The United Arab Emirates, popularly known as the Emirates or UAE, is the country located at the south-eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula in the Persian Gulf, which is bordered with Oman on the east, Saudi Arabia on the south, Qatar on the west and Iran on the north. The population of the UAE in 2013 was 9.2 million, of whom 1.4 million are Emirati nationals and 7.8 million foreigners.
The country was founded in December 1971 and is a federation of seven Emirates. The constituted emirates are Abu Dhabi ( The capital city of the country), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Chahima, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. Each emirate is ruled by an absolute monarch; together they form the Supreme Federal Council. One of these monarchs is also elected President of the UAE. The official religion of the United Arab Emirates is Islam, while Arabic is the official language, although English is widespread and is the language of business and education, especially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The UAE’s oil reserves are the 7th biggest in the world, while its natural gas reserves are the 17th biggest in the world. Sheikh Zayed, Ruler of Abu Dhabi and first President of the UAE, oversaw the development of the Emirates and directed oil revenues towards health, education and infrastructure. The economy of the UAE is one of the most diversified economies in the GCC. The most populous city in the UAE, Dubai is an important world city and an international air traffic hub. Nevertheless, the country is still mainly dependent on its oil and gas exports.
There has been widespread criticism of the UAE for its human rights record, including the specific implementations of a Sharia’a law.
Politics in UAE
The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates, each of which is an absolute monarchy with its own sheikh (or king) at the head. Each emirate retains considerable autonomy, especially in oil revenues. Consequently, the leaders – or sheikhs – of those emirates are respected and can have a radical influence over the way of life of the emirates. The Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai, for example, is very modern, so Dubai is currently forward-looking and cosmopolitan. The ruling sheikhs of Ajman and Sharjah are more conservative, so the rules there are stricter with regard to religion, alcohol and general living conditions. Theoretically, both the president and the prime minister are appointed by the Supreme Council, which is composed of the leaders of each of the 7 Emirates. In practice, the King of Abu Dhabi is always elected President, while the King of Dubai is always elected Prime Minister, so the offices are de facto hereditary.
Geography of UAE
The United Arab Emirates are located in the Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf between Oman and Saudi Arabia, and are strategically located just south of the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit point for the world’s crude oil.
The UAE are located between 22° 30′ and 26° 10′ latitude north and in between 51° and 56° 25′ longitude east. It borders Saudi Arabia to the west, south and south-east for 530 kilometres (330 miles) and Oman to the south-east and north-east for 450 kilometres (280 miles). The land border with Qatar in the region of Khawr al Udayd is some nineteen kilometres (12 miles) to the north-west, but it is a source of ongoing dispute. Following the British military withdrawal from the UAE in 1971 and its establishment as a new state, the UAE claimed islands, which led to disputes with Iran that remain unresolved. The UAE also contested the claim on other islands against the neighbouring state of Qatar. UAE’s biggest emirate, Abu Dhabi, comprises 87% of the overall area of the United Arab Emirates (67,340 square kilometres (26,000 square miles). The smallest emirate, Ajman, covers only 259 square kilometres (100 square miles) (see figure).
The coast of the United Arab Emirates extends over 650 km (404 mi) along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf. Most of the coast consists of salt marshes that extend far inland. The biggest seaport is in Dubai, despite the fact that other ports have been dredged in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and elsewhere. Many islands are in the Persian Gulf, and the ownership of some of them has been the subject of international disputes with Iran and Qatar. Small islands as well as numerous coral reefs and shifting sandbanks pose a threat to shipping. High tides and occasional storms further complicate the movement of ships near the coast.
South and west of Abu Dhabi, wide rolling sand dunes merge into the Rub al-Khali (empty quarter) of Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi’s desert area comprises two important oases with sufficient underground water for sustainable settlement and agriculture. The huge Liwa oasis is located in the south, close to the undefined border with Saudi Arabia. Approximately 100 km north-east of Liwa is the Al-Buraimi Oasis, which is located on both sides of the border which separates Abu Dhabi from Sudan. Lake Zakher is an artificial lake near the border with Oman.
