Sunday, August 06, 2006

the UAE


Location: In the Middle East, on the Arabian Peninsular, along the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, beside Saudi Arabia.

Area: 83,600 km² (32,278 sq mi), similar in size to Ireland (the entire island) and West Bengal state of India, double the size of Switzerland and half the size of the US state of Florida (reference, Wikipedia).

Topography: Varied desert terrain, including...
  • wide plains of white-colored sand and brush
  • hills and dunes of golden and red-colored sand
  • rocky-mountainous regions with dry spring beds and sparse vegetation (trees and shrubs).
Climate: The populated coastal areas are hot (30-45°C/86-113°F) and humid April to October, cool (17-29°/62-84°F) and less humid November to March; with occasional sand or dust storms and morning fog; and moderate rains 3-4 times yearly.

Population: 4,104,695 (2005), reflecting a 74.8% increase over 1995 census levels; including 20.1% UAE nationals (source, Gulf News). Expatriate population of about 80%, including 45% South Asian, 23% other Arab, 13% East Asian and Western (source, Wikipedia).

Major Cities (w/population): Abu Dhabi-1,292,119 (capital, main oil producer), Dubai-1,200,309 (hub of trade, tourism and property development), Sharjah-724,859 (cultural and industrial center, bedroom community of Dubai) (population statistics, Gulf News).

History: The country was sparsely populated with nomadic communities and small fishing villages, until production of oil took off in the mid-1960's in Abu Dhabi. Sharjah and Dubai had been the principal areas of commerce, relying on pearling and sea-trade.

The country was ruled as a British protectorate until 1971. In that year the UAE was established as a federation of seven districts (or emirates), Abu Dhabi being larger than all the others combined.

The newly united country was led by Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, until his death in 2004. During his reign the country was transformed into a modern, urban, multi-cultural society. That trend is being accelerated today, spearheaded by the present ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.

Culture: It is historically an Islamic country of mostly Sunni Muslims, with strong Nomadic traditions. The large influx of expatriate workers, however, (over the last 3 decades) has created a multicultural mix of identities and practices.

Interaction (apart from business activity) among the various cultures is limited; therefore, each retains much of its traditional ways. The unifying forces within the society are the competing ideologies of Islam and modernization, with the latter winning out. The UAE, as a result, is rapidly becoming a less traditional, more urban and cosmopolitan society.

One lasting visual display of cultural identity can be seen in the traditional dress worn by UAE nationals and men and women from other Arab countries and parts of Africa. In addition the large Pashtoon community and others from Pakistan and Afganistan commonly wear their native attire.

Politics: The country is governed by ruling families and clans. Each of its seven emirates establishes its own laws under the framework of a federation, led by the emirate and ruling family of Abu Dhabi. The emirate of Dubai has established its own identity within the federation as a force for change and progressive values.

There are no democratic institutions; however, benevolence and tolerance characterize the general manner of governance. The leadership of the country has been effective in generating unparalleled economic development, while maintaining law and order and a general state of tranquility among both the national and the large expatriate populations.

Economy: The economy is at once entirely dependent upon the production and sale of petrochemicals. However, the wealth this has generated has been used, particularly by Dubai, to diversify the economy to such an extent that the petrochemical industry is no longer the leading provider of jobs nor the primary driving force for development. Led by Dubai, the country has become a regional powerhouse in trade, real estate and tourism, with rapid growth in additional sectors.

Issues: Below the surface of economic prosperity and harmonious multiculturalism, the UAE faces a number of potentially destabilizing issues:
  • labor--on the one end with exploitation of a large migrant labor force, and on the other end with poor integration of nationals into the workforce
  • general decline in the quality of life for many due to income imbalances and inflation brought on by the country's rapid development
  • a rise in pollution levels, traffic congestion and incidences of crime connected with urbanization and the country's rapid development
  • alienation of the local population from its traditional heritage due to the ever growing influx of foreign nationals

That is the UAE in a bit of a nutshell.

The most interesting of the statistics and summaries presented are those concerned with the multi-cultural character of the country. Although it is common in the Arab Gulf states to have large expatriate populations, the UAE epitomizes this dynamic to the extreme. There is a constant ebb and flow between the two (or among the multiple) populations. From year to year laws governing immigration, employment, social services, etc. change to reflect this movement and uncertainty. Equilibrium is maintained, but it is becoming an increasingly difficult balancing act.

The second most significant characteristic of the country is its rapid development into a regional, and in some contexts global, magnet for economic activity of almost any kind. This certainly creates immense opportunity and an unprecedented level of economic development. At the same time, however, it is hurling the country and its population--both native and expatriate--into uncharted territory.

In addition to the tensions referenced above, one can expect new problems and challenges to arise. The country's leadership has, thus far, been highly innovative in tackling the issues associated with rapid development. It is, however, difficult to predict whether they will be able to cope with the new challenges being brought on by the course the country is charting.

964 words
Open a printable copy, in a new window.

Quick Quiz

  1. When was the UAE established as a federation?
    1960   1971   1984
  2. Which ethnic or national grouping has the largest population in the UAE
    UAE nationals
    other Arab nationals
    nationals of the South Asia region
  3. Identify those issues which threaten stability in UAE society.
    (select as many as apply):
    over-population   unemployment   labor exploitation   imbalance in income distribution   alienation of the local population   religious tension   drug and alcohol abuse

Answers to Quesions in a pop-up box.
Feel free to challenge or disagree with any answers posted and offer suggestions.


Population Trends

The data suggest a doubling of the population within the next 12.5 years, although I would expect the country to reach even the 10 million milestone sooner than that. The rate of population growth appears to be expanding, with the many construction projects alone attracting over 200,000 new workers per year in the multitude of related sectors. On the completion of new residences, over 200,000 by 2008, more people will also come to settle in country.

Population increases up till now have been largely accounted for by an influx of workers, but as more people take up residence within country, it can be expected that more family members will join them and births among the expatriate population may finally become a contributing factor to population growth.

With regard to city rankings according to population, Abu Dhabi is ranked highest in the latest poll data (the 2005 census). Dubai, however, probably has at present the highest population with a larger number of workers not counted (those with visit or expired visas) than Abu Dhabi. The city's population growth will clearly have far outpaced Abu Dhabi's by the next official census.


One more interesting statistic from the Gulf News article on the latest census results: The UAE has a 68:32 ratio of male to female population. This reflects the orientation toward labor immigration that has been characteristic of the UAE since the 1970s. Until the latest construction boom there was a gradual trend toward this ratio balancing out.

1,155 total word count

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B.D. said...


1. 1971

2. nationals of the South Asian region

3. labor exploitation,
    imbalance in income distribution,
    alienation of the local population

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