United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of 7 emirates. This cluster of emirates can be found in the Arabian Peninsula, at the Persian Gulf’s southernmost tip. Abu Dhabi is its de facto capital, however, Dubai is the largest city overall. The main religion is Islam and the official language is Arabic. This area comprises one of the largest oil reserves in the world.

Each emirate happens to be a state headed by an absolutist monarch, known as the emir, and the transition of power abides by a hereditary succession. The federation has a president and vice-president, both elected every 5 years by the federal supreme council.

History

This region has been inhabited for thousands of years and has a rich historic heritage. The desert used to be occupied by Bedouin tribes and fishermen. The convivial way with which the Bedouin welcomed their guests can still be witnessed to this very day, even within the current modern society that dominates the region. It is a quite interesting mishmash of modernity and tradition.

Such development was deeply related to the trading relationships established with other regions, given its wonderful location. This is where the caravan routes were travelled, a place entangled between what is now Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, this very same area became widely known as the Pirate Coast, due to the extremely high number of attacks endured by the ships that passed by it (carried out by pirates). This situation prompted the UK to intervene, as the tribal attacks were affecting the movement of ships that sailed throughout Asia. For the United Kingdom, it was extremely important to keep trade relationships with India.

Therefore, in 1853, the United Kingdom and nine sheikhs signed a treaty that established a permanent maritime truce. The region came to be known as the Truce Coast.

Oil was discovered during this same period. From that moment onwards, the pace of history quickly gained momentum.

In 1971, the British troops left the region and the six emirates, scattered throughout the Truce Coast, established a sovereign nation. On December 2 of that year same year, the UAE federation emerged, aiming to ensure the security and prosperity of its members. Ras Al Khaimah, the seventh emirate, joined the following year.

Bahrain and Qatar became independent nations.

Up next, I’m going to talk a bit about the 4 biggest emirates. Ras Al Khaimah (RAK), Umm Al Qwain, Ajman and Fujairah will be saved for future articles.

 Abu Dhabi

This happens to be the largest of the emirates of UAE and the homonymous city is also the federal capital. The territory occupied by the emirate is located on an island, having 2 bridges establishing the connection with the mainland.

As we speak, the emirate is developing itself, both touristic and culturally wise, carrying out futuristic projects.

The most well-known are:

  • The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – it opened in 2007 in honour of the founder of the UAE, who is buried in the outer court. In its interior, one can find 80 white domes, 1000 columns, golden lamps and, on a floor, an outstanding Persian carpet. It is one of the world’s largest mosques.
  • Ferrari Theme Park – This park was built in 2007 as a tribute to the passion felt for Ferrari. Each one of its areas and attractions has a correlation with this brand’s history.
  • Yas Marina Circuit of Formula 1 – a luxurious racetrack opened in 2009.

The city of Masdar is also very interesting, located about 30 km away from Abu Dhabi. Its undergoing construction aims to have as less environmental impact as possible.

Dubai

The emirate of Dubai is the most populous of the UAE and has the second largest area. The homonymous capital is widely known due to its resourceful projects and is also the most popular location in the whole federation. Despite its strong fondness for innovation, Dubai still preserves a wide array of traits of the Arab culture.

The old town

One can still visit the oldest and most historic part of the city, to be acquainted with the past related to the Bedouin tribes that used to live there. As you stroll through the Deira and Bur Dubai neighbourhoods, you can cross paths with souks, labyrinthine streets, museums, old buildings, as well as deeply interesting restaurants, cafes and shops.

The new town

On the other hand, the city’s newest area is where you can find the most emblematic places and the Sheikh Zayed Road, a lane filled with skyscrapers. Among them, a 37-floor office tower, the Dubai World Trade Centre and the Emirates Towers are the highlights.

The Burj Khalifa is the spotlight of the downtown, the world’s tallest building; there is also the Dubai Fountain and the Dubai Mall, which is the world’s largest mall.

Dubai’s main beach area is Jumeirah. This is the location of the renowned 7-star hotel Burj Al Arab, and also of Palm Jumeirah, the artificial islands which mimic a palm tree.

Sharjah

The city shares the name of its Emirate and is located about 30 km from the city of Dubai. Besides the mainland territory, it also comprises 3 islands facing the Gulf of Oman. This is the federation’s 3rd largest emirate.

It is deemed the cultural capital of the emirates, given the fact that it hosts 24 museums, such as the Museum of Islamic Civilisation. In 1998 was chosen as the Arab world’s cultural capital.

Sharjah has fine-looking parks and natural lagoons which invite their visitors for some proper strolling. As you walk through the city, you will notice several palace-shaped buildings, since the government facilities had to be built under that conception. Even the airport has the shape of a palace.

Its several mosques and covered souks are also quite interesting.

It is very close to Dubai and is totally worth visiting. Nonetheless, keep in mind that this is a deeply conservative location.