The United Arab Emirates is a diverse collection of seven Middle Eastern states that offers travelers a safe and exciting destination blending familiar comforts with opportunities to sample the exotic. Explore highlights of the country on a Middle East cruise. Visitors can shop for designer clothes, sunbathe at the beach, scuba dive, ride a camel across the dunes, visit mountains or dance the nights away. The United Arab Emirates combines a rich history with modern conveniences.
The United Arab Emirates comprises the Arab states of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Ajman, Sharjah and Umm al Qaiwain. In the past, the area was controlled by tribal rulers called sheikhs who each ran their own small territories. The sheikhs eventually banded together under a formal alliance and began a close relationship with the United Kingdoms that continued until the 1960s.
The areas that now comprises the United Arab Emirates used to be known as the Pirate Coast. Raiders patrolled the coast from the 17th to 19th century and the sheikhdoms were constantly fighting. The Arab and European navies had ships trying to stop the raids, but they were unsuccessful.
In 1820 a peace treaty was signed by the sheikhs controlling the coast, but occasional raids still occurred until 1835 when they agreed to end fighting at sea. The sheikhs under the name Trucial Sheikhdoms signed a treaty with the United Kingdoms in 1853 that proclaimed a maritime truce. Disputes among the sheikhs could now be resolved by a British civil servant called the Political Resident.
The Trucial Sheikhdoms and the United Kingdoms formed a closer alliance with a new treaty in 1892. This was prompted by growing interest and potential threat from other European countries. The new treaty prohibited the Trucial Sheikhdoms from forming alliances with any foreign countries without the approval of the United Kingdoms. They also could not give any territory to a foreign country except the United Kingdoms. The treaty ensured that the United Kingdoms would defend the Trucial Coast from attacks by land or by sea.
Maritime conflicts were a big problem in this area because the economy of the Trucial States depended mainly on fishing and pearling. Oil was not discovered until the 1950s and it was not until 1962 when Abu Dhabi began exporting oil that the economy began to change, transforming the society of the soon to be formed United Arab Emirates into the radically different place it is today.
The people of the United Arab Emirates used to have to depend upon their survival abilities in the harsh desert environment, but recent wealth from oil exportation and the building of aquifers from the mountains to bring water to new areas has changed the day-to-day life of most Emiratis. What has survived is the tradition that obligates families to assist their relatives and neighbors. This hospitality helped people of the same tribes survive, but today binds the people along with a common religion. Islam is the predominant religion with 96 percent of the population identifying as Muslim. The remaining four percent include mainly Hindus and Christians.
Over 5 million people live in the United Arab Emirates today. The population includes 2.2 men for every woman. Almost three million males and just over over million females are between the ages of 15 and 64. Society falls into two main social categories: the nationals and immigrants. There are four main social classes including the sheikh class, the merchant class, the middle class and the lower class, mainly including farmers and nomads.
Arabic is the official language, though English is spoken in most places. Urdu, Persian and Hindi are also widely spoken.
Visitors today can experience desert life similar to how the Emiratis of 40 years ago lived, but without the risks. Desert excursions with four-wheel desert vehicles, camels or horses allow for a safe exploration of the desert. Visitors on a Middle East cruise can explore the modern architecture of Dubai, as well as wander through museums that document the ancient culture in Abu Dhabi.
Food in the United Arab Emirates blends traditional Middle Eastern fare and international cuisine. Western fast food chains are common as are foreign restaurants serving Indian, Italians, French, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean food.
Plenty of places serve the traditional cuisine. Arabic food often includes entrees served with many kinds of bread, vegetables and salads. Falafel, hummus and kebabs are foods travelers will recognize. Food is generally spicy, flavorful and eaten using bread as a scoop. Dishes are served with breads like lavash and naan.
The United Arab Emirates is about the size of Maine; it has 83,600 square kilometers, which is approximately 867 kilometers. The UAE is the 115th largest country in the world. The border countries include Oman and Saudi Arabia. The terrain spans flat coastal plains, sand dunes, agricultural areas and mountains in the east. The coastline is 1,318 kilometers long.
The city of Abu Dhabi in the state of the same name is the capital. It is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates. The seven states are also called emirates. Over 42 percent of the people live in the state of Abu Dhabi. Approximately 33 percent line in Sharjah and Dubai.
