UAE is a federation of seven absolute monarchies: the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Qaiwain. The President of the United Arab Emirates is its head of state, and the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates is its head of government,[48] including foreign affairs, security and defense, nationality and immigration issues, education, public health, currency, postal, telephone and other communications services, air traffic control, licensing of aircraft, labor relations, banking, delimitation of territorial waters and extradition of criminals. All responsibilities not granted to the national government are reserved to the emirates.

The UAE government comprises three branches: the executive, legislature, and judiciary. The executive branch consists of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Federal Supreme Council, and a Council of Ministers (the cabinet). The Federal Supreme Council is composed of the emirs of the seven emirates. It elects the president, vice president, members of the Council of Ministers, and judges of the Federal Supreme Court. The Supreme Council also formulates government policy, proposes and ratifies national laws, and ratifies treaties.

Although elected by the Supreme Council, the president and prime minister are essentially hereditary. The emir of Abu Dhabi holds the presidency, and the emir of Dubai is prime minister. All but one prime minister served concurrently as vice president. The political influences and financial obligations of the emirates are reflected by their respective positions in the federal government. While each emirate still retains autonomy over its own territory, a percentage of its revenue is allocated to the UAE’s central budget.[49]

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the UAE's president from the nation's founding until his death on November 2, 2004. On the following day the Federal Supreme Council elected his son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to the post. Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is the heir apparent.[50]

The legislature is the Federal National Council (FNC), which consists of 40 members drawn from all the emirates. Half are appointed by the rulers of the constituent emirates, and the other half are indirectly elected to serve two-year terms. The first indirect elections took place in 2006, and the goal is a wholly elected council. The council carries out the country’s main consultative duties and has both a legislative and supervisory role provided by the constitution.[51] The council scrutinizes and amends proposed legislation, but cannot prevent it from becoming law. The main tasks of the FNC are:

  • Discussing constitutional amendments and draft laws, which may be approved, amended or rejected
  • Reviewing the annual draft budget of the federation
  • Debating international treaties and conventions
  • Influencing the Government’s work through the channels of discussion, question and answer sessions, recommendations and following up on complaints

A constitutionally independent judiciary includes the Federal Supreme Court.[52] However, Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah do not belong to the national judiciary. All emirates have their own secular and Islamic law for civil, criminal, and high courts.[53]

In parallel to the economic developments of the UAE, the country's leaders have also initiated political reforms in order to further develop the political institutions. The political modernization process was envisaged in three stages: first, conduct elections to elect half the FNC members through an Electoral College; second expand the powers of the FNC and increase the number of FNC members, which would require extensive constitutional studies and possible modifications, at the end of which the political institution would be a more enabled body; and finally, an open election for half the council.

The purpose of the elections was to expand political participation and develop a culture of government reform. The limited scope of participation was conditioned by three reasons: (1) the country not having an electoral tradition, (2) the prevailing political tension and instability in the region meaning that there was no scope for error, and (3) elections in the region having proved to potentially be divisive affairs, based on sectarian and religious issues, which the UAE wanted to avoid.

In December 2008, the Supreme Council approved constitutional amendments both to empower the FNC and to enhance government transparency and accountability.[54]

United Arab Emirates Government

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) eGovernment is the extension of the UAE Federal Government in its electronic form. The UAE eGovernment enables convenient access to government information and services through innovative and customer-friendly delivery channels and streamlines the processes for quality and timely government service delivery. The UAE eGovernment engages modern tools in Information and Communication Technology to actively connect with its wide base of users from within the UAE and beyond. The setting up of the UAE eGovernment is a major step towards modernisation and upgradation of government functioning as it brings about a cost-effective, eco-friendly, transparent and participative government.[citation needed]


The United Arab Emirates law originates from the old days of when the Emirates were a tribal society. Each of the seven Emirates has its own court system, while the UAE federal court system is located in Abu Dhabi.

Human rights and social development

Human rights are legally protected by the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates, which confers equality, liberty, rule of law, presumption of innocence in legal procedures, inviolability of the home, freedom of movement, freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of communication, freedom of religion, freedom of council and association, freedom of occupation, freedom to be elected to office and others onto all citizens, within the limit of the law.[55]

Because of the rapid development of the UAE from a traditional society in the mid-20th century to a modernizing one at the beginning of the 21st century, the concurrent development of legal provisions and the practical enforcement of existing laws has been challenging and, in consequence, problems exist mainly in regard to human rights of non-citizens, who make up around 80% of the population. Main issues include companies' and employers' non-compliance with labor laws.

Many expatriate workers, mostly of South Asian origin, have after their arrival in the UAE been turned into debt-ridden de facto indentured servants.[56] Confiscation of passports, although illegal, occurs on a large scale, primarily from unskilled or semi-skilled employees.[57]

The UAE's system of employment for non-citizens ties an employee to the employer and prevents him or her from seeking alternative employment without the express approval of the original employer. Also, among employers of foreign labourers non-payment of wages, cramped and unsanitary living conditions and poor health and safety practices are widespread and have been the subject of foreign media attention.

Labourers often toil in intense heat with temperatures reaching 54 degrees celsius (129 degrees Fahrenheit) in the cities in August. Temperatures in the desert can be higher. Official temperatures are censored during the summer months – this is a common practice among all Gulf countries.[58] Although attempts have been made since 2009 to enforce a midday break rule, these are frequently flouted and apply only to a narrow section of labourers – only those who work in direct sunlight, which, for example, neglects the vast majority of those who work on construction sites without air-conditioning or even adequate ventilation. Those labourers who do receive a midday break often have no suitable place to rest and are seen seeking shade under bridges or palm trees, where outdoor temperatures remain intolerable.[59]

In order to institutionalize the fight against human trafficking, including that of expatriate workers for blue collar jobs, the UAE government has devised a four-pillar strategy: (1) legislation, (2) enforcement (3) victim support, and (4) bilateral agreements and international cooperation. In 2007 the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking was established, which serves as a coordinating agency. The UAE has ratified the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol).

