The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a study in contrasts. The country has strong Islamic roots and a relatively conservative culture, but as one of the world’s largest producers of oil and a world-class holiday destination, it’s also a wealthy nation in the midst of rapid growth, largely filled with international workers and tourists. Towering glass-and-steel highrises seem to sprout out of adjacent sand dunes. Visitors are likely to hear Arabic and English spoken in equal measure, calls to prayer five times daily and thumping beats drifting out of local clubs at night. Shoppers visit luxury malls for designs by Dior and Fendi, then wander through traditional souqs to haggle over textiles and turmeric.
In the bigger cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi business, finance and political hubs stand in the midst of traditional cafés, where locals and expatriates linger over cardamom-infused coffees and sweets. Outside the modern cities, desert sands prevail, with oasis towns and quieter getaways.
About the Culture
The UAE has embraced and promoted tourism, especially for the major cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Because of this, the country is less conservative than many others in the Middle East. International sports and music stars, while on tour, make regular stops. The shopping rivals (and frequently outshines) the most upscale and varied malls in North America and Europe. The social scene in Dubai and Abu Dhabi comes alive at night. The dress code is relaxed, and most people wear what they want—within reason. It’s still a Muslim country so visitors and expats are advised to dress modestly, especially in public places.
Status of Women
The UAE constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women, and women's basic rights are enshrined in Islamic law. Also, the UAE Women's Federation (headed by the wife of the country's president), was founded in 1975 to encourage women to play a full role in society. Emirati women work in a wide range of roles: as civil servants, university professors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, administrators and members of the police force and the army. Expatriate women are found in many parts of the country’s workforce and tend to quickly immerse themselves in all other aspects of Emirates life.
Islam is the official religion of the UAE, but other religions are respected. In the major cities, there are Roman Catholic, Protestant, and/or Orthodox churches to serve the expatriate community.
Arabic is the official language, though English is widely spoken in medical, business and social circles.
The UAE educational system, which is reserved for Emiratis, ranges from primary level to college and university. School attendance is free for Emirati citizens, including university. Expatriate families may choose to enrol their children in private academic institutions, which often use a British, American, or Canadian curriculum.
The United Arab Emirates, established in 1971, is a federation of seven Emirates: Abu Dhabi (the capital of the UAE), Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Shariah and Umm al-Quwain. Each Emirate is governed by a monarch, and one monoarch is chosen as the President of the UAE. Together, they form the Federal Supreme Council. See our article on the Political System of the UAE.
The UAE, located in the Arabian Peninsula, borders the countries of Saudi Arabia on the south and west, and Oman on the south and east. The UAE also borders on the Persian Gulf to the north and the Gulf of Oman to the southeast.
The country is approximately 82,880 square km (32,000 square miles), or slightly smaller than the state of Maine.
Approximately 8.2 million people live in the UAE. In 2011, approximately 74% of those were non-nationals.
In the UAE, the currency is the Emirati dirham (Dh; also AED), which is pegged to the US dollar at a rate of US$1=3.67Dh.
The best-known cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are about 150km (93 miles) apart, so in good traffic, it takes about 1.5 hours to drive between the two.
The Islamic, or Hejira Calendar
The UAE follows the Islamic, or Hejira calendar, which is a lunar calendar, whereas the standard calendar used in the West (the Gregorian calendar), is based on one solar year. The Islamic calendar has 12 months, which are 29 or 30 days long, so the Islamic calendar year is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year (365 days, 366 each leap year). The weekend is Friday and Saturday, with Friday being the holy day.
Industry and Economy
Oil was first found in Abu Dhabi in 1958. Since then, the country has undergone a profound transformation, evolving from an impoverished region of desert to a modern state with a high standard of living.
Climate and Topography
The UAE has 1,318 km (818 miles) of coastline, but the majority of the inland area consists of sandy desert, salt flats and gravel plains. The Hajar Mountains, in the east, also run through Oman. Rainfall — the country averages just 12 to 13 cm (5 inches) per year — is irregular and happens mainly in winter. In the major cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the weather is generally sunny, hot and humid. In August, the average high temperature is between 41°C and 48°C (106°F to 118°F), plus humidity. January temperatures average around 24°C (75°F) during the day and dip down to 13°C (56°F) at night.
Working in the UAE
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