- Quick Facts
The United Arab Emirates, abbreviated as the UAE, is a country situated in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, as well as sharing sea borders with Qatar to the west and Iran to the north.
The UAE is a federation of seven emirates (equivalent to principalities), each governed by a hereditary emir, with a single national president. The constituent emirates are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. The capital is Abu Dhabi, which is also the state’s center of political, industrial, and cultural activities.
Prior to independence in 1971, the UAE was known as the Trucial States or Trucial Oman, in reference to a 19th-century truce between the local sheikhs, hereditary rulers of the territories, and the United Kingdom. The term Pirate Coast was also used by some to refer to the emirates from the 18th to the early 20th century, owing to the preponderance of pirates operating from Emirati ports.
The UAE’s political system, is based on its 1971 Constitution, which is composed of several intricately connected governing bodies. As a federation of seven monarchies, whose rulers retain absolute power within their emirates, but with a UAE president, it is neither a constitutional monarchy nor a republic. The emirs choose one of their members to be the president of the federation, but this does not alter the monarchical character of the government of the individual emirates. The constitution is concerned solely with the relations between the emirates as members of the federation, and does not prescribe a constitutional system of government.
Islam is the official religion of the UAE, and Arabic is the official language.
Country: United Arab Emirates
Area: 83,600 km2
Capital City: Abu Dhabi
People: 16.6% Emirati, 23% Other Arabs and Iranian, 60.5% South Asian, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Filipino, Thai, Westerners
Religion: Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism
Government: Constitutional federationof absolute monarchieswith an executivepresident elected by Emir Council amongst themselves
President: Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
GDP: $257.736 billion
GDP per head: $49,499Annual Growth: 3.3%Inflation: 1.9%
Major Industries: Petroleum and petrochemicals, fishing,aluminium, cement, fertilizers, commercial ship repair, construction materials, some boat building,handicrafts, textiles.
Major trading partners: Japan 17.1%, India 13.6%, Iran 6.9%,South Korea 6.1%, Thailand 5.1%
Time Zone:GMT/UTC plus 4 hours
- Country Facts
Religious holidays are tied to the lunar Islamic Hejira calendar, so dates vary from year to year on the Western Gregorian version, which runs on solar time. Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha (a celebration that follows Pilgrimage), Lailat al-Mi’raj (the Ascension of the Prophet), the Prophet’s Birthday and the Islamic New Year are the main celebrations. Secular holidays include New Year’s Day (1 January) and National Day (2 December). Keep in mind that Thursday and Friday make up the Dubai weekend.
Jumeira Archaeological Site
The largest and perhaps most significant archaeological site in the UAE, Jumeira dates to the 6th century AD. The settlement is particularly interesting because it straddles the pre-Islamic and Islamic eras. Today surrounded by shopping centers plying the spoils of modern-day Dubai’s trade, this settlement was once a caravan station along a trade route linking Iraq to northern Oman. Excavations have unearthed a series of stone walls that surrounded a seven-shop souq and a storage facility. Several homes, what is believed to be a governor’s palace and several other structures that keep the archaeologists guessing can be viewed from behind a fence.
Jumeira Beach Park
In front of the Jumeira Beach, a walk on the grass here is a real treat. There is a children’s play area, barbecue pits, picnic tables, walkways and kiosks. The long stretch of beach is clean and lined with shady palm trees. Lifeguards are on duty here. The park is usually open to all, but Saturday and Monday are reserved for women and children only.
Hatta Rock Pools
An enclave of Dubai nestled in the Hajar Mountains, Hatta is a great weekend getaway. The main attractions are its relatively cool, dry climate, the mountain scenery, excellent 4WD options and the magnificent Hatta rock pools. It’s an amazing experience to swim through the narrow rock corridors of this miniature canyon, roaring year-round with plunging waterfalls.
Archaeological finds suggest that humans have been living here since at least 3000 BC. Other evidence links the peoples of what are now the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman to the mysterious Bronze Age Magan civilization. Magan ships sailed to Babylonia, Mesopotamia and beyond, trading copper from Oman and pearls from the mouth of Dubai Creek with the heavyweights of the Bronze Age economy. The Magan civilization waned around 2000 BC, but Dubai’s instinct for trade remained.