The victim support program includes protection, counseling and rehabilitation. Police departments and non-Government organizations provide shelter and support for human trafficking victims until they are able to acquire the right documents and many victims are then sent home at the Government’s expense, under the Crime Victim Assistance Programme. These shelters include the Dubai Women's and Children's Foundation, which was established in July 2007, and Ewaa in Abu Dhabi, which opened in late 2008, as well as the Human Rights Care Department in Dubai and the Social Support Centre in Abu Dhabi, which have been operating for several years.[54]

The issue of sexual abuse among female domestic servants is an area of concern, particularly given that domestic servants are not covered by the UAE Labor Law of 1980 or the Draft Labor Law of 2007.[60] Worker protests have been cracked down on.[61] Until today, the government has not allowed for trade unions to form despite having promised to do so since 2004.[62]

As Sharia prohibits sodomy, homosexual relationships are not commonly disclosed. Foreigners generally receive deportation, which is sometimes temporary.[63][64] Prospective foreign employees infected with hepatitis, tuberculosis, or HIV will not be given work visas and have to leave the country.[65][66] There is, however, no screening of tourists.

During the month of Ramadan, between sunrise and sunset, it is illegal to publicly eat, drink (even water), or smoke. Exceptions are made for pregnant or nursing women, as well as children. This applies to Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and failure to comply may result in arrest.[67]

The UAE authorities on the federal and local level have instituted a number of mechanisms and policies to improve the protection of human rights.[citation needed] For example, in 2004, the Dubai police opened designated departments in all emirate police stations that are mandated to protect the human rights of both victims and perpetrators of crime.[68]

UN rapporteurs – one on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the other on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance – visited the UAE separately and held discussions with various ministries, civil society organizations, academics and ordinary citizens. Commending the Government’s ‘cooperation and openness’, a preliminary report of the rapporteur on racism said: "The recent review of the UAE by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and by the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council demonstrates that the authorities are willing to find ways and means of addressing human rights challenges faced by the people in the UAE and to ensure compliance with international human rights standards."

Efforts are under way to promulgate a draft national law for better protection of children, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The proposed law provides for the establishment of a hotline to respond to children's problems and encourages the establishment of associations or clubs specializing in child affairs, as well as calling for the appointment of a special judge to handle cases related to children.[54]

The UAE National Human Rights Report, prepared by a committee comprising representatives from various ministries and government institutions, with the participation of representatives from civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and presented to the UN Human Rights Council on 4 December 2008 outlines efforts in the field of human rights observance and listed challenges facing the country, such as the following:

  • Providing more mechanisms to protect human rights, keeping up with national and international developments, and updating laws and systems
  • Meeting the state's expectations with regards to building national capabilities and deepening efforts for education on human rights and basic freedoms through a national plan
  • Striving to regulate the relationship between employers and workers in framework that preserves dignity and rights, and is in harmony with international standards, especially with regard to domestic help
  • Increasing the empowerment of women's role in society, increasing opportunities for involvement in a number of fields
  • Working to confront human trafficking crimes by reviewing the best international practices in the field, working to update and improve the state's legislature in accordance with international standards, working to establish institutions and agencies to confront human trafficking crimes, and working to support the foundations of international cooperation with international organizations and institutions.

The UAE government is currently studying the establishment of a national human-rights commission.[69][70] Mean wages were $45.61 per manhour in 2009.

Foreign policy and military

United Arab Emirates Air Force F-16 Block 60 taking off from the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas

The UAE’s liberal climate towards foreign cooperation, investment and modernization has prompted extensive diplomatic and commercial relations with other countries. It plays a significant role in OPEC and the UN, and is one of the founding members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Regionally, the UAE has a very close relationship with other GCC members as well as most of the Arab countries. The Emirates have long maintained close relations with Egypt and remain the highest investor in the country from among the rest of the Arab world.[71] Pakistan has also been a major recipient of economic aid and relations have been extremely close since the founding of the federation. Pakistan had been first to formally recognize the UAE upon its formation and continues to be one of its major economic and trading partners with about 400,000 expatriates receiving employment in the UAE.[72][73] India’s large expat community in the UAE also has over the centuries evolved into current close political, economic and cultural ties. The largest demographic presence in the Emirates is Indian.[74] Following British military withdrawal from UAE in 1971, and the establishment of UAE as a newly formed state, the UAE disputes rights to a number of islands in the Persian Gulf against Iran. However the dispute has not significantly impacted relations because of the large Iranian community presence and strong economic ties.[75]

Following the 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the UAE has maintained extensive relations with its allies for security and cooperation towards increasing interoperability of its defense forces and for liberating Kuwait. France and the United States have played the most strategically significant roles with defense cooperation agreements and military material provision.[76] Most recently, these relations culminated in a joint nuclear deal for the US to supply the UAE with nuclear power equipment, technology and fuel. In turn, the UAE – a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatory – has agreed to open its nuclear facilities to full international inspections and refrain from producing its own reactor fuel.

Commercially, the UK and Germany are the UAE’s largest export markets and bilateral relations have long been close as a large number of their nationals reside in the UAE.[77] [78]

Diplomatic relations between UAE and Japan were established as early as UAE's independence in December 1971.[79] The two countries had always enjoyed friendly ties and trade between each other. Exports from the UAE to Japan include crude oil and natural gas and imports from Japan to UAE include cars and electric items.[79]

The UAE is pursuing a policy of peaceful settling of the region's issues. The country supports the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state. At the second international conference to support the Palestinian economy and reconstruction of Gaza strip, which was held in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, the UAE said it would continue to offer political, economic and humanitarian support to the Palestinian cause. The UAE has provided over US$3 billion in aid to the Palestinians, including development funds for infrastructure, housing, hospital and school projects. In addition, the country donated US$174 million towards reconstruction in Gaza. The UAE has been an active supporter of the Iraqi Government in its efforts to draw up a comprehensive political formula to enable the country to achieve security and stability. It has one of the few functioning Arab embassies and resident ambassadors in Baghdad, and has canceled debts worth about US$7 billion to support Iraq’s reconstruction efforts. The UAE continues to contribute constructively to the international efforts aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan and supporting its bid to restore security. As part of its humanitarian and development assistance to Afghanistan, it provided US$550 million between 2002 and 2008. The UAE is the only Arab country performing humanitarian activities on the ground in Afghanistan.