Before withdrawing from the region in 1971, Great Britain demarcated the internal borders between the seven Emirates to prevent territorial disputes that could hinder the formation of the Federation. Generally, UAE leadership has accepted British intervention, although in the specific case of the border conflicts between Abu Dhabi and Dubai as well as between Dubai and Sharjah, these conflicting claims were not resolved until the UAE gained independence. Perhaps the most complicated borders involved the mountains of Al-Hajar al-Gharbi, in which five of the Emirates disputed jurisdiction over a dozen enclaves.
Flora and fauna
Date palms, acacia and eucalyptus trees grow in the oases. The flora in the desert is very sparse and is composed of grasses and thornbushes. The indigenous fauna was almost extinct due to intensive hunting, which led to a conservation programme on the island of Bani Yas, initiated in the 1970s by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in which e.g. Arabian oryx, Arabian camels and leopards survived. Coastal fish and mammals include mainly mackerel, perch and tuna, as well as sharks and whales.
People in UAE
After landing in the Unite d Arab Emirates, you might wonder if this is an Arab country. You could think that you are actually in India or the Philippines. Dubai has attracted thousands of migrants looking for work from all over the world, especially from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines, since the oil industry was founded. Today, Indians and Filipinos have left their influence in the emirate: Indian restaurants and Pakistani bakeries are everywhere, while Philippine supermarkets are growing. Europeans (mainly British and French) and Sri Lanka form the next largest communities. Chinese and Indonesian migrants are increasing. Many Arab countries have adopted policies such as the emiratisation of the UAE, a policy that prevents migrants from taking up all job opportunities and offers more jobs to local emiratis.
The population is incredibly diverse. There are only 20% “real” Emiratis; while the rest are from the Indian subcontinent: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (50%); from other regions of Asia, particularly the Philippines and Malaysia (another perhaps 15%); and from “western” countries (Europe, Australia, North America, South Africa; 5-6%), the rest come from all other countries. For example, in any given day in Dubai or Sharjah, you may see people from each continent and from all social classes. With this diversity, one of the few unifying factors is the language, and consequently almost everyone speaks a particular version of English. Almost all street or other signs are in English and Arabic, and English is widely spoken, especially in the hospitality industry. There are elements to which some overseas travellers may not be accustomed, such as fully veiled women, but as this is “their way”, tourists should show respect and they are offered the same in return.
Demographics of UAE
The demography of the UAE is extremely diverse. In 2010, the population of the UAE had an estimated 8,264,070 people, of which only 13% were citizens of the United Arab Emirates, with a majority of the population being foreign nationals. The country’s net migration rate is 21.71, the highest in the world. In accordance with Article 8 by the UAE Federal Law No. 17, after 20 years of residence in the country, expatriates can obtain UAE citizenship if they have never been convicted for any crime and if they are speaking fluent Arabic. Nowadays, however, citizenship is not so easily granted, as many people live in the country as stateless persons (known as bidun).
There are 1.4 million Emirati citizens. The population of the United Arab Emirates is ethnically diverse. According to the CIA, 19% of the population were Emiratis, 23% other Arabs (Egyptians, Jordanians) and Iranians, 50% South Asians and 8% other expatriates, including West and East Asians (as of 1982).
Emirati nationals made up 16.5% of the total population in 2009; people from South Asia (Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India) represented the largest group with 58.4%; and other Asians (Filipinos, Iranians) represented 16.7%, while expatriates from the Western world represented 8.4% of the total population.
Indian and Pakistani expatriates account for more than a third (37%) of the population of the three Emirates of Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman, according to the latest statistics for 2014 provided by Euromonitor International, a market research company. Top 5 nationalities living in the 3 Emirates are Indian (25%), Pakistani (12%), Emiratis (9%), Bangladeshi (7%) and Filipino (5%).
An increasing presence of Europeans is noticeable, particularly in multi-cultural urban areas such as Dubai. Western expatriates from Europe, Australia, North and Latin America account for 500,000 people in the UAE. More than 100,000 British citizens live in the country. The rest of the population comes from other Arab states.
