The United Arab Emirates - A Country Overview

A brief overview of the United Arab Emerates: its geographic location, history, government, climate, security, tourism and international community...

The Geographical Location

The UAE borders the Arabian Sea to the north, Saudi Arabia to the west and the south, and the Sultanate of Oman and the Gulf of Oman to the east. The surface area is approximately 83,000 Km2, of which 1,318 Km is coastline. The total Dubai coastline is 60 Km, although new offshore projects will add more than 1,000 Km.

Off the coast lie more than 200 islands, most of which are uninhabited. Much of the interior of the country is desert, although there is also a range of mountains called the Hajar Mountains that form the backbone of the country, from the Gulf of Oman through the east of the country to Oman.

While there are no railways linking the emirates as yet, there are excellent roads and ports, making it a major gateway to the rest of the Middle East.

The History of the UAE

The southwest coast of the Arabian Gulf has always been an important trading post, and records show that there was commercial activity in the area as far back as 3,000 BC. Over the course of time the area fell into the hands of various conquering nations, including the Portuguese and more recently the British.

In 1892 Dubai and the other emirates accepted the establishment of a British protectorate after numerous attacks by pirates. The area then became known as the Trucial Coast, or Trucial States.

Britain withdrew from the region in 1968 and three years later, the United Arab Emirates was founded. Under the agreement, each emirate was allowed some autonomy. The leaders of each emirate elected the ruler of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, to be their president. When he died in 2004, his son His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan was elected to take over the presidency.

Politics and Government

The UAE is governed by the Supreme Council of Rulers, which consists of the hereditary rulers of the seven emirates. Due to the fact that the country is governed by hereditary rule, there is not much difference between the royal families and the government.

The Supreme Council of Rulers is responsible for education, defence, foreign affairs, communications, development and for ratifying federal laws. It meets four times a year, and the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have power of veto over decisions.
The President, or chief of state, is elected from its seven members, as is his Vice-President, currently HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai. The President appoints a Prime Minister, who is currently the Vice-President, and two Deputy Prime Ministers, HH Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan. They are each elected for five years.

Below the Supreme Council is the Federal National Council (FNC), an assembly of 40 members which has the authority to initiate and implement laws. It can monitor and debate government policy but has no power of veto. Half of the members are appointed and the remaining members are elected.

The UAE joined the United Nations and Arab League in 1971. It is also a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Economy

Oil was discovered in the UAE in the 1950s, signalling a huge upturn in the country's economy. Before that, the region had been dependent on fishing and the pearling industry. However, since 1962, when Abu Dhabi became the first of the emirates to begin exporting oil, the country's economy has been transformed. It is now the second richest Arab country per capita after Qatar. According to UNICEF, the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita was US$26,210 in 2008.

The oil industry is still big business in the UAE and the country has just under ten percent of the world's proven oil reserves. It also has the fourth largest gas reserves.

The UAE has worked hard to reduce its dependency on oil exports, however, and has successfully created booming business, tourism and construction sectors.

The area has been hit in recent years by the global effects of the credit crunch, with Dubai being particularly affected. Jobs have been lost and the property market severely weakened.

Climate

The UAE has a subtropical and arid climate, with sunny blue skies and high temperatures most of the year. Rainfall is infrequent and tends to fall on average 25 days per year, mostly in the winter months, from December to March.

Temperatures range from around 10°C (50°F) in winter, to a high of 48°C (118°F) in the summer. The average daily temperature in January is 24°C (75°F) while it rises to an average of 41°C (106°F) in August.

Humidity is around 50 to 65 percent, with the best time of the years to visit the country being in the cooler winter months when the temperatures are less stifling and it is not so humid.

Security

The crime rate in the UAE is low. According to Dubai Police, the incidence of serious crime is between 0.5 and one per 100,000 people, compared with the international average of four to six per 100,000 people. Violent crimes and crimes against property are rare, but do occur.

One of the biggest problems is road safety, with road deaths in the UAE at about 24 per 100,000 people. That equates to around 600 deaths every year. Driving is frequently unsafe, and motorists tend to drive too fast.

Foreigners Living in the UAE

A large proportion of people living in the UAE are expatriates, with around 80 percent of Dubai's population coming from abroad. The largest expatriate community is from India, which makes up more than 40 percent of the population. Other large expatriate communities are Americans, Australians, British, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. The situation in Abu Dhabi is similar, with almost the same percentage of foreigners living there.

The country is therefore prepared to help people move to the UAE, and live there with relative ease. Visas are easily obtained once sponsored by a local employer or resident, and there are a large number of companies set up to help the relocation process.

The cost of living - apart from accommodation - is cheap. Rents for apartments or houses are high. But there is a large choice of accommodation on offer.

Health care is excellent and can cost very little, although residents are encouraged to get comprehensive health insurance. There is no government-funded education for expatriate children, but there are a number of international schools most of which have a high standard.

Tourism

The UAE is a major tourist destination in the Middle East. Most of the visitors to the UAE stay in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai, which has around 60,000 hotel rooms or holiday apartments. It is estimated that in 2010, 15 million people will visit Dubai.
Information on cities, towns and tourism can be found on the portals for Abu Dhabi and Dubai: