United Arab Emirates

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A federation of seven territories, each ruled by an emir, the United Arab Emirates is a Middle Eastern country that borders Oman and Saudi Arabia. Formerly a series of small sheikdoms under British protection, in 1971 they joined together to create a union, where the hereditary emirs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi hold the posts of president and prime minister respectively, but a measure of democracy is allowed through elections to a national advisory council. While less extreme than its neighbour Saudi Arabia, the UAE’s justice system has been criticised for its treatment of children. In addition, women and girls face widespread public and official discrimination, and the treatment of migrant labourers has been widely condemned.


The United Arab Emirates is a Middle Eastern federation of seven emirates, namely Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. Abu Dhabi is the capital and largest emirate, covering 87 per cent of the country's territory. The country shares borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia and contains the Omani enclave of Madha, which in turn contains the Emirati territory of Nahwa. The UAE has coastline on the Persian Gulf to the north and the Gulf of Oman to the west.

The country is involved in a number of land and maritime boundary disputes; while it resolved a dispute with Oman regarding ownership of the strategically located Musandam Peninsula, it continues to question Iranian control over several islands in the Persian Gulf.[1] The country also disputes territorial sea claims made by Saudi Arabia.

Population and Language

The United Arab Emirates is a growing country of nearly eight million inhabitants; by 2020, the UN predicts that its population will exceed nine million.[2] The overwhelming majority of residents live in urban areas, and children under the age of 18 represent nearly 20 per cent of the population. The UAE has long relied on foreign labour, which may account for as much as 70 per cent of the total population.[3] The principal source countries for immigration are India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Egypt, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Yemen, Iran, and Sudan. The vast majority of foreign nationals in the United Arab Emirates are male outnumbering their female counterparts two to one.[4]

The population is largely Islamic, and most followers belong to the Sunni sect. The official language is Arabic, but English is widely spoken.[5]

Politics and Economy

The UAE emerged out of the Trucial States, all of which had individual treaty relationships with Britain, in 1971 under the leadership of Sheikh Zayes bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Upon the death of President Al Nahyan his son, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan took the office. The President is elected by the Supreme Council, which consists of the leaders of the seven emirates and appoints the Council of Ministers. Led by the Led by the Prime Minister, the Council of Ministers is responsible for proposing legislation for consideration by the Supreme Council. The partially elected Federal National Council plays a consultative role.

The UAE had a trade surplus of US$67 billion in 2011; its primary exports are re-exports of various goods (representing 40 per cent of its export total), crude petroleum (28.3 per cent), and gas (5.5 per cent). Its primary export markets in 2010 were Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and India.

Media and Civil Society
The United Arab Emirates has an active media industry and has sought to promote itself as a destination and regional hub for communication and journalism.[6] Nevertheless a number of international non-governmental organisations have raised concerns with respect to limits placed on freedom of association and expression. Reporters without Borders has been persistently critical of government surveillance of social media networks and the arbitrary arrest and harassment of bloggers.[7] In 2009, the country adopted a new press freedom law which, if implemented, would prevent journalists from being imprisoned and would enable them to better protect their sources. However, the law would also grant the Emirates greater authority to decide who can work in the media and increase civil penalties and fines for media outlets that publish 'dishonest' or 'offensive' reports.[8]

Between 2010 and 2011, the country fell 25 places to 112 out of 179 countries on the Press Freedom Index.[9]

Similarly, Freedom House does not view the United Arab Emirates as a free country and argues that the country does not fully respect civil and political rights.[10] In 2011, Human Rights Watch reported that “Human rights defenders and government critics face harassment, imprisonment, and criminal prosecution.” The government disbanded two non-governmental organisations in 2011, the Jurists Association and the Teachers Association, following their appeal for democratic reform.[11]

Human Rights and Children's Rights

The UAE has been accused of serious violations of children's rights, particularly with regards to the justice system. Federal law allows for children as young as seven to be held criminally responsible for their actions, and authorities can take disciplinary action against children under that age. Authorities are also empowered to apply 'corrective measures' for children aged seven to 16, which are determined at the discretion of the presiding judge. It is possible for children to be sentenced to death under sharia law for hadd or qisas offences.[12]

Discrimination against women and girls is a prominent feature of Emirati law. Human Rights Watch has raised a number of concerns related to the treatment of women and children under family law, which discriminates against women in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance, Women are only permitted to divorce their husbands in exceptional cases, and they are not entitled to financial compensation. Furthermore, women can only inherent one-third of the assets of an estate. In contrast to men, Emirati women cannot marry non-Muslims and those who marry foreign nationals cannot automatically pass on their citizenship to their children. Though the United Arab Emirates has established shelters and a telephone hotline for victims of domestic violence, the Supreme Court has upheld the right for men to physically discipline their children and wives.[13]

  1. United States Library of Congress Federal Research Division, "Territorial Disputes", in A Country Study: United Arab Emirates, ed. by Helen Chapin Metz. January 1993
  2. UNDESA, "Population Statistics 2011"
  3. UNDESA, "International Migration Report 2009" December 2011
  4. Ratha Dilip, Sanket Mohapatra and Ani Sliwal, "World Statistics Pocketbook 2010" 2011
  5. Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, "Fact and Figures" 5 April 2012
  6. Dubai Media City, "History and milestones of Dubai media city"
  7. Reporters Without Borders, "United Arab Emirates 2012 Surveillance"
  8. Reporters Without Borders, "World Report 2012: United Arab Emirates"
  9. Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index"
  10. Freedom House, "Freedom in the World 2012"
  11. Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012: United Arab Emirates" p. 642
  12. See CRIN, "UAE: Inhuman Sentencing of Children"
  13. Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012: United Arab Emirates"


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