Approximately 88% of the United Arab Emirates’ population is urban. The average life expectancy is 76.7 years (2012), higher than in any other Arab country. Having a gender ratio of 2.2 for the overall population as well as 2.75 for the 15-65 age group, the gender imbalance of the UAE is the second highest of the world after Qatar.
Religion in UAE
Islam is the largest and the official state religion in the UAE. The government pursues a policy of tolerance towards other religions and rarely interferes in the activities of non-Muslims. Conversely, non-Muslims are expected not to interfere in Islamic religious affairs or the Islamic education of Muslims.
The government imposes restrictions on the dissemination of other religions through any form of media, as this is considered a form of conversion. There are about 31 churches throughout the country, a Hindu temple in the Bur Dubai region, a Sikh Gurudwara in Jebel Ali and also a Buddhist temple in Al Garhoud.
Based on the 2005 census of the Ministry of Economy, 76% of the total population were Muslims, 9% Christians and 15% others (mainly Hindu). The census figures do not take into account the many “temporary” visitors and workers, while they also include Baha’is and Druze Muslims. Among Emirati nationals, 85% are Sunni Muslims, while 15% are Shiite Muslims, concentrated mainly in the Emirates of Sharjah and Dubai. Omani immigrants are predominantly Ibadi, while there are also Sufi influences.
Economy of UAE
UAE is the 2nd largest economy in the GCC ( behind Saudi Arabia) with a GDP of US$ 377 billion (AED 1.38 trillion) in 2012 and has grown almost 231 times since it became independent in 1971 to AED 1.45 trillion in 2013. Non-oil trade has risen to AED 1.2 trillion, a growth rate of about 28 times from 1981 to 2012. The United Arab Emirates is ranked the 31st best nation in the world for doing business, measured by its economy and regulatory environment, in the World Bank Group’s Doing Business Report for 2016, which was published by the WB Group.
Despite having the most diversified economies in the GCC, it remains enormously dependent from oil. Except Dubai, most of the UAE is dependent from oil revenues. Oil and gas continue to play a central role in the economy, especially in Abu Dhabi. More than 85% of the UAE economy was based on oil exports in 2009. Although Abu Dhabi as well as other UAE emirates remained relatively conservative in its approach to diversification, Dubai, where oil reserves are much lower, has been bolder in its diversification policy. In 2011, oil exports accounted for 77% of the UAE’s national budget. Successful efforts to diversify the economy have reduced the share of oil/gas production in GDP to 25%.
Dubai suffered from a severe economic crisis in 2007-2010 and was saved by Abu Dhabi’s oil wealth. Dubai has a balanced budget that reflects economic growth. Tourism functions as a growth sector for the entire UAE economy. As a result, Dubai has become the top tourist destination of the Middle East. The annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index ranked Dubai as the 5th most popular travel destination of the world. Dubai has a share of up to 66% of the UAE’s tourism industry, with Abu Dhabi holding 16% and Sharjah 10%. In 2013 Dubai could welcome 10 million tourists.
The UAE have the most sophisticated and highly developed infrastructure in this region. The UAE has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure since the 1980s. These developments can be observed especially in the larger emirates Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Northern Emirates are rapidly catching up and offer important incentives for residential and commercial property developers.
Property prices in Dubai fell dramatically when the state-owned construction company Dubai World tried to delay a debt payment. The economy is dependent on foreign labour, and emiratisation is showing few positive effects, as studies by Paul Dyer and Natasha Ridge of the Dubai School of Government, Ingo Forstenlechner of the University of the United Arab Emirates, Kasim Randaree of the British University of Dubai and Paul Knoglinger of the University of Applied Sciences Vienna show.
UAE law does not allow the existence of trade unions. The right to collective bargaining and the right to strike are not recognised, and the Ministry of Labour has the power to force workers to return to work. Migrant workers who take part in a strike can have their work permits revoked and be deported. As a result, there are very few anti-discrimination laws on labour issues, with Emiratis – other GCC Arabs – being favoured over competitors and less motivated in public sector jobs, despite having lower qualifications than their competitors and lower motivation. In fact, just over eighty per cent of Emirati workers hold government posts, while many of the rest hold shares in state-owned companies such as Emirates Airlines and Dubai Properties.