Excavations at Jumeira, about 10km south of Dubai, recently unearthed a 6th-century AD caravan station, proving that the area’s population was still keeping the trade routes well oiled. Around this same time, the Sassanids, a Persian dynasty who had inhabited the mouth of Dubai Creek since AD 224, were driven out by the Umayyads, who came to stay and brought Islam with them.
Exploiting their prime location between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean, the new inhabitants, working with the old, began reestablishing old trade routes and spreading the word of Allah, all the while making folks fantastic deals for the lowest everyday prices in the Gulf. As trade began to match pearl diving’s importance to the local economy, merchant dhows sailed as far as China, returning with silk and porcelain for Middle Eastern and European markets. This maritime madness reached its peak between AD 750 and 1258.
Soon everyone wanted a piece of the Gulf’s action. By the late 16th century the Portuguese were attempting to control local trade. Their success was such that many coastal settlements were practically abandoned, and the tribes took refuge in oases far from the coast. The British finally gained control of the region’s waterways in 1766. Dubai was caught between local power struggles and the Europe’s imperial dreams, but somehow turned this bad situation to its advantage, expanding its pearl trade through every channel.
In 1833 a neighboring tribal power, the Bani Yas, decided that Dubai would be its new turf. Eight hundred Bani Yas moved into the Bur Dubai area under the leadership of Maktoum bin Butti, founder of the Al-Maktoum dynasty that still rules the emirate today.
The region’s two economic epicenters, neighboring Sharjah and Lingah in modern-day Iran, were already losing business to bustling Dubai. Sheikh Maktoum decided to capitalize on the opportunity. In 1892 he signed an exclusive business deal with the British and in 1894 permitted a full tax exemption for foreign traders. Persian merchants were the first group of expats to take advantage of the deal, but traders the world over were on the way. In 1903, when the Sheikh convinced a major British steamship line to make Dubai a port of call, a 25-year boom began.
The Great Depression, compounded by the emergence of artificial pearls in 1929, cast a dark cloud over Dubai’s newfound prosperity. Young Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum, convinced that the pearl trade was dead, decided that this cloud had a 24-karat lining. Dubai wasn’t duty-free for nothing. Soon, the re-export business, whereby goods were cheaply imported into a duty-free port and immediately exported to another market, exploded. After Dubai Creek was dredged in 1963, allowing almost any boat safe harbor, gold smuggling took off like a rocket.
Dubai’s lucky streak had only just begun. In 1966, oil was discovered and the economy kicked into overdrive. The British had already decided to pack up the empire and head home, and in 1971, Dubai became the seventh emirate of the newly formed UAE. Sheikh Rashid agreed to a formula that gave the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai the most weight in the federation, and made sure that Dubai would continue living life in the fast lane. Border disputes and friction about the integration of the Emirates led to some tension, but in 1979, Sheikh Rashid and Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi sealed a compromise; in effect, Dubai would remain a bastion of free trade while Abu Dhabi imposed a tighter federal structure on the rest of the Emirates.
When Sheikh Rashid, the architect of Dubai’s success and unrivaled financial freedom, died in 1990, his son Sheikh Maktoum took the reins of power (but let Adam Smith’s invisible hand continue to do most of the steering). The core of Maktoum’s policies is economic freedom and the no-holds-barred promotion of Dubai, which makes the city a very fun place. By the mid-1990s, the Dubai Desert Classic had become a well-established stop on the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tour. World-class tennis tournaments, boat and horse races, desert rallies and one of the largest air shows in the world attract millions of visitors to the city. Other high profile events, such as the Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises, bring hordes of tourists into town. Tourism matches trade and oil in importance to the emirate’s economy.