The United Arab Emirates became an official federation on December 2, 1971. This is the date celebrated as their Independence Day from the United Kingdoms, though the constitution from 1971 only became permanent in 1996.
Before the formation of the United Arab Emirates, the states were still called the Trucial States or Sheikhdoms. The states still fought over territory as recently as 1955, when the United Kingdoms sided with Abu Dhabi when it claimed ownership of the Buraimi Oasis and nearby territory that Saudi Arabia also claimed. The ownership of this territory is officially still unsettled as is the border with Oman.
The United Kingdoms ended their treaty with the Trucial States in 1968. It also repealed its protection of Bahrain and Qatar. The seven Trucial States along with Bahrain and Qatar attempted to form and alliance but could not agree on terms. When the treaty with the United Kingdoms expired officially on December 1, 1971 the states were fully independent. Six of the states formed a union on December 2. Ras al-Khaimah joined in 1972, forming the seven states that currently make up the United Arab Emirates federation existing today.
In 1990 the United Arab Emirates sent troops to liberate Kuwait during the Gulf War. Forces also became involved in missions to Bosnia, Lebanon, Somalia, Kosovo, Albania, and Afghanistan in efforts to keep the peace.
Dubai worked to make itself the Middle East's financial and cosmopolitan hub after the credit boom after 2000. It attracted many foreign investors and began to focus on construction. The tallest manmade structure, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, was built in 2009. However, Dubai suffered significantly after the credit freeze, which did not affect Abu Dhabi as much. The balance of power may be moving back to Abu Dhabi.
The individual states have significant independence, but the United Arab Emirates as a whole is governed by a Supreme Council of Rules. The council consists of seven emirs. These people appoint the prime minster and the cabinet. They also elect the president and vice president.
The United Arab Emirates is one of the more liberal countries, but is still politically authoritarian. It was not until 2006 that the United Arab Emirates had elected bodies, and even now the federal assembly is only half elected and has more of a consultative role. There are 40 members in this legislative branch. The judicial branch includes Islamic and secular courts.
The first United Arab Emirates' president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, passed away in 2004. He had been elected in 1971. The Supreme Council of Rulers elected the new president, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Vice President Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum passed away in 2006. He was also the Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister. His brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum replaced him.
The United Arab Emirates is a member of both the United Nations and the Arab League. It has diplomatic relations with over 60 countries. These include the United States, Russian, China, Japan and the majority of the western European countries.
The weather in the United Arab Emirates is mostly dry and hot. Rainfall is sparse and occurs mainly in February and March. Summer is hot and humid. Winter is sunny and warm with average daytime temperatures of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, or 26 degrees Celsius. It can get cold at night though. Temperatures on the coast stay between 53 and 61 degrees Fahrenheit, or 12 to 15 degrees Celsius, but can drop to 41 degrees Fahrenheit, or 5 degrees Celsius, in the mountains and desert. Winter humidity is typically between 50 and 60 per cent, though summer and fall may reach 90 percent. The coast is more humid than the inland areas.
October to May is the best time to travel to the UAE. October may still have temperatures up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, or 35 Celsius, but the days are generally cooler during this time.
The United Arab Emirates is home to a variety of wildlife. There are plenty of big cats, deer, reptiles and interesting marine life. Some animals of note include the Arabian oryx, Arabian mountain gazelle, the Arabian tahr, the Arabian leopard and the sand gazelle, as well as the smaller hare and spiny-tailed lizard.
Whale watching is a popular draw in the United Arab Emirates. Up to a third of the 90 known species of dolphins and whales can be seen of the coast of the UAE. Late March to July is best for whale watching because the waters are generally calmer. Some of the more popular species include the blue whale, Bryde's whale, the fin whale and the humpback whale.
Another way to see the local wildlife is to visit a wildlife center or sanctuary. Sharjah is home to the large Arabian Wildlife Center near the Sharjah International Airport. The center has more than 100 species on display in large, natural enclosures. It also shows some of the local fauna.
Dubai has the well-known Ras al-Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. There are over 250 species of birds on display including the popular flamingos. The nature preserve includes lagoons, salt flats, intertidal mudflats and mangroves. The sanctuary is a big draw in the winter.