One major diplomatic success for the UAE during 2009, which also reflected its growing international status, came with Abu Dhabi being chosen to host the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). This is one of the few times that a developing country has had the opportunity to host the headquarters of a major international organization.[80]

Foreign aid

The UAE has continuously been a major contributor of emergency relief to regions affected by conflict and natural disasters in the developing world.[75] The main UAE governmental agency for foreign aid is the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) which was established in 1971. Since its establishment, the ADFD has provided over Dh12.6 billion (US$3.45 billion) in soft loans and grants to countries mainly in Africa.[81] Since 1971, these have accounted for a further Dh10 billion (US$2.7 billion), bringing the total amount of the loans, grants and investments provided by the fund or the Abu Dhabi government, and managed by the fund, to around Dh24 billion (US$6.5 billion), covering 258 different projects in a total of 52 countries.[82]

In November 2008 the Abu Dhabi Fund announced a long term loan of around US$278 million for rehabilitation of agricultural land in the state of Uzbekistan.[83] Between 1994 to mid-2008, for example, around Dh15.4 billion (US$4.2 billion) has been provided for the Palestinians, including, most recently, US$300 million pledged at a donor conference in Paris and an annual commitment of US$43 million to support the Palestine National Authority.[84]

The UAE has also used the Red Crescent authority and charities such as Dubai Cares and Noor Dubai to donate aid to foreign countries.

Political divisions

The United Arab Emirates is divided into seven emirates. Abu Dhabi is the most populated Emirate with 38% of the UAE population. The city of Dubai has a further 30%, so over two-thirds of the UAE population live in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

Abu Dhabi has an area of 67,340 square kilometres, which is 86.7% of the country’s total area, excluding the islands. It has a coastline extending for more than 400 kilometres and is divided for administrative purposes into three major regions. The Emirate of Dubai extends along the Persian Gulf coast of the UAE for approximately 72 kilometres. Dubai has an area of 3,885 square kilometers, which is equivalent to 5% of the country’s total area, excluding the islands. The Emirate of Sharjah extends along approximately 16 kilometers of the UAE’s Persian Gulf coastline and for more than 80 kilometers into the interior. The northern emirates which include Fujairah, Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Qaiwain all have a total area of 3,881 square kilometres. There are two areas under joint control. One is jointly controlled by Oman and Ajman, the other by Fujairah and Sharjah.

There is an Omani exclave surrounded by UAE territory, known as Wadi Madha. It is located halfway between the Musandam peninsula and the rest of Oman in the Emirate of Sharjah. It covers approximately 75 square kilometres (29 sq mi) and the boundary was settled in 1589. The north-east corner of Madha is closest to the Khor Fakkan-Fujairah road, barely 10 metres (33 ft) away. Within the Omani exclave of Madha, is a UAE exclave called Nahwa, also belonging to the Emirate of Sharjah. It is about 8 kilometres (5 mi) on a dirt track west of the town of New Madha. It consists of about forty houses with its own clinic and telephone exchange.

Flag Emirate Arabic
Capital Population[85] % of total population Area (km²)[85] Area (mi²) % of total area Density
Abu Dhabi أبو ظبي Abu Dhabi 1,548,655 31.2% 67,340 26,000 86.7% 25
Ajman عجمان Ajman 372,923 7.5% 259 100 0.3% 996
Dubai دبي Dubai 1,770,533 35.6% 3,885 1,500 5.0% 336
Fujairah الفجيرة Fujairah 137,940 2.9% 1,165 450 1.5% 109
Ras al-Khaimah رأس الخي��ة Ras al-Khaimah 171,903 3.4% 1,684 650 2.2% 122
Sharjah الشارقة Sharjah 895,252 18.0% 2,590 1,000 3.3% 262
Umm al-Quwain 0أم القيوين Umm al-Qaiwain 69,936 1.4% 777 300 0.9% 88
UAE الإمارات
العربية المتحدة
Abu Dhabi 4,967,142 100% 77,700 30,000 100% 56



Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1963 95,000
1968 180,226 +89.7%
1975 557,887 +209.5%
1980 1,042,099 +86.8%
1985 1,379,303 +32.4%
1995 2,411,041 +74.8%
1999 2,938,000 +21.9%
2005 4,106,427 +39.8%
2010 8,264,070 +101.2%
The United Arab Emirates first conducted a census in 1968. All population figures in this table prior to 1968 are estimates obtained from various sources.

In 2010, the UAE's population was estimated at 8,264,070,[4] of whom only 13% were UAE nationals or Emiratis,[88] while the majority of the population were expatriates.[89] The country's net migration rate stands at 21.71, the world's highest.[90] In recent years, many expatriates have been demanding citizenship but there is currently no naturalisation process in the UAE.[91]

Studies carried out by the Department of Naturalisation and Residency, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour in 2009 revealed that the population of foreigners in the UAE was rapidly increasing with the largest group made up of Indians, with 1.75 million currently residing in the country. The second largest group of expatriates was from Pakistan, with about 1.25 million while roughly 500,000 Bangladeshis live in the UAE. The census also found that other Asian communities, including those from China, the Philippines, Thailand, Iran, Korea, and Afghanistan made up approximately one million of the total population. Western expatriates, from Europe, Australia, Northern Africa, Africa and Latin America make up 500,000 of the UAE population.[87]