Dubai is relatively tolerant and relaxed, with its culture firmly rooted in Islam. Most Emiratis are Sunni Muslims, and many belong to the strict Wahhabi sect. Only about a quarter of Dubai’s population is Emirati; expats from all over the world call the city home. Arabic is the official language, but English is the language of business. Hindi, Urdu, Farsi and Malayalam are also useful. There is little in the way of a national cuisine in the UAE.
If you attend any of Dubai’s festivals, you may be lucky enough to see traditional dances like the fast-paced liwa or the Bedouin ayyalah performed. Most Bedouin crafts are practical as well as beautiful: Pots like the birnah and hibb are designed to keep milk cool, while the mehaffa, or hand fan, does the same for you. The barjeel, a wind tower and attractive architectural element, directs the smallest breeze into the house; it’s surprisingly effective air-conditioning.
Almost all Emiratis wear traditional dress. Men don the ankle-length white dishdasha, topped with a white head cloth (gutra) secured by a black coil (agal). Women slip into a long, black cloak (abeyya), and sometimes a black head cloth (shayla) and/or a stiff, gold-colored mask (burqa) to cover their faces.
As in any country, it’s important to respect local customs. Visitors, particularly women, do well to dress modestly. It’s impolite to photograph people without asking permission first. Men should refrain from shaking hands with women unless the woman puts her hand out first.
Dubai International Airport (DXB) has a long-standing reputation as the Gulf’s travel hub. The national carrier is Emirates, which flies to some 45 destinations in the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Africa and the Indian Subcontinent. For all the talk of free markets, airfares out of the UAE are just as strictly regulated as anywhere else.
Buses run from Dubai to other parts of the UAE and surrounding countries. One useful bus route runs to Hatta from the Deira bus station. To get to most other cities in the Emirates, take a Dubai Transport minibus. Long-distance taxis can take you to any other emirate on a shared or ‘engaged’ basis. Settle the price before you leave.
Passenger ferries make the 12-hour trip between Sharjah (a twenty-minute drive from Dubai) and the port of Bandar-a Abbas in Iran daily. There’s also a fortnightly passenger service in between Dubai and Bushehr in Iran.
Buses run between Dubai International Airport and Deira bus station every 15 to 20 minutes, and there are metered, beige-colored Dubai Transport taxis. Although they can’t serve the airport, there are scores of private taxis in all shapes and colors. As these aren’t metered, you may need to haggle a bit about fares.
Local buses run from the Deira bus station, near the gold souq, and the Bur Dubai station on Al-Ghubaiba Rd. Monthly bus passes, known as taufeer, get you unlimited travel on one or the other side of Dubai Creek or, more expensively, throughout the city.
Driving in the city of Dubai is considered an extreme sport, but masochists love it. If you must rent a car, bring your credit card and a copy of your passport. Drinking and driving will get you jail time on top of a stiff fine. Note that all accidents, no matter how small, must be reported to the police.
- When to Go
The best time of the year to visit Dubai is between November and April, when the weather is coolest. The rest of the year you’re more likely to be running from one air-conditioned environment to the next instead of getting out and exploring.
- Explore Attractions
Dubai : is a sovereign state known as the emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A city within the emirate is also named Dubai. The emirate is located south of the Persian Gulf on the Arabian Peninsula and has the largest population with the second-largest land territory by area of all the emirates, after Abu Dhabi. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are the only two emirates to have veto power over critical matters of national importance in the country’s legislature. Dubai City is located on the emirate’s northern coastline.
Souqs : Arabic open-air markets, are a classic Dubai experience. They’ve changed a lot since the Bedouin days, but are still open for business in the early morning and between 5 pm and 8 pm. The Deira Covered Souq has more of an Indian feel than an Arabic one, with folks hawking textiles, spices, kitchenwares, clothes and henna. The Spice Souq, also known as the Deira Old Souq (it’s not just for spices), sells all sorts of trinkets, clothing, rugs and glassware. The overflowing bags of seasonings are concentrated at the eastern end, closest to Dubai Creek; just follow your nose. Deira’s celebrated Gold Souq, with its intricate wooden lattice archway and windows filled with glittering gold, attracts buyers from throughout the world. Dubai’s nickname, the ‘City of Gold,’ was well earned: any type of gold jewellery, in any color the craftspeople can coax from the metal, can be yours for a price. Next door is the Perfume Souq, with European designer fragrances, cleverly named knock-offs and strong, spicy Arabic scents. The Electronics Souq is known throughout the region as the place to get the PlayStation of your dreams, and does a roaring business with those who ship the stuff back home and sell it for a tidy profit.
