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About United Arab Emirates

General Information -- Geography -- Climate -- Religion -- Language -- Population and Ethnic Composition-- Government -- Administrative Division -- Time Zone -- Currency Exchange and Credit Cards -- Capital City -- Official Holidays -- Airports and Public Transportation -- Traditional Cuisine -- Brief History

General Information

Once in an obscure corner of Arabia, the United Arab Emirates have transformed themselves into an Arabian success story through a mix of oil profits, stability and a sharp eye for business. The UAE attracts visitors to its beaches, desert vistas and Bedouin heritage. Each of the seven emirates bears a unique character. Dubai is the Singapore of the Gulf, with busting harbors, gigantic shopping malls and a taste for bold architecture.
The oil rich emirate of Abu Dhabi has two beautiful oases: the attractively green and orderly Al-Ain and the spectacular of green farms and towering pink dunes in Liwa. Sharjah offers the country’s best museums and art gallery, and a magnificent zee, as well as the charming port of Khor Fakkan. The smaller emirates are quieter- Umm al-Qaiwain is the closest thing to what the fishing and pearling towns of 50 years ago must have been like.



The UAE lies in Southwest Asia, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia. It is a flat, barren coastal plain merging into rolling sand dunes of vast desert wasteland; with mountains in the east. Desert land covers over 90% of the country. Its strategic location along southern approaches to the Strait of Hormuz makes it a vital transit point for world crude oil.
The border demarcation treaties of 1974 and 1977 between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were never made public. Therefore the exact border of the two countries is only known to their governments.
There is an Omani enclave inside UAE territory, known as Wadi Madha. It is located halfway between the Musandam peninsula and the rest of Oman, on the Dubai-Hatta road in the Emirate of Sharjah. It covers approximately 75 km² and the boundary was settled in 1969. The north-east corner of Madha is closest to the Khor Fakkan-Fujairah road, barely 10 m away. Within the enclave is a UAE exclave called Nahwa, also belonging to the Emirate of Sharjah. It is about 8 km on a dirt track west of the town of New Madha. It consists of about 40 houses with its own clinic and telephone exchange.


From May to September, daytime temperatures are in the low to mid-400C range in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The in land desert areas are sometimes hotter, though without the humidity the heat here is more bearable than on the coast. In the winter months, all the emirates enjoy sunny, warm weather, though it gets windy on the Gulf coast. On average it rains only five days a year.



Most Emiratis are Sunny Muslims subscribing to the Maliki or Hanbali schools of Islamic law. Many of the latter are Wahhabis, though UAE Wahabbis are not nearly as strict and puritanical as the Saudi Wahhabis.
There are also smaller communities of Ibadi and Shiite Muslims. Other religions are tolerated, and there are a number of Christian churches throughout the country, as well as Hindu and Sikh temples in Dubai.



Arabic is the official language of the UAE, but English is very widely understood. Hindu and its sister language Urdu can be useful, because of the large number of Indian and Pakistani expatriates.

Population and Ethnic Composition


There is an estimated 3.1 million people living in the UAE, of whom about 27% (70,000) are UAE citizens. The population has been growing at 4% rate, bolstered by a high birth rate and ever-growing number of expatriate workers. The majority of the expat community are from India, Pakistan, Iran and other Arab countries. The Emiratis themselves come from a number of different backgrounds. All of the northern emirates have substantial communities of people of Persian, Indian and Baluchi ancestry.



The Supreme Council consists of the individual rulers of the seven emirates. The President and Vice-President are elected by the Supreme Council every five years. Although unofficial, the Presidency is de facto hereditary to the Al-Nahyan clan of Abu Dhabi and the Premiership is hereditary to the Al-Maktoom clan of Dubai. The Supreme Council also elects the Council of Ministers, while an appointed 40-member Federal National Council, drawn from all the emirates, reviews proposed laws. There is a federal court system; all emirates except Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah have joined the federal system; all emirates have both secular and Islamic law for civil, criminal, and high courts.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the union's president from the nation's founding until his death on 2 November 2004. His son, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan was elected, by the Federal Supreme Council, president the next day.

Administrative Division


United Arab Emirates consists of 7 emirates: Abu Zaby (Abu Dhabi), 'Ajman, Al Fujayrah, Ash Shariqah (Sharjah), Dubayy (Dubai), Ra's al Khaymah, Umm al Qaywayn (Quwayn)

Time Zone


UAE Standard Time is 4 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+4).
UAE does not operate Daylight-Saving Time

Currency Exchange and Credit Cards


The official currency is the UAE dirham (AED). One dirham is divided into one hundred fils. Notes come in denominations of five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000. Coins are dh1, 50 fils, 25 fils, 10 fils and five fils. The dirham is fully convertible and pegged to the US dollar.
Moneychangers sometimes have better rates than banks, and some do not even charge a commission.
There are ATMs on major streets, in shopping centers and, sometimes, at hotels. All major credit cards are accepted.