By 2020, Emiratis are projected to form only 10% of the population.[citation needed] There is also a growing presence of Europeans especially in multi-cultural cities such as Dubai [92] Those from other parts of Asia (including the Philippines, Iran or Sri Lanka) comprised up to 1 million people. The rest of the population were from other Arab states.[1][93]

Thousands of Palestinians, who came as either political refugees or temporary employment, also live in the United Arab Emirates. There is also a sizable population of people from Egypt, Somalia and Sudan who migrated to the UAE before its formation. The UAE has also attracted a small number of expatriates from countries in Europe, North America, Asia, and Oceania.[94] More than 100,000 British nationals live in the country.[95]

The population of the UAE has a skewed sex distribution: With a male/female sex ratio of 2.2 for the total population and 2.75 for the 15–65 age group, the UAE's gender imbalance is second highest in the world after Qatar.[96]

The average life expectancy is 76.7 years (2012), higher than for any other Arab country.[97][98]


The most populated city is Dubai, with approximately 1.7 million people. Other major cities include Abu Dhabi, Al-Ain, Sharjah, and Fujairah. About 88% of the population of the United Arab Emirates is urban.[99]

The remaining inhabitants live in tiny towns scattered throughout the country or in the many desert oilfield camps in the nation.

  • v
  • t
  • e
Largest cities or towns of the United Arab Emirates
2008 Calculation[specify]
Rank City name Emirate Pop.


Abu Dhabi

1 Dubai Dubai 1,770,533

Al Ain

2 Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi 896,751
3 Sharjah Sharjah 845,617
4 Al Ain Abu Dhabi 374,000
5 Ajman Ajman 372,923
6 Ras Al Khaimah Ras al Khaimah 171,903
7 Fujairah Fujairah 107,940
8 Um Al Quwain Um Al Quwain 69,936
9 Khor Fakkan Sharjah 49,635
10 Dibba Fujairah 30,000


Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Islam is the largest and the official state religion of the UAE, though the government follows a policy of tolerance toward other religions and rarely interferes in the activities of non-Muslims.[100]

However, it is illegal in the UAE to spread the ideas of any religion apart from Islam through any form of media as it is considered a form of proselytizing. There are approximately 31 churches throughout the country, one Hindu temple in the region of Bur Dubai,[101] and one Sikh temple in Jebel Ali.

Based on the Ministry of Economy census in 2005, 76% of the total population was Muslim, 9% Christian, and 15% other (mainly Hindu).[100] Census figures do not take into account the many "temporary" visitors and workers while also counting Baha'is and Druze as Muslim.[100] Non-Islamic religions are mainly followed by foreigners or expatriates. As the majority of the population are non-citizens, of the citizens 85% are Sunni Muslim while 15% are Shi'a Muslims.[100] Omani immigrants are mostly Ibadi, while Sufi influences exist too.[102]


Literacy rate
Year Rate
1989 53.5%
2000 79%
2003 77.9%
2007 91%[103]
The illiteracy rate is mainly in the adult population, as a large majority of the population are foreign labourers.

The education system through secondary level is monitored by the Ministry of Education. It consists of primary schools, middle schools and high schools.[104] The public schools are government-funded and the curriculum is created to match the United Arab Emirates development's goals and values. The medium of instruction in the public school is Arabic with emphasis on English as a second language. There are also many private schools which are internationally accredited. Public schools in the country are free for citizens of the UAE, while the fees for private schools vary.

There has been significant improvement in private education across the UAE. This is particularly important given the fact that a relatively high percentage of students in the Emirates are enrolled in private schools: in Dubai 50% of all students are in private schools, while the number for Abu Dhabi stands at around 40%.

Many private international schools in the UAE are accredited by international bodies and there are currently 17 International Baccalaureate schools operating in the country, all of which have obtained approval from the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva to run their programs.

Reforms to special education are under way across the country. In 2006, the Cabinet passed the UAE Disabilities Act, a comprehensive law that requires public and private schools to provide equal access to all children. The law was subsequently amended in 2009 to replace references to disability with the phrase "special needs".

The higher education system is monitored by the Ministry of Higher Education. The ministry also is responsible for admitting students to its undergraduate institutions.[105]

In 1983, EIBFS was established at Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. EIBFS i.e. Emirates Institute of Banking and Financial Studies has been doing a pioneering work in the area of providing world class training and education in the area of finance, accounting, banking and insurance. The Institute has been established by the Government to provide world class manpower in the area of Banking and Finance. The institute has three campuses at Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai and has excelled par excellence in the last three decades. The institute offers under-graduate programmes at Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi.

A recent survey showed that the illiteracy rate is on the decline in the UAE, and is now in the region of 7%. This is mainly owing to programmes that combat illiteracy amongst the adult population. Currently there are thousands of nationals pursuing formal learning at 86 adult education centres spread across the country.[106]

In fall 2009, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) opened its doors to its first class of graduate students. The Dubai School of Government (DSG), a research and teaching institution focusing on good governance and public policy in the Middle East, launched its first masters program also in 2009. A number of foreign universities, from the Paris Sorbonne to Michigan State University, have opened campuses in the UAE. In February 2008, a branch of the New York Film Academy opened in Abu Dhabi; it launched its first bachelor’s degree program in 2010. In fall 2010 the opening of the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University (NYUAD) marked a new milestone. INSEAD, one of the world’s largest graduate business schools, has been operating a Middle East campus in Abu Dhabi since 2007, and now runs seven executive-education programs.

The Government has launched many programs and initiatives to improve the quality of education at schools across the country.

