The Government of the United Arab Emirates

The Federation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was formed in December 1971 following the unilateral decision of the British to end their protectorate of what had formerly been known as the Trucial States. It comprises seven Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm al Quwain, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah and Ajman.

Emirate Land Area


Land Area (km2)

Abu Dhabi
Ras al Khaimah
Umm al Quwain





The population of the UAE is 10,083,014 according to the National Bureau of Statistics 2015. 

The capital of the UAE is Abu Dhabi and the President has been the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan, since the formation of the UAE on 2 December 1971 up to his death in 2 November 2004. His successor is H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahayan.


Dubai is the second largest Emirate after Abu Dhabi and was a co-founder of the United Arab Emirates in 1971. It has borders with Oman, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. The twelve-kilometre long creek divides the city of Dubai into two parts: one known as “Deira side” and the other as “Dubai side”. The creek is crossed by two bridges and a tunnel, whilst abras (passenger ferries) offer another option. The oldest part of Dubai is the Bastakia area near the museum and Ruler’s office.

Dubai City is the capital of the Emirate of Dubai and the seat of Government. It started to gain importance as a trading centre after the decline of the port of Lingah in Iran, when high customs dues were introduced there in 1902. The facilities provided by the Creek and the free trading policy enhanced the importance of Dubai, which was a thriving port long before oil was discovered in 1966.

Dubai’s system of Government is highly centralised in the person of the Ruler. His ultimate and powerful control is exercised mainly through the Ruler’s offices and Dubai Municipality. The absence of any government machinery like a cabinet, parliament or long string of advisers facilitated quick decision-making. This has resulted in the speedy development of Dubai. The willingness and ability to encourage rapid and sensible development is very much part of the character of the Emirate.

H.H. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum ruled Dubai from 1958 till 1990. He had, however, been actively involved in the state affairs since 1938. He became Vice President of the UAE at its formation in 1971 and Prime Minister in 1979. He was a strong, able ruler, working long hours and keeping his Majlis open to the public. Until the early 1980s, when he became ill, he was readily available to local nationals for consultations, advice and guidance. Respect for his achievements in Dubai (including the construction of an effective infrastructure, the building of Port Rashid in Dubai, the Dubai Dry Docks and the Jebel Ali Port) remains very strong.

During his illness, his three elder sons picked up the reins of government and on his death in October 1990, H.H. first son, H.H. Sheikh Maktoum, became Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE until his death. The second son, H.H. Sheikh Hamdan, is the Deputy Ruler of Dubai and UAE Minister of Finance. The third son, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed became the current Ruler of Dubai in 2006. His son H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed is now the Crown prince. While the youngest brother of Sheikh Mohammed., H.H. Sheikh Ahmed, is in charge of the Central Military Command of Dubai and does not get involved in the affairs of the government.

Dubai has a predominantly expatriate population with only 10-15% made up of UAE Nationals. The largest resident nationalities are Indian, Pakistani, Filipino and Sri Lankan, with the combined European and American community taking up around 5%. 

The Economy of Dubai

For generations Dubai - the “City of Merchants” - has been an important trading and distribution centre for goods to Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. Moreover, large quantities of gold used to be exported to India and Pakistan with a return cargo of silver. Being a free port, the consignments were legally shipped out of Dubai but smuggled into the countries at the other end. The peak of this business was in 1955-56 when some merchants made quick fortunes.

After the discovery of oil in the mid-sixties and the steep rise in oil prices in the 1970s, Dubai developed at an incredibly fast rate, particularly during 1973-1980. This period saw rapid growth in construction, the development of an infrastructure and major expansion in the services sector. Dubai’s need for development meant that its trading base was broadened and its economy diversified. The late Sheikh Rashid planned for, and commissioned, the Dubai International Trade Centre; the Dubai Dry Docks; the Gulf’s largest aluminum smelter; and Jebel Ali Port (now a Free Zone), which all became key parts of Dubai’s commercial and industrial development. At the time, with oil flowing freely, these projects were regarded with much skepticism; but they proved to be a far-sighted, if expensive, investment, which firmly established Dubai as the Middle East’s commercial capital.