Dubai Museum : The Dubai Museum, occupying the Al-Fahidi Fort on the Bur Dubai side of Dubai Creek, is not to be missed. Thought to be the city’s oldest building, the fort was both the residence of Dubai’s rulers and the seat of government until it was retired as a museum in 1971. Several nautical items are displayed in the courtyard, including a shasha, a small palm-frond fishing boat like those still used on the UAE’s east coast. A collection of antique khanjars (daggers with curved sheaths) and a complete grave from the Al-Qusais archaeological site are highlights.
Grand Mosque : The Grand Mosque in Bur Dubai is home to the city’s tallest minaret. It might appear to be a beautiful example of restoration work, but was in fact built in the 1990s in the style of the Grand Mosque, which dated from 1900 but was knocked down to make way for another mosque in 1960. The new Grand Mosque’s sand-colored walls and wooden shutters blend perfectly with the surrounding old quarter of Bur Dubai. Other mosques are also worth a look, particularly the Jumeira Mosque, known for its size and elaborate design. The best time to see it is at night, when it is spectacularly lit up.
Shaikh Saeed al-Maktoum House : The house of Shaikh Saeed has been restored as a museum of the pre-oil era. For many years, the 30-room house served as a communal residence for the ruling Al-Maktoum family. It was built using traditional methods, with coral quarried in the Gulf that was subsequently coated with lime and plaster, insulators that along with the wind tower keep the house cool and comfortable. An exhibition of photographs documents Dubai’s history, and shows just how quickly the city evolved from a sleepy pearling town into a world-class metropolis. Next door, the Heritage and Diving Villages have displays on pearl diving and dhow building, two of old Dubai’s economic mainstays.
Dubai Creek : is a saltwater creek located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Historically, the creek divided the city into two main sections – Deira and Bur Dubai. In the early 20th century, served as a minor port for dhows coming as far away as India or East Africa. Dubai’s pearling industry, which formed the main sector of the city’s economy, was based primarily on expeditions in the creek, prior to the invention of cultured pearls in the 1930s. Fishing, also an important industry at the time, was also based along the creek, whose warm and shallow waters supported a wide variety of marine life.
Dubai Heritage Village : is constructed around an old settlement and is a recreation of a traditional style mountain village set in an oasis. The Dubai Heritage Village helps you discover the old world charm of barasti or palm leaves and mud houses.
Wind Tower Houses of Bastikiya Area : The Bastakia quarter of Dubai lies on the southern bank of the Dubai creek, giving onto the water. Its population grew at the beginning of the nineteenth century during a massive migration of Sunni merchants from southern Iran, who brought the tradition and building techniques of wind towers with them. In total, these towers rise fifteen meters above ground level, reaching above the surrounding one-and two-storey houses. In the humid and hot weather of the Gulf, these towers catch high breezes and channel them to the living spaces below, providing ventilation and freshness.
Desert Safari : is a form of off-roading, using an off-road vehicle to explore sand dunes. It is a booming attraction for tourists.
Plenty of water sports, including Jet-Skiing, water-skiing, scuba diving, snorkeling and deep-sea fishing are offered by dozens of operators. It costs a fortune to maintain the greens, but golfing is a huge draw and Dubai has most of the Arabian Peninsula’s courses. If it’s too hot to don the requisite collared shirt and slacks, consider a visit to the slides at Wild Wadi Waterpark or one of the city’s two indoor ice skating rinks. Dozens of health clubs make working out a breeze. If a trip inland is more your speed, a desert safari, complete with camels, a barbecue dinner and even a belly dancer for entertainment may be just the thing.