United Arab Emirates – Background Information

The basis of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was established in 1971. The UAE consists of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Quwain. Every emirate is led by a sjeikh and together they form the federation. The president of the UAE is the sjeikh of Abu Dhabi (Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, also known as Sheikh Khalifa). Of the seven emirates Abu Dhabi is the ‘head emirate’ where the government resides. NB: almost 87 percent of the land surface of the UAE belongs to Abu Dhabi.

At the moment the UAE is one of the most political stable countries in the region. The federation proved itself to be stable since its union in 1971 and has not experienced any social turmoils, like other Arab countries. The UAE doesn’t have any political parties, the media is being regulated in order to avoid inappropriate reports, and unions and strikes are forbidden.

Population, culture and religion
In 2013 the UAE accommodated about 9.2 million people. Hereof 1.4 million people are Emirati (locals) and 7.8 million are expats. About a quarter of the population comes from countries of the region (Iran, Egypt, Jordan). Over half of the population comes from Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Philippines, Pakistan) and only a few percent come from Europe. Over two thirds of the total UAE population live in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The Emirati culture is based on the Arabic culture, with influences from Persia, India and East-Africa. The traditional food consists of rice, meat and fish. Popular drinks are coffee and tea.

The islam is the official (state) religion. Of the Emirati population about 85 percent is Sunni and 15 percent Shiite. The government is tolerant towards other religions as there are various churches and temples where different religious minded people can profess their religion. Of non-muslims it is therefore expected to show respect towards the islam.

Arabic is the official language. Although English is being spoken in everyday (business)life.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai contribute respectively 60 and 30 percent to the economy of the UAE. The other five emirates play a marginal role. The UAE owns about 10 percent of the proven oil reserves in the world. The oil concentrates mainly in Abu Dhabi and contributes for about 25 percent to the countries’ GDP. This is substantial, but not as much as the other GCC countries (Gulf Cooperation Council)(1) where the oil sector clearly dominates the economy. Although the UAE will be mainly dependent on the oil sector in the upcoming years, its dependence is decreasing. This is mainly due to the fact that Dubai has developed itself as a regional trade- and financial hub. Moreover, Dubai is the primary tourist destination in the Gulf. At the moment the non-oil sectors are clearly contributing more to the economy than the oil sector, thanks to the increasing expenditures of consumers and corporates.

The main exportpartners of the UAE are Japan, South-Korea and Iran. The main importpartners are India, China and the United States. (2)

Of the seven emirates Dubai is by far the most popular tourist destination. According to the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, Dubai is fifth in rank of the most popular cities in the world for international travellers. Furthermore, the UAE ranks 24th of the 141 measured countries in the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness 2015 report, by the World Economic Forum.

According to Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), in 2012 almost 10 million guests stayed in Dubai. In 2013 this number increased to 11 million and in 2014 until 13.2 million. Most travellers who visit Dubai come from London, Riyadh, Jeddah, Kuwait and Paris.

Dubai strives towards 20 million visitors by the year of 2020. With the Expo 2020 on its way, another 5 million visitors are expected.

(1) The GCC countries consist of Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, Qatar and Kuwait. These states strive towards mutual cooperation and coordination amongst various subjects in order to strengthen themselves. The goal of the GCC is to realize benefits, development and stability for its people.
(2) Rabobank (2014). Country Report United Arab Emirates.