In the last years Dubai experiences an enormous growth and surprised the world by their achievements. Dubai has a clear strategy of diversification into high value-added services (e.g. tourism) and manufacturing (e.g. electronics) to supplement the current trading activity, which is still the backbone of the private economy. It has achieved remarkable success and is confirming its position as a regional hub with continuing growth in the number of companies opting for regional headquarters in Dubai. 

Dubai’s relationship with Abu Dhabi is stable, with a particularly strong personal relationship between H.H. Sheikh Kalifa Al Nahayan and the Al Maktoums.


Dubai has a desert climate, the summers are very hot and humidity can reach 100%. Winters are cooler and drier (like a European summer) with occasional heavy downpours in January, February and March.

Average annual rainfall is 112 mm. The prevailing wind is from the sea and windstorms, known as “shamaal”, are a feature of the climate. These may occur 5 or 6 times a year, mostly during the summer, and can sometimes last 36 hours. The coast sometimes has thick early morning fog in the spring and autumn.


The majority of the Emiratis are Sunni Muslims. Early in its history, Islam was split into two great sects, the Sunni and the Shi’a, which are themselves further sub-divided into a number of other sects. The Islamic religion itself is extremely simple and personal. There are no priests, nor are there any elaborate rites or ceremonies. There are prayer leaders, religious teachers and religious judges, but the main concept is one of direct relationship between the individual and God without any earthly intermediary. The simple ceremonies of the prayers and pilgrimage are performed by each person as an individual, although joining with others in worship is deemed to be meritorious.

Mosques are sanctified places for prayer. Muslims are called to prayer five times a day and these calls may often be heard if you live close to a mosque. Non-Muslims should exercise extreme caution to avoid playing loud music during the call to prayers. The leader of the prayers recites verses from the Qur'an; there is no instrumental or vocal music. Sermons are only preached on Fridays and on special occasions. Muslims spend much time discussing religion and men who are well versed and eloquent may acquire great influence. The religion of a good Muslim pervades every hour of his/her life and there are few moments in an ordinary conversation which do not contain reference to God. The word Insh’allah is used often and means that something will happen ‘if God is willing’.

The UAE respects other religions but expect non-Muslims residents to respect the laws and culture of the country, especially in regards to standard of dress and behaviour in public.

The most important religious holidays are Eid al Fitr, which follows the last day of Ramadan, and Eid al Adha 40 days later. Because the Islamic calendar is moon dependent, so are the holidays. This means that the Government may announce a public holiday just a day in advance. 

During Ramadan Muslims fasts from sunset to sundown, restaurants are closed and people are advised to refrain from eating and drinking in public as it causes religious offense.


The local currency is the UAE Dirham (AED or Dhs), which is subdivided in 100 Fils.

The Dirham is tied to the US Dollar (US$1 = 3.67 AED; Euro 1= 4,10). For other currencies, day-to-day exchange rates are published daily in the local newspapers.

Bank notes are in circulation with denominations of AED 1000 (very rare, be careful), 500, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. All notes carry Arabic text on one side and western text on the other. Please note that the AED 50 and 5 notes are very similar in colour on the Arabic side and are easily mixed up in the dark. The same applies to a lesser extent to the AED 10 and 20 notes. There are coins AED 1, 50 Fils, 25 Fils, 10 Fils and 5 Fils. 

There are several currency exchange offices located throughout the town. They have the advantage of being open outside normal banking hours, often until late at night, and in general can offer slightly better rates than banks.

Internationally recognized credit cards are acceptable in almost every hotel and in large shops too. Those most commonly used are Visa, Master Card, American Express and Diners Club. ATM cards cannot be used in shops.


There are many banks in the UAE, but it is advisable to open an account with one with an international network. Most employees open an account with HSBC, which offers Shell employees preferential interest rates on HSBC loans and overdrafts. They also provide phone and internet banking facilities.

Bank opening hours are from 8.00 till 15.00, Saturday to Thursday. For banking facilities out of hours, Automatic Teller Machines (with a 24 hour deposit and withdrawal service) have been installed in banks, shopping centres and supermarkets. They usually also work with ATM cards of leading western banks. There is also an Automatic Teller Machine in the foyer of the World Trade Centre Exhibition Hall.

There is no restriction on the transfer of funds, apart from a maximum amount of the equivalent of $10,000 per day.