The UAE has shown a strong interest in improving education and research. Enterprises include the establishment of the CERT Research Centers and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and institute for enterprise development.[107]


Dubai Healthcare City is a specifically designated city for clinical and wellness services, medical education and research launched by the government to attract global companies to the city

Standards of healthcare are considered to be generally high in the United Arab Emirates, resulting from increased government spending during strong economic years. According to the UAE government, total expenditures on healthcare from 1996 to 2003 were US$436 million. According to the World Health Organization, in 2006 total expenditures on health care constituted 2.6% of gross domestic product (GDP), and the per capita expenditure for health care was US$673. General government expenditure on health as percentage of total government expenditure is 8.7% and Health care currently is free only for UAE citizens, with a health insurance scheme in place for those working the Emirates. Hospital beds (per 10 000 population) was 18 in 2005. The number of doctors per 100,000 (annual average, 1990–2005) was 17 and dentistry personnel (per 100 000 population) was 30 in 2002. The pharmaceutical personnel (per 100 000 population) was 40.

The life expectancy at birth in the UAE is at 78.5 years.[98] According to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, the UAE is ranked fourth in the world in terms of health care.

In February 2008, the Ministry of Health unveiled a five-year health strategy for the public health sector in the northern emirates, which fall under its purview and which, unlike Abu Dhabi and Dubai, do not have separate healthcare authorities. The strategy focuses on unifying healthcare policy and improving access to healthcare services at reasonable cost, at the same time reducing dependence on overseas treatment. The ministry plans to add three hospitals to the current 14, and 29 primary healthcare centres to the current 86. Nine were scheduled to open in 2008.[108]

The introduction of mandatory health insurance in Abu Dhabi for expatriates and their dependents was a major driver in reform of healthcare policy. Abu Dhabi nationals were brought under the scheme from 1 June 2008 and Dubai followed for its government employees. Eventually, under federal law, every Emirati and expatriate in the country will be covered by compulsory health insurance under a unified mandatory scheme.[109] Recently the country has been benefiting from medical tourists from all over the GCC. The UAE currently attracts medical tourists seeking plastic surgery and advanced procedures, cardiac and spinal surgery, and dental treatment, as health services have higher standards than other Arab countries in the Persian Gulf.[110]

Cardiovascular disease is the principal cause of death in the UAE, constituting 28% of total deaths; other major causes are accidents and injuries, malignancies, and congenital anomalies.[111] Diabetes and Cancer are also the main causes of death in the country, and statistics have indicated that the UAE has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world.


Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Economic indicators
Unemployment 4%May 2009 [note 1]
GDP growth 3.20%2010 [112]
CPI inflation 1.9%April 2008 – April 2009 [113]
National debt $142 billionJune 18, 2009 [114]

Dubai is the richest city in Western Asia.

At the time of independence, the UAE was already regarded as a rich country with GDP per capita exceeding US$ 2,000. In 2011, UAE is ranked as the 14th best nation in the world for doing business based on its economy and regulatory environment, ranked by the Doing Business 2011 Report published by the World Bank Group[115]

The UAE has an open economy with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and a sizable annual trade surplus. In 2009, its GDP, as measured by purchasing power parity, stood at US$ 400.4 billion.[1] The GDP per capita is currently the third in the world and second in the Middle East, after Qatar and Kuwait as measured by the CIA World Factbook, or the 17th in the world as measured by the International Monetary Fund.

With almost US$ 1 trillion in foreign invested assets, some[who?][citation needed] argue the UAE to be the richest, with the highest average income in the world. Over half of this money is generated by the nation's capital, Abu Dhabi. With a population of just under 900,000 Abu Dhabi was labeled "The richest city in the world" by a CNN article [116][citation needed].

UAE's economy, particularly that of Dubai, was badly hit by the financial crisis of 2007–2010.[117] In 2009, the country's economy shrank by 4.00%, but UAE's overseas investments are expected to support its full economic recovery.[112] However, concern remains about the property sector. Property prices in Dubai fell dramatically when Dubai World, the government construction company, sought to delay a debt payment.[118] The ability to service debt remains a problem.[119]

Petroleum and natural gas exports play an important role in the economy, especially in Abu Dhabi. More than 85% of the UAE's economy was based on the exports of natural resources in 2009.[1][120]

A massive construction boom, an expanding manufacturing base, and a thriving services sector are helping the UAE diversify its economy.[citation needed] Nationwide, there is currently $350 billion worth of active construction projects. Aluminum, steel, iron and other forms of metal exports along with textile produce much a significant amount of income and are expected to surpass the income brought in by petroleum and [natural gas exports within the next 40 to 60 years.[citation needed] Government projects include the Burj Khalifa, which is the world's tallest building, Dubai World Central International Airport which, when completed, will be the most expensive airport ever built, and the three Palm Islands, the largest artificial islands in the world. Other projects include the Dubai Mall which is the world's largest shopping mall, and a man-made archipelago called The World which seeks to increase Dubai's rapidly growing tourism industry. Also in the entertainment sector is the construction of Dubailand, which is expected to be twice the size of Disney World, and of Dubai Sports City which will not only provide homes for local sports teams but may be part of future Olympic bids. However, this is concern that this construction boom has been built on debt and speculation, with little creation of true economic value.

Major increases in imports occurred in manufactured goods, machinery, and transportation equipment, which together accounted for 80% of total imports. Another important foreign exchange earner, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority – which controls the investments of Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest emirate – manages an estimated $360 billion in overseas investments & an estimated $900 billion in assets.

More than 200 factories operate at the Jebel Ali complex in Dubai, which includes a deep-water port and a free trade zone for manufacturing and distribution in which all goods for re-export or transshipment enjoy a 100% duty exemption. A major power plant with associated water desalination units, an aluminium smelter, and a steel fabrication unit are prominent facilities in the complex. The complex is currently undergoing expansion, with sections of land set aside for different sectors of industry. A large international passenger and cargo airport, Dubai World Central International Airport, with associated logistics, manufacturing and hospitality industries, is also planned here.

Graphical depiction of United Arab Emirates' product exports in 28 color coded categories.

Emirati exports in 2006

Except in the free trade zones, the UAE requires at least 51% local citizen ownership in all businesses operating in the country as part of its attempt to place Emiratis into leadership positions. However, this law is under review and the majority ownership clause will very likely be scrapped in order to bring the country into line with World Trade Organisation regulations.

