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Basic Information About the UAE

Updated: May 10, 2024
 By Pri

UAE Quick Facts : UAE 101

The UAE is a country that you may have heard about before. Perhaps you’ve heard about the staggering skyscrapers in Dubai or heard about the oil-wealth of Abu Dhabi. Yet, you may not be familiar with the varied details of the country. In this post, we’ll give you an overview of the UAE and tell you everything you need to know.

What is the UAE?

The UAE is a small country in the Middle East, spanning 83,600 sq km. The abbreviation ‘UAE’ stands for United Arab Emirates. The term ‘Emirate’ refers to a principality. It comes from the term Emir and specifically references principalities that are ruled by a dynastic Islamic monarch. There are seven emirates in the UAE - Abu Dhabi (which serves as the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. Each emirate has its own monarch, but Abu Dhabi serves as the capital and the Emir of Abu Dhabi serves as President of the UAE.

Flag of the UAE

The UAE’s flag is made up of a red vertical stripe and three horizontal stripes in green, white and black. These colors are traditionally the Pan-Arab colors. Furthermore, the black stands for defeat of enemies, the white for peace and calm, the green for hope and growth and the red for strength and courage.

History of the UAE 

Archaeological findings show that the land of what is now the UAE has been occupied for thousands of years. The people of the region were generally tradesmen, as the UAE has a very strategic location. Because of this, piracy was always a threat. So in the early 19th century, Britain signed a treaty to help protect the area from pirates (this also gave Britain access to the UAE’s strategic location). The different sheikhdoms in the area became collectively known as the Trucial States (from the word ‘treaty’). However, Britain began to feel stretched thin by the responsibility. At around the same time, the Trucial States began to desire freedom from Britain’s influence. On December 2nd 1971, the Trucial States signed an agreement for independence and became known as the United Arab Emirates.

Politics in the UAE

The UAE is an absolute monarchy. The various emirates all have their own emirs, but the Emir of Abu Dhabi serves as President and the Emir of Dubai serves as Prime Minister. These titles of President and Prime Minister are hereditary.

The current president of the UAE is Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Emir of Abu Dhabi. He is the son of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the country’s founding father who was responsible for uniting the different emirates. After Sheikh Zayed passed away in 2004, Sheikh Khalifa ascended the throne.

The Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Emir of Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed is credited with pushing Dubai’s growth to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

The economy of the UAE

 With a GDP of $407.2 billion in 2017, the UAE boasts the second-largest economy in the Arab world (right after the economy of Saudi Arabia). Approximately one-third of the GDP is from oil revenues. The UAE actually has the most diversified economy in the Arab World and the non-hydrocarbon sector is actually growing at a faster rate than the hydrocarbon sector.

Aside from energy, the next biggest contributors to the UAE economy are real estate (around 20%), retail (around 12%) and tourism (around 10%). It’s no wonder when you consider the country’s staggering skyscrapers, massive shopping malls, and multiple tourist attractions.

Demographics of the UAE

The UAE has a population of almost 9.5 million people. The native Emirati population only makes up about 11% of the population- the other 89% is made up expatriates who live and work in the country without obtaining Emirati citizenship. Some of the most common foreign nationalities found among UAE residents are Indians (27%), Pakistanis (12%), Bangladeshis (7%), Filipinos (5%), Iranians (5%) and Egyptians (4%).

The official language of the UAE is Arabic. Thanks to the country’s diverse population, however, you will also hear many other languages being spoken. English, Hindi and Urdu are some of the most common secondary languages in the country. Tourists who can speak English will generally have no issue getting around.

The official religion of the UAE is Islam. It is followed by approximately 75% of the population. Christianity is the next most common religion, at around 9%, with all other religions accounting for approximately 15%.  Of the other religions, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism are the most common. The government follows a policy of tolerance towards other religions, and churches and temples have been built in the UAE. However, people of other religions are strictly expected not to interfere with the Islamic practice of Muslims.