On a positive note, 56% of the skilled workers in the UAE expect the economic situation to improve, according to a recent survey conducted by Bayt.com.
Law in UAE
The UAE has a federal judicial system. Within the judicial structure there are three main branches: Civil Law, Criminal Law and Sharia Law. The judicial system in the UAE is derived from the civil and Sharia law system. The judicial system consists of civil courts and Sharia courts. According to Human Rights Watch, UAE criminal and civil courts apply elements of Shari’a codified in the penal code and family law in a manner that discriminates against women.
Flogging is punishment for crimes such as adultery, premarital sex and alcohol consumption. Because of Shari’a courts, flogging is legal with penalties of 80 to 200 lashes. Verbal insults to a person’s honour are illegal and are punishable by 80 lashes. In the period 2007 to 2014 a number of people in the UAE have been punished with 100 lashes. In 2015, 2 persons have been sentenced to 80 lashes on charges of beating and verbally abusing a woman. Also in 2014, a foreign national in Abu Dhabi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 80 lashes on charges of drinking alcohol and of raping an infant. Alcohol consumption is illegal for Muslims and is punishable by 80 lashes; many Muslims have been sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking alcohol. Sometimes 40 lashes are given. Illegal sexual intercourse is sometimes punishable by 60 lashes. The standard number of lashes for those who are sentenced to flogging is 80 lashes in several emirates. Shari’a courts have punished domestic servants by flogging. In October 2013, a Filipino housekeeper was sentenced to 100 lashes for illegitimate pregnancy. Driving under the influence of alcohol is strictly illegal and punishable by 80 lashes; many expatriates have been sentenced to 80 lashes for drunk driving. People in Abu Dhabi had been sentenced with 80 lashes for kissing in public. According to UAE law, sex before marriage is penalized with 100 lashes.
Stoning is a legal punishment in the UAE. An Asian cleaning woman has been sentenced to death by stoning on May 2014 in Abu Dhabi. Other expatriates have been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. From 2009 to 2013, a number of persons were sentenced to death by stoning. Abortion is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 100 lashes and 5 years in prison. In recent years several people have withdrawn their guilty pleas in cases of illegal sexual relations after being sentenced to stoning or 100 lashes. The penalty for adultery is 100 lashes for unmarried persons and stoning for married persons.
Shari’a courts have exclusive jurisdiction in family law cases and also have jurisdiction in a number of criminal cases, including adultery, premarital sex, theft, alcohol consumption and related offences. Sharia-based civil status law governs matters such as marriage, divorce and custody of children. Islamic civil status law is applied to Muslims and sometimes also to non-Muslims. Non-Muslim expatriates may be subject to Shari’ah decisions on marriage, divorce and custody of children.
Apostasy is a crime that is punishable by death in the United Arab Emirates. Blasphemy is illegal; expatriates who insult Islam are liable for expulsion. The UAE includes Huddish Shari’a crimes (i.e., crimes against God) in its penal code – apostasy is one of them. In accordance with sections 1 and 66 of the Penal Code of the UAE, all Huddish crimes are punishable by death; as a result, apostasy is one of them and is punishable by death in the UAE.
In several cases, UAE courts have imprisoned women who have reported rape. For example, a British woman was charged with “alcohol consumption” after reporting a gang rape by three men, another British woman was charged with “public intoxication and extramarital sex” after reporting a rape, while an Australian woman was sentenced to a similar prison term after reporting a gang rape in the UAE. In another case, an 18-year-old Emirati woman recently withdrew her charge of gang rape by six men when the prosecutor threatened her with a long prison sentence and flogging. The woman had to serve another year in prison. In July 2013 a Norwegian woman, Marte Dalelv, reported a rape to the police and was sentenced to prison for “unlawful sexual intercourse and alcohol consumption”.