As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the UAE participates in the wide range of GCC activities that focus on economic issues. These include regular consultations and development of common policies covering trade, investment, banking and finance, transportation, telecommunications, and other technical areas, including protection of intellectual property rights.

The currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Emirati Dirham.


A highway interchange in DubaiJebel Ali Port is the largest port in the Middle East, and the seventh busiest in the worldTerminal 3 at Dubai International Airport is the second largest building in the world by floor space[121] and has increased the total capacity of the airport to 60 million passengers per yearThe Red Line on the Dubai Metro. The Dubai Metro is the first urban train network in the Arabian Peninsula.[122]The Etisalat Tower in Dubai. Based in Abu Dhabi, Etisalat is the 14th largest mobile network operator in the world, with a total customer base of 100 million.[123]

The Dubai Mall, largest mall in the Middle East

The UAE has been spending billions of dollars on infrastructure and is the biggest projects market in the region, accounting for 37% of total project value within the construction, oil and gas, petrochemicals, power and water and waste sectors. Many huge investments have been poured into real estate, tourism and leisure. These developments are particularly evident in the larger emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In the former, Masdar City and Saadiyat Island highlight the status as an emerging market. Dubai World Central, a 140-square kilometre multi-phase development under construction near Jebel Ali, will create 900,000 jobs, and will include Al Maktoum International Airport, which will be the largest airport in the world by 2020. Property developer Emaar’s Burj Khalifa is a Dh3.67 billion (US$1billion) tower that is the world's tallest skyscraper.

Governments in the northern emirates are rapidly following suit, providing major incentives for developers of residential and commercial property.[124] In addition, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has allocated Dh16 billion (US$4.4 billion) for infrastructure projects in the northern emirates. The allocation will be used to fund the construction of road networks, new housing communities, drainage networks and other projects, providing integrated solutions to some infrastructure deficits in these areas.[125]

The United Arab Emirates has an extensive road network that connects all major cities and towns. Roads in the western and southern regions are still relatively undeveloped. Those are highly dangerous roads passing through desert regions and many are still unsealed, gravel roads. This has resulted in the continued use of airplanes as the main or alternative mode of transportation for the residents.[126]

There are seaports throughout the country. The major ports are Port Jebel Ali, Port Rashid, Port Khalid, Port Saeed, Port Khor Fakkan, and Port Zayed.[127]

The UAE contains a number of significant airports. Dubai International Airport (DXB) is the main airport of the country. In 2008, the airport was the 20th busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic and 11th busiest by cargo traffic. The airport also was the 6th busiest airport in the world by international passenger traffic.[128] Other important airports include Abu Dhabi International Airport, Sharjah International Airport, and Al-Ain International Airport. There are also airports in smaller towns, as well as small domestic airstrips in the rural Western region. There are daily flight services between West and East UAE, which is the only convenient option for passengers travelling between the two parts of the country to places such as Sir Bani Yas.[129] The UAE is home to the largest airline in the Middle East, Emirates Airline. It has Dubai as its hub, and flies to over 100 destinations across six continents. The airline was the eighth-largest airline in the world in terms of international passengers carried,[130] and fifth-largest[131] in the world in terms of scheduled international passenger-kilometres flown in 2008. Etihad Airways, from Abu Dhabi, is also growing, with over 100 aircraft on order.

The Dh15.5 billion (US$4.2 billion) Dubai Metro project includes a 52-kilometre Red Line viaduct, which stretches the length of Sheikh Zayed Road between Al Rashidiya and Jebel Ali and was opened in September 2009 after round-the-clock work for three years. The Red Line when fully complete will carry an estimated 27,000 passengers per hour in each direction on 42 trains.[132] Work also on the Green Line, which will link Al Qusais to Dubai Healthcare City, began in 2006 and is scheduled for completion in late 2010.[133] In Abu Dhabi plans are underway for all a metro system and also a country-wide national railway, which will connect all the major cities and is later to connect to the GCC wide network.[134] The cost for the railway will be between Dh25bn and Dh30bn, and will be a total length of 1,100 kilometres, connecting Ghuwaifat, bordering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the west and the border with the Sultanate of Oman in the east.[135]

The Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) is the body responsible for overseeing federal utilities, whilst authorities in individual emirates, including Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (DEWA) and Sharjah Water and Electricity Authority (SEWA), oversee power and water generation in their individual emirates. The UAE plans to build 68 rechargeable dams in the coming five years to augment the 114 dams in existence, all but two of which are rechargeable, to help with providing for the growing population.

The UAE is also planning to develop a peaceful nuclear energy programme to generate electricity. So far, the UAE has signed peaceful nuclear agreements with France, United States, and South Korea, and a MOU with the United Kingdom.[136]

The UAE is presently serviced by two telecommunications operators, Etisalat and Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company ("du"). Etisalat operated a monopoly until du launched mobile services in February 2007.[137] However, Etisalat, with over 80% of the market, remains the UAE's biggest telecom provider and is expanding dramatically internationally and is now the sixteenth largest telecommunications firm in the world.[138] Du is targeting a 30% market share by 2010. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of mobile phone subscribers in the UAE grew by an annual average of 25.6%, almost four times its population growth. In 2007, there were 7.7 million subscribers. Forecasts indicate that the UAE mobile market will increase to 11.9 million users by 2012.[139]

Current UAE internet penetration figures assume 2.4 users per subscription. TRA projections indicate that over the next few years growth in both users and subscriptions will be coupled with a fall in the number of users per subscription: the number of subscribers are expected to increase from 0.904 million in 2007 to 1.15 million in 2008, 1.44 million in 2009 and 2.66 million in 2012.[140] Internet use is extensive; by 2007 there were 1.7 million users.[141] The authorities filter websites for religious, political and sexual content.[142]