Capital City


Abu Dhabi is the capital of the country. An estimated 1,000,000 people lived there in 2000, with about an 80% expatriate population. The Emirate has approximately 70% of the country's entire wealth. Al Ain is Abu Dhabi's second largest urban area with a population of 348,000 (2003 census estimate) and is located 150 kilometres inland.
Everything in the UAE's island capital is modern sleek and shiny. It’s the classic Arabian petrodollar city, completely remodeled in less than 40 years into a wealthy metropolis filled with gardens and tall mirrored-glass buildings.
The city of Abu Dhabi sits at the head of the T-shaped island. The airport is about 30 km from the center. The main business district is the area bounded by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed and Istiqlal Sts to the north, Zayed the Second St to the south, Khalid bin al-Waid St to the west, and As-Salam St to the east. Some of the streets have names that are in more common use than their official ones.

Official Holidays


Airports and Public Transportation


Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the country’s main international airports. Emirates airlines and Gulf air are the major airlines. There are daily services from Abu Dhabi and Dubai to major European and middle eastern cities.
The only internal flight is between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Dubai transport mini buses serve all the emirates but there is no return service. Shared taxes can be cramped but they are cheap and a great way to meet people. Major roads in the UAE are good; duel-lane highways link the major cities and have lighting along their entire length.

Traditional Cuisine


Excellent and cheap South Indian vegetarian food is widely available; a thali (a kind of mini-smorgasbord of vegetarian dishes and rice) makes a cheap main meal. Inexpensive Lebanese, Chinese and Filipino food is also available, as it the usual American fast food.
Alcohol can only be sold in restaurants and bars in hotels, or in members-only places such as country clubs and sports clubhouses and is usually very expensive.

Brief History


Like much of the rest of the Gulf, what is now the UAE has been settled for many centuries. The earliest significant settlements are from the Bronze Age. In the 3rd millennium BC a culture known as Umm an-Nar arose near modern Abu Dhabi. Umm an-Nar’s influence extended well into the interior and down the coast of what is now Oman. There were also settlements at Bidiya (near Fujairah) and at Rams (near Ras al-Khaimah) during the 3rd millennium BC.
The Persians and to a lesser extent the Greeks were the next major cultural influence in the area. The Persian Sassanid empire held sway until the arrival of Islam in AD 636. Christianity had made a brief appearance in the form of the Nestorian Church, which had a monastery on Sir Baniyas Island, west of Abu Dhabi in the 5th century.
During the Middle Ages much of the area was part of the Kingdom of Hormuz, which controlled the entrance to, and most of the trade in, the Gulf. The Portuguese first arrived in 1498 and by 1515 they had occupied Julfar (near Ras al-Khaimah) and built a customs house through which they taxed the Gulf’s flourishing trade in India and Far East. The Portuguese stayed on in the town until 1633.
The rise of British navel power in the Gulf in the mid-18 century coincided with the rise of two important tribal confederations along the coast of the lower Gulf.
These were the Qawasim and the Bani Yas, ancestors of the rulers of four of the seven emirates that today make up the UAE.
The Qawasim, whose descendants now rule Sharjah and the Ras al-Khaimah, was a sea faring clan based in Ras al-Khaimah. There influence extended, at times, to the Persian side of the Gulf. This brought them into conflict with the British, who dubbed the area the Pirate Coast and launched raids against the Qawasim in 1805, 1809 and 1811. In 1820 a British fleet destroyed or captured every Qawasim ship it could find, imposed a General Treaty of Peace on nine Arab sheikhdoms in the area and installed a garrison. Europeans took to calling the area the Trucial Coast, a name it retained until 1971.
Throughout this period the main power among the Bedouin tribes of the interior was the Bani Yas tribal confederation, made up of the ancestors of the ruling families of modern Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Bani Yas were originally based in Liwa, an oasis deep in the desert, but moved to Abu Dhabi in 1793. They engaged in the traditional Bedouin activities of camel herding, small-skill agriculture, tribal raiding and extracting protection money from caravans passing through their territory. The Bani Yas divided into two main branches in the early nineteen century when Dubai split from Abu Dhabi.
So long as their rivals were kept out of the region and the lines of communication to India remained secure, the British, who formally established a protectorate over the Trucial Coast in 1819, did not really care what happened in the Gulf. The area became a backwater. Throughout the late19th and early 20th centuries the sheikhdoms were tiny enclaves of fishers, pearl divers and Bedouin. Protracted rivalries between the various rulers occasionally erupted into conflict with the British tribe to subdue.
It was the prospect of oil that changed the way the British ran their affairs. After the collapse of the world pearl market in the early 20th century the coast sank into poverty. In 1939, Sheikh Shakbut, Abu Dhabi, ranted the first of several oil concessions on his territory. It was not until 1958, however, that oil was found in the emirate. Exports began in 1962 and, at the population of only 50 000, Abu Dhabi was on its way to becoming very rich. Throughout this period Dubai was cementing its reputation as the regions busiest trading center, until it was found to have oil of its own in 1966.
Britain’s 1968 announcement that it would leave the Gulf in 1971 came as a shock to most of the Sheikhs. The original plan, announced in February 1968, was to form a federation including Bahrain, Qatar and the Trucial Coast. Three years of negotiations resulted in independence for Bahrain and Qatar and the formation of the UAE. The new country came into existence went six of the emirates untied on 2 December 1971; Ras al-Khaimah joined the following year. At the time many outsiders dismissed the UAE as an artificial and largely British creation. While there was some truth in this charge, it was also true that the emirs of the smaller and poorer sheikhdoms knew that their territories had little hope of surviving as independent states. Despite of the doomsayers, since independence the UAE has become one of the wealthiest and most stable countries in the Arab world.