The United Arab Emirates is a small country bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman. It enjoys a unique strategic location, bordering the Gulf of Oman and overlooking the southern approach to the Strait of Hormuz, a vital transit point for world oil. It has an area of approximately 82,880 sq km, an area that is slightly smaller than the state of Maine. The Emirates have a desert climate with cooler temperatures in the eastern mountain area. The UAE is a flat country made up of coastal areas and desert wastelands. Because of the flat terrain, dust and windstorms are a frequent problem.
Less than 1% of the land is arable in the UAE. The Emirates are experiencing desertification, pollution from oil spills and a decreasing availability of fresh water. The water problem is being corrected through the use of desalination plants just off the coast of the UAE.
HISTORY & GOVERNMENT
For centuries the sheikhdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates have been individual competing dynasties. There was a lot of conflict between the sheikhdoms as each struggled for power in the region. During the 17th-19th centuries, the area became known as the Pirate Coast because raiders based there harassed foreign ships. In 1820, the sheikhdoms signed a peace treaty with England promising not to attack ships on the India trading route. However, raids did take place intermittently until 1853, when the Trucial Sheikhdoms agreed to “perpetual maritime peace.”
The United Kingdom formed a union with the sheikhdoms and mediated disputes between them; in return, they agreed to give their land only to the United Kingdom. This agreement continued until 1968.
The treaty between England and the seven Trucial states dissolved over time. They tried to form the Arab Emirates along with Bahrain and Qatar. The arrangement only lasted until 1971. When terms of the union could not be agreed upon, Qatar and Bahrain declared themselves to be independent countries. On December 1, 1971, the Trucial Sheikhdoms (Abu Dhabi, ‘Ajman, al-Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Umm al-Quwain, and Ra’s al-Khaimah) declared themselves independent and on December 2, they formed the United Arab Emirates.
Each of the seven emirates has its own own leader. Most of the power rests in the hands of the individual emirs (leaders) of each emirate; however, in recent years more power has been given to the federal government. The UAE is a modern and wealthy country. It is relatively moderate in the area of foreign policy, which has given them an important role in diplomacy in the region.
The highest level of the UAE’s federal government is called the Federal Supreme Council. It is made up of the rulers of each of the seven emirates, who choose and are headed by the country’s president. Though it is not a written rule, traditionally the leader of Abu Dhabi is elected as president. The Supreme Council elects the the Council of Ministers, which is responsible for managing all internal and foreign affairs, and is headed by the prime minister (traditionally the leader of Dubai). The Council of Ministers has 22 members, half of whom are chosen by the leaders of the emirates, and the other half by electoral college whose members are appointed by the emirates.
The UAE is profoundly wealthy and has one of the highest GDPs in the world. Its wealth is derived from the hydrocarbon industry; the UAE’s oil reserves are the seventh-largest in the world and the country also has a large quantity of natural gas reserves. Because the country is heavily dependent on oil revenue, it is engaged in a national development plan while some individual emirates have also launched their own economic diversification programs. Like other Gulf States, these initiatives strive to create long-term roadmaps for economic progress that align policies, build human potential and cultivate the private sector. Common themes in these development plans include the nationalization of the workforce which currently relies heavily on expatriate labor and increased participation in the global economy.
The United Arab Emirates, particularly Dubai and Abu Dhabi, has spent billions of dollars on development and infrastructure. Its extravagant hotels and man-made attractions, active nightlife, and international ambiance have made Dubai the top tourist destination in the Middle East.
Population of UAE
The UN estimates the population of the United Arab Emirates has a population of over 9 million. This population is relatively old with only 20% being under 14, while 61% are adults between 25 and 54.
Most of the population is not of Emirati nationality; only about 20% of the country are citizens. There is a large expatriate workforce from other Arab states, Iran, the countries of South Asia, and Europe and the United States.
Education is a priority in the UAE. The government is constantly developing better curriculum and mentoring programs to help their students. Public education is free for students through the university level. Education is mandatory through 9th grade. From Kindergarten through 6th grade, students are taught in gender-segregated classes. In 2003, the Dubai Knowledge Zone was created in Dubai Internet City. The area is a hub of e-campuses and internet based schools.
The government operates a comprehensive health care system that provides free services to citizens and services at a low cost to non-citizens. There is also a growing private healthcare sector that is more specialized. Malaria, measles and polio have been eradicated. Because of the high standard of care, the average life expectancy for most Emiratis is 77 years, one of the highest in the region.
Over 76% of the population is Muslim. The percentage is lower like some of the other Gulf states because of the high amount of foreign labor. Of that number, the majority is Sunni and about 16% are Shia. The UAE constitution states that Islam is the official religion. The government regulates what is said in sermons by sending guidance to the Sheikhs. Islamic studies are mandatory for Emirati students. Christians and Hindus are free to practice their religion.
Each of the UAE’s seven distinct emirates has its own identity. Nevertheless, Emirati culture is held together by Islamic ideas, Bedouin traditions and the culture of the sea-people along the coast. In recent years, the oil boom has shaped society as a result of the massive amounts of money that were dedicated to rapid growth and industrialization.
As development in the UAE has skyrocketed, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have established media zones to attract organizations. Reuters, Sony, Fox, and CNN, as well as Middle Eastern broadcasters like MBC, Orbit Showtime Network, and Sky News Arabia have offices in the UAE. The UAE also has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the Arab world, with more than 90 percent of people having regular internet access, and more than 40 percent of its residence using Facebook at least once a month. However, there is extensive regulation of media content, filtering at the ISP level, and censorship of foreign publication. Legislation dictates prison for internet content intended to “deride or damage” the state’s reputation or “display contempt” for Islam. The computer animated television Freej tells the story of four older Emirati women living in Dubai, coping with the developmental boom in the area. The show debuts new episodes each year during Ramadan.
The two art hubs in the United Arab Emirates are Abu Dhabi and Dubai. There are many museums and galleries that house the growing modern art collection and some of the traditional art forms. Traditional art forms include pottery, boat making, jewelry, rugs, and Islamic calligraphy. The United Arab Emirates is quite global in its outlook and often features displays from other Middle Eastern countries and beyond.
UAE has come to be known as a luxury tourist destination. Beautiful hotels, restaurants and resorts have been built. There are several modern feats of architecture in addition to the historical sites, such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Qasr al-Hosn, and the Bastakia District.
Music is extremely popular in the UAE. In addition to the traditional music and folk dances, there is a large underground pop music movement among the youth. The traditional music is played at festivals and ceremonies, and relies heavily on drums and tambourines.
Because of the desert terrain, the traditional sports of horse and camel racing are still popular. Camel racing takes place at a special track and money prizes are involved. Horse racing is more common, since there are more equestrian clubs and people have access to the lessons and equipment. Soccer, tennis, golf and rugby are also popular.
UAE is the home to many movie sets including ones for Iron Man, Jumper and The Kingdom. Several Bollywood films have also been filmed there. The UAE has built a “studio city” in hopes of promoting the film industry. A number of domestic and international film festivals are held in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.