Life in the UAE
Human rights
edit box

A traditional souk in Deira, Dubai

The United Arab Emirates has a diverse and multicultural society.[143] The country's cultural imprint as a small, ethnically homogenous pearling community was changed with the arrival of other ethnic groups and nationals—first by the Iranians in the early 1900s, and later by Indians and Pakistanis in the 1960s. Despite the diversity of the population, only minor and infrequent episodes of ethnic tensions have been reported in the country. Major holidays in Dubai include Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and National Day (2 December), which marks the formation of the United Arab Emirates.[144]

Emirati culture mainly revolves around the religion of Islam and traditional Arab, and Bedouin culture. The influence of Islamic and Arab culture on the region's architecture, music, attire, cuisine and lifestyle are very prominent as well. Five times every day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques which are scattered around the country.[145] Since 2006, the weekend has been Friday-Saturday, as a compromise between Friday's holiness to Muslims and the Western weekend of Saturday-Sunday.[146]

This unique socioeconomic development in the Persian Gulf has meant that the UAE is relatively liberal. While Islam is the main religion, the UAE has been known for its tolerant practices. Christian churches can be found alongside mosques and this courtesy has seemingly been extended to Hinduism and Sikhism as there is a place tucked away inside a residential style building which houses a Hindu temple and a Sikh gurudwara. There is evidently no persecution of Hindus or Sikhs which is why it is home to several communities that have faced persecution elsewhere, who are now contributing to the cosmopolitan atmosphere. There are a variety of Asian-influenced schools, cultural centers and restaurants. Increasing numbers of European centers, schools, and restaurants can also be seen in the UAE.

Dress and etiquette

Most Emirati males prefer to wear a kandura, an ankle-length white tunic woven from wool or cotton, and most Emirati women wear an abaya, a black over-garment covering most parts of the body.[147] Western-style clothing is, however, dominant because of the large expatriate population, and this practice is beginning to grow in popularity among Emiratis.

Etiquette is an important aspect of UAE culture and tradition, to which visitors are expected to conform. Recently, many expatriates have disregarded the law and been arrested for indecent clothing at beaches.[148] UAE encourages above-shoulder-below-knees dressing style for its expatriate population, especially in malls, but apart from some highly public places, western style dressing is tolerated in almost all places, especially in the emirates of Abu-Dhabi and Dubai, where the expat number is extremely high and each community has its own way of dressing. Unlike many other countries of the gulf, UAE is more forward and tolerant as far as respecting international clothing and culture goes. But recently, due to many public incidences of clothing inconsistent with local practice, clothing laws are being considered. This is due, in large part, to the effects such practices are considered to have on the social integration and participation of a largely conservative Emirati population. Recent developments in this matter include the non-governmental campaign christened UAE Dress Code which aims to educate the expat population on local dressing and its sensitivity to Emirati population.[149]


The traditional food of the Emirates has always been rice, fish, and meat. The people of the United Arab Emirates have adopted most of their foods from the surrounding countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. Seafood has been the mainstay of the Emirati diet for centuries. Meat and rice are other staple foods; lamb and mutton are the more favored meats, then goat and beef. Popular beverages are coffee and tea, which can be supplemented with cardamom, saffron, or mint to give them a distinct flavor.[150]

Muslims are prohibited from eating pork, so it is not included in Arab menus. Hotels frequently have pork substitutes such as beef sausages and veal rashers on their breakfast menus. If pork is available, it is clearly labeled as such.

Alcohol is generally only served in hotel restaurants and bars (but not in Sharjah). All nightclubs and golf clubs are permitted to sell alcohol. Specific supermarkets may sell alcohol and pork, but these products are sold in separate sections.[151]

Traditional Emirati tea

Dishes forming part of the Emirati cuisine include:[152]

  • Machboos
  • Harees
  • Lukaimat
  • Batheeth
  • Khamir
  • Al-Madrooba
  • Al-Saloona (curry)
  • Fareed
  • Al-Khabeesah
  • Al-Khanfaroosh
  • Raqaq (flat)
  • Al Jabab bread

Literature and poetry

The main themes in Emirati poetry for Arab Poets range from satire, chivalry, self-praise, patriotism, religion, family and love, and could range from descriptive to narrative.

The style and form of ancient poetry in the UAE was strongly influenced by the 8th-century Arab scholar Al Khalil bin Ahmed. This form underwent slight modification (Al Muwashahat) during the period of Islamic civilization in Andalucia (Spain).

The earliest known poet in the UAE is Ibn Majid, who was born between 1432 and 1437 in Ras Al-Khaimah. Coming from a family of successful sailors, Ibn Majid's oeuvre has a total of 40 surviving compositions, 39 of which are verses.

The greatest luminaries in the UAE literary realm during the 20th century, particularly for Classical Arabic poetry, were Mubarak Al Oqaili (1880–1954), Salem bin Ali al Owais (1887–1959) and Ahmed bin Sulayem (1905–1976). Three other poets from Sharjah, known as the Hirah group, also thrived during the 20th century including Khalfan Musabah (1923–1946), Sheikh Saqr Al Qasimi (1925–1993), an ex-ruler of Sharjah, and Sultan bin Ali al Owais (1925–2000). The Hirah group’s works are observed to have been heavily influenced by the Apollo and romantic poets.[153]

The meeting of classical Arabic poetry and media continued through the regionally highly successful television shows – Million’s Poet and The Prince of Poets – broadcast on Abu Dhabi TV and poetry TV channels. The Prince of Poets also won the International Broadcasting Award in London in the specialist genre TV category.

There are three annual book fairs in the UAE, the well-known Sharjah International Book Fair, the oldest and largest in the country, its Abu Dhabi counterpart and the newly launched Al-Ain Book Fair.

The UAE has a booming magazine and newspaper industry. the biggest selling English language magazine is Ahlan! magazine. The biggest selling English language newspaper is Gulf News.