Other laws discriminate against women. Emirati women must obtain permission from a male guardian to marry and remarry. This requirement results from the interpretation of Sharia law by the United Arab Emirates and has been a federal law since 2005. In all Emirates it is forbidden for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims. In the UAE, it is criminalised to marry a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man, since it is considered a form of “fornication”.
Kissing in public is illegal and can lead to expulsion. Expatriates in Dubai have been deported because they kissed in public. In Abu Dhabi, people have been sentenced to 80 lashes for public kissing. A New Federal Law of the UAE forbids swearing on the Whatsapp and punishes them by a fine of $68,061 and imprisonment; while expatriates are punished with deportation. In July 2015, an Australian living abroad was deported because he had sworn an oath on Facebook.
Homosexuality is illegal in the United Arab Emirates and a capital crime. In 2013, an Emirati man was put on trial on charges of “homosexual handshake”. Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Criminal Code provides for a sentence of up to 14 years imprisonment for consensual sodomy, while Article 177 of the Dubai Criminal Code provides for a prison sentence of up to 10 years for consensual sodomy.
In the UAE, according to the Sharia courts, amputation is a legal punishment, while crucifixion is a legal punishment in the UAE. Article 1 of the Federal Criminal Code states that “the provisions of Islamic law apply to the crimes of doctrinal punishment, punishment and blood money”. The Federal Criminal Code has only repealed those provisions of the criminal codes of the individual Emirates that contradict the Federal Criminal Code. Consequently, both are applicable simultaneously.
During the fasting month of Ramadan it is forbidden to eat, drink or smoke in public between sunrise and sunset. Exceptions apply to pregnant women and children. The law applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims, and failure to observe this rule may lead to arrest. Dancing in public is illegal in the United Arab Emirates.
Human rights in UAE
Whipping as well as stoning is a legal punishment in the United Arab Emirates. The requirement is derived from the Sharia and has been a federal law since 2005. Several domestic employees in the UAE are victims of Sharia law punishments including whipping and stoning. The annual Freedom House report about world freedom has listed the United Arb Emirates as “not free” every single year since 1999, the first year for which records have been available on its website.
The United Arab Emirates has escaped the Arab Spring, but more than 100 Emirati activists have been imprisoned and tortured for their efforts to reform. Since 2011, the government of the UAE has been carrying out an increasing number of enforced disappearances. A significant number of both foreign nationals and Emirati citizens have been arrested and abducted by the state. The government of the UAE has been denying that these people have been detained (to hide their location), thereby placing them outside the protection of justice. According to Human Rights Watch, reports of enforced disappearances and torture in the UAE are a matter of grave concern.
For its report on “enforced disappearances and torture in the UAE”, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights obtained testimony from many defendants who reported that they had been abducted, tortured and ill-treated in detention camps. The report contained 16 different methods of torture, including severe beatings, threats of electric shocks and denial of access to medical care.
In 2013, 94 Emirati activists were detained in secret detention centres and brought to justice for allegedly trying to overthrow the government. Human rights organisations have spoken out against keeping the trial secret. An Emirate whose father is one of the defendants was arrested because he was tweeting about the trial. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison in April 2013. Three sisters from Abu Dhabi are involved in the recent enforced disappearances.
Repressive measures were also used against non-Emiratis to justify the UAE government’s claim that there was an “international conspiracy” in which UAE citizens and foreigners worked together to destabilise the country. Foreign nationals were also subjected to a deportation campaign. Many cases have been documented of Egyptians as well as other foreigners who worked in the UAE for many years and then had just a few days to depart from the country.
Among the foreign nationals who had to disappear by force are two Libyans and two Qatari nationals. According to Amnesty International, the Qatari men were abducted by the Government of the UAE, and the UAE Government has withheld from their families information about the fate of that men. The foreign nationals who were arrested, arrested and expelled also include Iyad El-Baghdadi, who is a popular blogger and Twitter celebrity. He was arrested, detained, imprisoned and then expelled from the country by the UAE authorities. Despite his life-long stay in the UAE as a Palestinian citizen, El-Baghdadi had no opportunity to challenge this order. He could not be sent back to the Palestinian territories and was therefore deported to Malaysia.
