United Arab Emirates Essays Example
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a country which one will encounter time and time again for various reasons. It is a federation of seven sheikdoms, with a very recent history as a nation – the UAE attained independence barely four decades ago in 1971, but has since grown into a powerful nation on the world stage. Whether it is due to the large reserves of fossil fuels, the existence of a powerful royal family, or because it is home to world’s only 7-star hotel, the UAE has made a name for itself as a massive global player and an intricate part of world economy.
One aspect of the UAE that has only recently started gaining the interest of academia is its culture. The UAE has a long history – the earliest human settlements in the region date from the fifth millennium BC, when the region was going through its first bout of prosperity. Soon after, however, the region became one of the poorest in the world. It was by turns subjugated by foreign powers or completely ignored due to its inhospitable climate and poor economic base (Romano 5-6). The region grew in importance around the first century BC till around the eighth century AD as a major stop on trade routes and as a religious location – first for Christianity and later for Islam. Prior to colonization by European powers (first by the Portuguese and later by the British) the region was known to be home to the ‘versatile tribesmen’. These were groups of people who were specialized in skills such as animal husbandry and hunting who followed seasonal migratory routes. This was a time of chaos with frequent clan-squabbles and saw the rise of piracy along the coast (Romano 26-34). With the establishment of forts by the Portuguese and the creation of trade pacts and treaties with Western powers, the region (known as the Trucial states) became a more solid entity.
The true economic and social revolution took place in the early twentieth century. The pearl industry had sustained the region in the nineteenth century, but quickly declined in the early twentieth century due to competition from other countries (namely Japan) and the effects of the great depressions in the west. The Trucial States Council was formed and headed the region until it was terminated after the founding of the UAE. Around the thirties, oil was discovered and British companies began signing pacts with the local rulers to begin searching for and extracting oil. Since the discovery of oil, the UAE has been known almost exclusively for its rich oil reserves. However, there was a rich culture evolving alongside this roller-coaster economic evolution. In 1971, the UAE became a fully independent nation.
Since then, the UAE has grown in many diverse ways. One of the most interesting facts about the country is its population. The UAE is one of only a handful of nations world-wide wherein the indigenous population (or, in this case, citizenry) is a minority. Over 85% of the UAE’s population is made up of expatriates. The largest ethnic group in the UAE is the South Asian population (mostly Indian and Pakistani) which accounts for nearly 45% of the total male population, followed by Iranians, which make up 17% of the population (Foley 25-26). Despite this skewed figure, the UAE has remained a Muslim-majority nation and follows Islamic law. Coupled with an emerging political culture driven by technocrats, the region is a breeding-ground for cultural diversity. The region boasts both traditional and very modern culture, art and architecture. As a result, UAE culture, though clearly grounded in Arabian culture, has powerful Indian and Persian influences. Arabic is the official language of the UAE, though English as a second language is also commonly used. Aside from this, Hindi, Urdu, Cebuano and many other languages are also used commonly among the various expatriate communities.
Much of this cultural diversity can be traced back to the UAE’s history as a trade hub. Its geographic position in the North-Eastern region of Africa made a crucial stopping point for trade around the Persian Gulf. The UAE also had much trade with other nations as well, like India and Europe. Its booming trade with India has meant that the Indian presence in the UAE has spanned several centuries. Trade in resources as diverse as pearls to dates and ivory has been recorded and has led to many traders finding their way into the country and not only setting up trade routes but also settling permanently.
Historically, the UAE region traded in a variety of resources, though since the mid-twentieth century, their major export has been oil. The oil industry constitutes over 77% of the country’s economy, though this is changing. In a curious ‘reversal’ of economic policy, recent economic growth is aimed at diversification – which seems to be headed back to the days when the UAE region boasted trade in various commodities and not simply oil (Oxford Business Group 8). As noted in The Report: Dubai 2007, Abu Dhabi was a city built out of the riches derived from oil exports, whereas Dubai was a city built out of trade. The UAE has an unflinching focus on developing its cities – most of its policies are aimed at creating more modern, more sophisticated cities which, in due course could become a playground for the spectacularly wealthy.
Though, just as in many other countries with equally long and varied histories, the UAE has ‘relics’ of the past in the form of Bedouin people who roam the regions beyond the city limits. While the culture of the cities (as the aforementioned Report puts it) contains the ‘bustle of India, the superstructures of Asia, and the Commerce of the USA’ (Oxford Business Group 8), the Bedouin people live much the same lives as they have for hundreds of years. Their culture is one of travelling and frugality.
In contrast, lenient laws pertaining to the large cities themselves, have allowed not only a melting pot to be formed but also sections of ‘pure’ culture to be created as well. The various ethnic groups are free to practice their own customs and traditions with no hindrance from the law. This has resulted in remarkable cross-cultural influences to a degree not usually seen in other countries. One interesting phenomenon discussed by Sulayman Khalaf in his paper titled Poetics and Politics of Newly Invented Traditions in the Gulf: Camel Racing in the United Arab Emirates, shows that even in the midst of the UAE’s great cities, Bedouin culture has infiltrated the populace in the form of Camel Racing. The paper shows that the cult of glorifying thoroughbred camels and the emergence of a neo-pastoralist camel culture proves that the UAE has a culture in transition.
Another important part of the UAE economy is date palm products. In the drive to diversify, date palms play an important role in weaning the country from its dependence on oil and fossil fuels. In an effort to highlight the importance of date palms to the country’s economy and culture, a date palm museum has been set up in Abu Dhabi. The museum, which held the Abu Dhabi Date Palm festival from November 24th to 29th, 2014, showcased the close link between date palms products and the culture of the UAE. It was seen that date palms were not only a source of food, but (like camel racing) had evolved into a whole sub-culture in itself. Date exports were also, historically, crucial to the economy of the region and, given the new economic policies which drive the nation towards greater diversity in terms of export, date palms are set to play a huge role in UAE economy once more.
At the heart of these massive socio-economic and cultural changes lie the decision makers. Traditionally, the royal families of the UAE were (and to a large degree still are) the absolute rulers of the country. The seven states which constitute the federation each has its own monarchy with the presidential and prime ministerial posts being held by the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively. These posts are hereditary, but tempered to a certain degree by the Supreme Council’s power to vote a member of the relevant emirate into power.
Regardless of the criticisms leveled against this regime, it has produced remarkable results. One of the most impressive achievements of the UAE, or more specifically, of the Dubai emirate, is the construction of the World Islands. World Islands was a massive project to create a man-made archipelago, which cost over $14 billion. The project began to be implemented in September 2003 – it was the brainchild of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Due to severe economic problems in 2008, over 60% of the Island was sold off to private developers and the project as a whole has not been carried out effectively. As of 2013, only 2 islands had been completed.
Foley, Sean. The UAE: Political Issues and Security Dilemmas. Middle East Review
of International Affairs 3.1 (1999): 25-45. Web.
Khalaf, Sulayman. Poetics and Politics of Newly Invented Traditions in the Gulf:
Camel Racing in the United Arab Emirates. Ethnology 39.3 (2000): 243-261.
Oxford Business Group. The Report: Dubai 2007. London: Oxford Business Group,
Romano, Amy. A Historical Atlas of the United Arab Emirates. New York: New
York Rosen Pub, 2004. Print.
“Abu Dhabi Date Palm Festival From November 24 to 29”. Abu Dhabi Interact 21
September, 2014. Web.
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