Museums and art galleries

Many emirates have established museums of regional repute, most famously Sharjah with its Heritage District containing 17 museums,[154] which in 1998 was the Cultural Capital of the Arab World.[155] Abu Dhabi's cultural foundation is also an important place for the presentation of indigenous and foreign art. In Dubai, the area of Al Quoz has attracted a number of art galleries as well as museums such as the Salsali Private Museum.[156]

Abu Dhabi has embarked on the path to become an art center of international caliber, by creating a culture district on Saadiyat Island. There, six grand projects are planned: the Sheikh Zayed National Museum by Foster + Partners, the modern art museum Guggenheim Abu Dhabi to be built by Frank Gehry, the classical museum Louvre Abu Dhabi by Jean Nouvel, a maritime museum by Tadao Ando, a Performing Arts Center by Zaha Hadid, and a Biennale Park with 16 pavilions.[157]

Dubai also plans to build a Kunsthal museum and a district for galleries and artists.[158]

2009 saw the UAE’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale, one of the top cultural events in Europe. The pavilion was called ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me’ and was designed to offer a playful and provocative look at what has been described as the world’s most prestigious contemporary art event. This was the first occasion on which a country from the Persian Gulf has taken part in the Biennale.

Music, dance and cinema

The United Arab Emirates is a part of the khaliji tradition, and is also known for Bedouin folk music. Liwa is a type of music and dance performed mainly in communities which contain descendants of East Africans.[159] During celebrations singing and dancing also took place and many of the songs and dances, handed down from generation to generation, have survived to the present time. Young girls would dance by swinging their long black hair and swaying their bodies in time to the strong beat of the music. Men would re-enact battles fought or successful hunting expeditions, often symbolically using sticks, swords or rifles.

UAE's Traditional dance, Yowalah

Hollywood movies are the most popular in the UAE. The UAE has an active music scene, with musicians Amr Diab, Diana Haddad, Tarkan, Aerosmith, Santana, Mark Knopfler, Christina Aguilera, Bassive, Elton John, Pink, Shakira, Celine Dion, Coldplay, Ahlam, and Phil Collins and a slew of Bollywood stars having performed in the country. Kylie Minogue was paid 4.4 million dollars to perform at the opening of the Atlantis resort on November 20, 2008.[160] The Dubai Desert Rock Festival is also another major festival consisting of heavy metal and rock artists.[161]

In 2009 the highly successful Abu Dhabi Classics series celebrated its second season by treating the Emirates Palace audience to the Middle Eastern debut of the New York Philharmonic with pieces by Beethoven and Mahler, as well as holding a concert inside the recently renovated Jahili Fort in Al-Ain.


Dubai Tennis Championships in 2006

Football is the most popular sport in the UAE. Emirati football clubs Al-Ain, Al-Wasl, Al-Shabbab ACD, Al-Sharjah, Al-Wahda, and Al-Ahli are the most popular teams and enjoy the reputation of long-time regional champions.[162] The great rivalries keep the UAE energized as people fill the streets when their favorite team wins. The United Arab Emirates Football Association was first established in 1971 and since then has dedicated its time and effort to promoting the game, organizing youth programs and improving the abilities of not only its players, but of the officials and coaches involved with its regional teams. The UAE national football team qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1990 with Egypt. It was the third consecutive World Cup with two Arab nations qualifying, after Kuwait and Algeria in 1982, and Iraq and Algeria again in 1986. The UAE also recently won the Gulf Cup Championship held in Abu Dhabi in January 2007.[163]

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the UAE, largely because of the expatriate population from the Indian subcontinent, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium in Sharjah has hosted 4 international test cricket matches so far.[164] Sheikh Zayed Stadium and Al Jazira Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi also hosted international cricket matches. Dubai has two cricket stadiums (Dubai Cricket Ground No.1 and No.2) with a third, 'S3' currently under construction as part of Dubai Sports City. Dubai is also home to the International Cricket Council.[165] The UAE national cricket team qualified for the 1996 Cricket World Cup and narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2007 Cricket World Cup.[166]

Formula One is particularly popular in the United Arab Emirates, and is annually held at the picturesque Yas Marina Circuit. The race is held at evening time, and is the first ever Grand Prix to start in daylight and finish at night.[167]

Other popular sports include camel racing, falconry, endurance riding, and tennis.[168]

More information

Airports42 (2012)
Borders WithOman
Borders WithSaudi Arabia
Coastline1,318 km
Coordinates24 00 N, 54 00 E
Domain Suffix.ae
Ethnic GroupEmirati 19%
Ethnic Groupother Arab and Iranian 23%
Ethnic GroupSouth Asian 50%
Ethnic Groupother expatriates (includes Westerners and East Asians) 8% (1982)
Female Life Expectancy79.42 years (2012 est.)
Female Median Age25 years (2012 est.)
Fertility Rate2.38 children born/woman (2012 est.)
GDP$256.5 billion (2011 est.)
GDP$243.9 billion (2010 est.)
GDP$240.7 billion (2009 est.)
GDP Growth5.2% (2011 est.)
GDP Growth1.3% (2010 est.)
GDP Growth-4.8% (2009 est.)
Government typefederation with specified powers delegated to the UAE federal government and other powers reserved to member emirates
Highest PointJabal Yibir 1,527 m
Land Area83,600 sq km
Land boundary867 km
LocationMiddle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia
Lowest PointPersian Gulf 0 m
Male Life Expectancy74.12 years
Male Median Age32.1 years
Population Growth3.055% (2012 est.)
Roadways4,080 km
Terrainflat, barren coastal plain merging into rolling sand dunes of vast desert wasteland; mountains in east
Total Area83,600 sq km
Total Life Expectancy76.71 years
Total Median Age30.2 years
Water Area0 sq km


  1. The unemployment rate may be much higher as many people have become unemployed due to the global economic crisis taking a heavy toll on property values, construction and employment.


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Neighboring countries

Important people