In 2007, the UAE government tried to cover up information about the rape of a French teenager by three Emirati nationals, one of whom was concealed by the Emirati authorities as HIV positive. Diplomacy led to the detention and prosecution of those Emirati rapists.
In April 2009, a torture video smuggled from the United Arab Emirates showed Sheikh Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan torturing a man (Mohammed Shah Poor) with whips, electric cattle sticks, wooden boards with protruding nails and repeatedly running him over with a car. In December 2009, Issa appeared in court and claimed his innocence. His trial was completed on 10 January 2010, when Issa was released . Human Rights Watch criticised the trial and called on the government to set up an independent body to investigate allegations of abuse by UAE security personnel and other persons in authority. Expressing concern over the verdict, the US State Department declared that all members of Emirati society should ” be equal in the eyes of the law” and urged a careful consideration of the decision to ensure that the demands of the judiciary in this case are fully met.
In recent years, a large number of Shiite Muslim emigrants from the United Arab Emirates, particularly Lebanese Shiite families, have been expelled for their alleged sympathy for Hezbollah. Several organisations have reported that over 4,000 Shiite expatriates had been expelled from the United Arab Emirates in recent years.
The issue of sexual abuse among female domestic workers is also a cause for concern, especially since domestic workers are not covered by the 1980 United Arab Emirates Labour Code or the draft Labour Code of 2007. Workers’ protests had been suppressed and the demonstrators had been detained without trial. In its Annual Report 2013, Amnesty International drew attention to the UAE’s poor performance in a number of human rights areas. The organisation highlighted the government’s restrictive attitude towards freedom of expression and assembly, the use of arbitrary arrest and torture and the use of the death penalty by the UAE.
During 2012, Dubai police brutally beat and electroshocked three British citizens after they arrested them on drug trafficking charges. This case has been the topic of “concern” expressed by British Prime Minister David Cameron, which was discussed with the President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the visit to the UK in 2013. As a result, the three men were released in July 2013.
The treatment of migrant workers in the UAE was equated with “modern slavery”. Migrant employees have been excluded from collective employment rights in the UAE, leaving migrants vulnerable to being subjected to forced labour. Migrant workers in the UAE are not allowed to join a trade union. Furthermore, migrant workers are not allowed to strike. In 2014 dozens of workers were expelled for striking. The fact that migrant workers are not permitted to join a trade union or to strike means they are unable to denounce the exploitation they are suffering. Those who protest risk imprisonment and deportation. Following the International Trade Union Confederation’s request to the United Nations to examine evidence suggesting that thousands of foreign workers in the UAE have been treated as slaves.
In July 2013, a video was posted on YouTube showing a local driver running over a foreign worker after a traffic accident. The local driver whips the expatriate with part of his helmet and also mocks him before other passers-by intervene. Shortly afterwards, the Dubai police announced that the person who filmed the video had been arrested. It also turned out that the local driver was a senior official of the UAE government. Later in 2013, the police also arrested a US citizen and several UAE nationals on charges related to a YouTube parody video that was allegedly showing Dubai and its citizens in a shameful way. This video being filmed in the Satwa districts of Dubai, and showing gangs as they learned to fight by using simple weapons, such as shoes, Aghal, etc. The video was filmed in the Satwa districts of Dubai. In 2015, people from different countries were imprisoned for offences. In 2015, nationals of different countries were imprisoned for offences. An Australian woman was accused of “writing swear words in social media” after publishing a picture of an illegally parked car. She was subsequently deported from the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE state security apparatus has been accused of a number of atrocities and human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture, most recently the enforced disappearance of one Turkish businessman, Dr Amer Al Shawa, on 2nd October 2014.
Freedom of association is also severely restricted. All associations and NGOs must register with the Ministry of Social Affairs and are thus de facto under state control. Some 20 non-political groups are active in the area without being registered. All associations must be subject to censorship guidelines and all publications must first be authorised by the government.
Secret Dubai was an independent blog in Dubai from 2002 to 2010. It aroused great interest in the Middle East blogosphere until the UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) blocked the website.