Gender in the UAE

Men far outnumber women in the UAE- there are 2.2 males for every female in the country. This gender imbalance is mainly due to migration – either bachelors looking to earn money in the UAE before settling down, or blue-collar workers who prefer to leave their families in their home country, where the cost of living is often cheaper.

For women who do reside in the region, they still have access to many opportunities. Currently, the UAE is ranked 42nd out of 188 countries as per the Gender Inequality Index. The government has also introduced the UAE Gender Balance Council, aimed at raising that ranking to top 25.

The UAE also places a high priority on women’s education. Women have a 95% literacy rate and they make up 46% of STEM graduates from UAE universities. In the working world, women make up two-thirds of public sector jobs. The UAE is also the first country in the world to make it compulsory for corporations and government agencies to include women on their board of directors.

National Animal of the UAE

Despite the preponderance of camels you may see in artwork around the country, the UAE’s national animal is actually the Arabian oryx. The oryx is a medium-sized antelope with two long, straight horns and a tufted tail. A picture of the orys is printed on the 50-dirham currency note. It has been suggested the white oryx, which in profile can look like it has only one horn, is the basis for the myth of the unicorn.

The national bird of the UAE is the Peregrine falcon or Falco peregrinus. This is due to the cultural importance of falconry among Emiratis in the UAE.

National Dress of the UAE

The national dress of the UAE has evolved to take into account both the desert climate and the cultural norms of modesty. Emirati men generally wear a kandura (also referred to as a thobe), a white long-sleeved, ankle length garment that resembles a loose-fitting robe or a long shirt. It is topped with a cloth headdress called a ghutra, held in place by a black cord called an agal.

 Emirati women traditionally wear an abaya, a thin, black flowing cloak that covers the body. Underneath, they usually wear a dress or jeans in a hue they prefer. They pair the abaya with a hijab, a veil meant to cover their hair, ears and neck. We talk more about traditional Emirati dress here, and also advise tourists on how best to dress.

Currency of the UAE

The UAE currency is called dirhams, abbreviated to AED (for Arab Emirates Dirhams).  Unofficially, you may see abbreviations like DH or Dhs. The dirham is subdivided into fils -  100 fils are equivalent to one dirham.

Coins in the UAE are are generally in the denominations of 1 dirham, 25 fils and 50 fils. Although coins of 1,5 or 10 fils exist, they are not often in use as most prices are rounded to the nearest 25 fils. Banknotes are available in a variety of values and colors – 5 dirhams (brown), 10 dirhams(green), 20 dirhams(light blue), 50 dirhams (purple), 100 dirhams (pink), 200 dirhams (yellowish-brown), 500 dirhams (navy blue) and 1000 dirhams (greenish-blue).

The dirham is pegged to the United States dollar, with 1 US dollar being equivalent to about 3.6725 dirhams.

Airports of the UAE

There are 10 airports in the UAE offering commercial service. One of them is Dubai International Airport, which is the world's busiest airport by international passenger traffic. The other airports in the UAE are Dubai World Central (Al Maktoum International Airport), Abu Dhabi International Airport, Al Bateen Executive Airport, Al Ain International Airport, Fujairah International Airport, Ras Al Khaimah International Airport, Sharjah International Airport, Dalma Airport and Sir Bani Yas Airport. If you’re visiting Dubai, we recommend coming in via Dubai International Airport, as Dubai World Central Airport is a bit out of the way.

There are a lot of interesting facts about the UAE. The country has rich history and exciting present. Furthermore, we hope this overview has given you a good insight into the country. And if you’re looking to learn more, be sure to check out one of our many tours. Our guides will be happy to tell you everything you may wish to know.

About The Author


Pri is a true believer in the Rule of Three - she lives between Dubai, Bombay and Washington DC, speaks three languages and has 3 kids under 3. She graduated from Connecticut College and has a Masters Degree from New York University. Pri is a licensed Dubai tour guide, travel blogger, art aficionado, foodie and curious to check out all things new in her city. Pri has been part of the Free Tours By Foot team since 2015 and loves to make customized itineraries for her guests.
Updated: May 10th, 2024
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