United Arab Emirates General Information
Location of the UAE
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is situated along the south-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and stretches along the southern coast of the Persian-Arabian Gulf between Qatar and the Musandam Peninsula, an enclave belonging to Oman.
Saudia Arabia lies to the west, south and south-east. The UAE therefore borders the Rub Al Khali, the biggest sand desert in the world.
It occupies an area of about 84,000 square kilometers. In terms of surface area, the largest emirate is Abu Dhabi which also stands as the capital city of the UAE. Dubai is second largest.
The UAE is a federation of seven emirates. When the British Trucial sheikhdoms Treaty expired in 1971, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah became fully independent and bonded together to become one united country: the United Arab Emirates. Ras Al Khaimah joined them in 1972.
The UAE has known a lightning economic growth for the past 50 years. While in a relatively recent past, the inhabitants of these countries lived almost exclusively from fishing, pearl diving and agriculture, the Emirates are nowadays an international business and economic metropolis. At the beginning of the 20th century, foreign businesses have flowed massively into the Emirates, attracted mostly by the appealing tax relief policy. This formidable growth has never weakened.
The UAE boasts the highest GDP per capita in the world. Its wealth is essentially based on the oil industry which still accounted for 22 % of the gross domestic product in 1998. Considering the past and present exploitation, the oil and gas supplies in Abu Dhabi will last another 100 or 150 years.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai both account for the biggest part of the UAE GDP. Besides the oil industry, several other economic sectors significantly contribute to UAE growth, such as: trade, tourism and the building industry. In Dubai for example, the oil industry has considerably subsided in the past years in favour of tourism which has on the other hand spectacularly blossomed: in 2007, more than seven million tourists came to visit this emirate.
The UAE currency is the dirham (Dhs) which is divided into 100 fils. The UAE currency is also called AED (Arab Emirate Dirham). Since 1980, the dirham exchange rate is linked to the US dollar: 1 USD is currently worth 3,65 dirhams. All the hotels and most of the restaurants and shops accept the main international credit cards. However, we do recommend travellers to take a small amount of cash with them and change it on site.
Three million people live in the UAE and most of them are foreigners. More precisely, only 27 % of the UAE population are nationals. The other 73 % come from Asia, Europe and other Arab countries.
Arabic is the official language of the UAE. English is also widely spoken and understood. Road signs and restaurants menus are generally written in both languages.
The United Arab Emirates are 4 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+4) all year round, 9 hours ahead of North America Eastern Standard Time.
Flora & Fauna
Desert covers most of the UAE surface area and one can travel for many miles without seeing much in the way of plant life but the flora is there, especially adapted to the inhospitable conditions like the palm trees growing in the dunes, their roots reaching down to the water table, or valiant bushes, shrubs and locust trees. Nowadays, an impeccable road network criss-crosses the whole region, which is partly floodlit. Car drivers and motorcyclists should however take great care of wandering camels! Especially when driving on tree-lined roads where animals can suddenly come out from behind a tree.
Politics and Social Life
Mingled with Indian and Pakistani influences, the Arabian way of life deeply influences the desert state. The UAE is however a very tolerant and liberal federation of countries where Islamic tradition and modern life peacefully coexist. The flourishing oil and gas industries provide a wealth which is an ideal basis for fast growing cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Religion and Culture
Islam is the official religion. However, other religions and cultures are tolerated and respected. There are for example many Christian churches all over the country. In the UAE, Islam is more than a religion: it influences people’s everyday life much more than Christian religion in the Occident. It conditions the whole course of the day, what people wear and also what they eat and drink. If Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol, hotels and bars may serve it to their clients. The “dress code” is also permissive for tourists.
Ramadan is the holy fasting month of the Islamic religion. Every year, the beginning of Ramadan is timed according to the phases of the moon. During Ramadan, the Muslim believer is neither allowed to eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. People of other religious beliefs are supposed to show respect and understanding during this period. They will neither eat, drink nor smoke in public during the day. During Ramadan, alcoholic drinks are only served in the evening and the opening hours of many stores are shorter than usual. Recreational activities can also be modified. Hotel guests are however much less concerned with Ramadan; they are for example allowed to eat and drink all day long, although often in separate areas.
The dates outlined below for Islamic religious holidays are approximate. The precise dates are not announced until a day or so before they occur.
- RAMADAN : 10 Aug 2010 – 9 Sep 2010
- EID al FITR (3 days at end of Ramadan) : 10 Sep 2010
- HAJJ / EID AL ADHA (Feast of the sacrifice at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca):
11 Nov 2010 – 13 Nov 2010
Abu Dhabi is not only the capital city but also the financial center of the UAE. Government buildings, banks and hotels outline the city skyline. As the country belongs to one of the driest area in the world, one can only be astonished by all the greenery and lush vegetation of the emirates cities. Thanks to wide-scaled water purification programs, sea water now flows unsalted into the cities and irrigates spectacular downtown parks and forests all around the year. All this new greenery naturally has an impact on the climate itself. In Abu Dhabi, the 24-hour watered parks and gardens reflect the dearest wish of His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – the wish of all the locals, actually, which is to live, at last, surrounded with luxuriant vegetation and water flowing profusely.
Dubai stands as the international business metropolis as well as the most popular tourist destination of the UAE. Here, luxurious buildings with breathtaking designs harmoniously mingle with picturesque souks and authentic Oriental way of life. The museum, the gold souk and the spice market are must-see attractions. Visitors can also enjoy a ride in a water taxi on the Dubai Creek, a stretch of the sea that flows into the city. Dubai also boasts an exciting nightlife with plenty of trendy bars and nightclubs that naturally appeal to younger vacationers.
The authentic Fujairah is still to this day, less open to tourism and not as wealthy as the two main emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The landscape is nonetheless beautiful with the imposing Hajar Mountains, long and isolated pristine beaches along the Indian Ocean and magnificent wadis, those dried out river beds that visitors discover on foot or in four-wheel drives. The underwater world is colourful and breathtaking on the UAE’s Eastern coast. Here stands also the oldest mosque in the UAE. Fujairah strives to catch up with Dubai in terms of economic growth; several hotel projects are already planned in the forthcoming years.
Besides their magnificent white sandy beaches, their stunning desert landscapes and impressive mountain peaks, the Emirates have a lot more to offer; big shopping malls and typically Oriental souks are also an attractive asset. Criminality is almost non-existent in the UAE and road traffic moves rather easily. It’s an excellent way for Western visitors to discover that part of the world in one of the numerous luxury beach hotels. Transfers from the international airports of Abu Dhabi and Dubai are usually short and comfortable. A wide range of recreational activities can then be arranged: excursions in the desert, diving or playing golf in one of the numerous world-famous golf clubs. To move around the cities, visitors can take shuttle buses (most of them are complimentary) or taxis unless they prefer to rent a car. It is possible to book excursions and rent cars through our agency.