Society and Customs

Society in the UAE is still largely conservative, with a stress on religion, hospitality and good manners. It is useful to get familiar with the most important local customs and traditions, although the degree to which many of these customs are adhered to, can vary.

Socialising and Entertainment

Arabs consider hospitality a capital virtue. Offering free food and lodging to complete strangers is not very unusual, even in modern Arab towns. In the absence of a meal, an Arab will offer you a cup of coffee, which is the traditional drink. Arabic coffee is unsweetened and is served in small measures in little cups with no handles.

Arabs of whatever walk of life are usually very polite. Protocol is considered to be of greatest importance. Most Arab reception rooms (generally called a Majlis) have their chairs arranged around the walls facing inwards and the host sits to one end or side. The one or two seats on either side of him are considered the most important. As important people enter the room they are invited to take the best seats and those already sitting in them move down to make way for the newcomer. It is always polite for a visitor to try to sit at the least important seat at the bottom end of the room. He will immediately be urged to move to a better seat.

Although Arabs are keen on observing protocol, they are extremely democratic and egalitarian in their life style. The ruler of an Arab state is normally accessible to the lowliest of his citizens on whatever issue.

Westerners should always behave with politeness and pay attention to the habits of dress and behaviour. Patronising or condescending airs must be avoided at all cost as well as forced or undignified familiarity. Arabs are not impressed by Westerners who speak with contempt or criticism of other Western countries. Politics should be avoided.

Greetings and Modes of Address

Arabs greet one another a great deal. Muslims are encouraged to greet all people whether they know them or not. Whenever a Gulf Arab goes into a room, wants to address a stranger, passes by someone, begins a letter or opens a telephone conversation, he will say a greeting first.

As-Salaam Alaykum

‘Peace be upon you’,

Wa Alaykum As-Salaam

Reply to As-Salaam Alaykum

Sabaah Alkhayr

Good morning

Missa Alkhayr

Good afternoon/evening



Kaif Alhal

How are you

Kayf Alsaha

How is your health?

Fie Amaan Allah

’In the custody of God’, Goodbye

Ma’a As-Salama

‘ Safety will be with you’, Goodbye


God willing

Do’s and Don’ts





Always start a meeting with social conversation 

Beckon people with your forefinger or with an upturned palm

Speak slowly and clearly 

Ask a Bedouin how many camels he owns

Use restrained language

Criticize customs/ legal system/ religion/ local people

Ask about their children

Ask about their wives or daughters

Try to learn basic greeting in Arabic

Refer to Islam



Understand the meaning of Ramadan and the Haj

Eat or drink in public during Ramadan

Always use your right hand when passing anything

Use your left hand for greeting, eating or serving

Place your feet on the floor

Show the soles of your feet

Offer refreshments and drink (not pork or alcohol)

Serve non halal food


Leave a little food on your plate

Be offended if you are offered more food even if you have declined already

It is polite to refuse first and then accept

Comment on the appreciation of an item belonging to an Arab i.e. what a nice painting, as he will feel obliged to offer it to you



Accept that time keeping has a different importance

Be late even though time does not have the same relevance to locals

Accept that the society is very hierarchical

Attempt to enter a mosque

Repeat the offer of a gift even declined first time

Send Christmas cards to Muslims


Bring your wife to dinner with Arab men

Business Hours

The normal working week in the UAE is Sunday to Thursday, with Friday/Saturday being the weekend. General timings are as follows:

Government offices: 7.00 to 14.430
Local Businesses: 8.00 to 13.00 & 16.00 – 21.00
Banks: 8.00 to 15.00
Shopping Malls: 10.00 to 22.00 (7 days a week, weekends till 24.00; please note that some malls may close earlier and some malls close at Midnight during the weekend)

Public Holidays (2016)

Some holidays are moon dependent, meaning there is often less than 24 hours’ notice. Both Eid holidays usually last three days. The following dates are tentative:

New Year’s Day

1 January


Leilat al-Meiraj (Ascension of the Prophet)

5 May


Eid Al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)- 3 days

6 - 7 July


Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)- 3 days

11 - 12 September


Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year)

2 October


UAE National Day

2-3 December



Outpost Dubai

Focal point: Focal Point Outpost Iraq/Dubai
Office hours: Sun to Thurs 8:30 to 12:30 Weekend: Fri/ Sat
Languages: English, Dutch.
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