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Emirates TravelUnited Arab Emirates / Dubai


Dubai is all many people know when it comes to the United Arab Emirates
Dubai is all many people know when it comes to the United Arab Emirates. Many people probably don’t even realize that the glittering city of Dubai is part of an emirate called Dubai that is united with six other emirates in a federal framework to form the UAE.

Mostly people think of wealth, shopping, and nightlife when Dubai is mentioned, but the city and emirate consist of much more. A look at Dubai’s history and resources will clarify the underlying strengths this region has built upon.

{IMAGE1}Dubai has the largest population of the seven emirates, and is the second largest by land area after Abu Dhabi. It is ruled by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, of the Al Maktoum dynasty that has had power here since 1833. In addition to ruling Dubai, Maktoum is the Prime Minister of the UAE and also the Emirates’ Vice President.

It will come as no surprise that today, Dubai’s revenues come mostly from tourism, real estate, and banking services. What may be surprising is that petroleum and natural gas account for less than 6% of Dubai’s gross domestic product. In fact, in planning the future of the area, the government is working on the model of petroleum and natural gas revenue diminishing to zero over the next few years, with all revenue coming from other sources.

{IMAGE2}One reason Dubai can draw so many tourists, aside from the jewel-like skyscrapers and hotel rooms straight out of a fantasy, is its climate. Dubai is very warm. Only January, February, and March are chilly, but the lowest recorded temperature in Dubai was 7 degrees Centigrade, or 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Dubai experiences several months with temperatures over 40 degrees Centigrade, which is 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat is dry, and Dubai averages only about 150 mm of rain per year, the equivalent of about 5 inches of precipitation.

As of 2006, the emirate of Dubai had a population of 1,422,000, with 1,073,000 males and 349,000 females. At least 85% of the population is made up of non UAE nationals, with the most common countries of origin being India, Pakistan, and Iran. The average age is a robust 27. Though Arabic is the official language in Dubai, English is widely spoken as are Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, and Urdu.

{IMAGE3}Islam is the state religion of the UAE, and the government heavily subsidizes mosques and employs all Imams. Non-Muslim groups are also allowed, and they may own their houses of worship and practice their religion freely in them. They can even advertise group functions, but they may not proselytize or hand out religious literature. Cultural censorship is common in Dubai, even though The New York Times called Dubai its pick travel destination for partying in 2008.

In other words, Dubai is a place of contradictions. Big neon-lit dreams and nightlife exist side by side with a list of rules against public displays of affection, short skirts, and drinking in public – offenses punishable by fines and jail time.

{IMAGE4}It is a place where foreigners outnumber locals by eight to one, and where the local minorities crack down on habits such as the chewing of betel leaves by the immigrants from Pakistan and India who heavily outnumber them. Dubai is a brightly lit, futuristic metropolitan oasis raking in enormous profits, and it is also where the same family has ruled for more than 175 years.

International traders love Dubai for its absence of foreign exchange controls, though the UAE has signed agreements with the United States saying it will enact import and export rules for controlling nuclear equipment going through its ports. Dubai has very low import duties, with many products exempt altogether. It is the main hub of international trade in the Persian Gulf.

{IMAGE5}At the same time, there is zero tolerance for illegal drug use, with penalties including life in prison, or the death penalty. Homosexual acts, prostitution, adultery and common law relationships are also illegal and subject to strict punishment.

But those very contradictions may be how Dubai will survive the current world economic downturn. Despite the heady boom in luxury travel in the mid 2000s, the city and surrounding areas have excellent infrastructure, and well regulated financial operations. The economic boom, though it looked very much like over-optimism and overbuilding, was largely financed by equity rather than debt.

{IMAGE6}While other parts of the world have had mushrooming debt going towards deficit spending and irrational consumption, debt in Dubai has gone to paying for infrastructure and public utilities that will ultimately pay for themselves.

When Hong Kong was handed back over to China in 1997, pundits the world over predicted its demise, and they were wrong. A strong reputation for international trade, tied to China’s economy - the fastest growing economy in the early 21st century - may have slowed the pace of growth, but by no means did it stop it.

Likewise, Dubai’s fortunes are not built on sand – the brand new Palm Island developments notwithstanding – and the emirate and the city will likely survive the current worldwide economic turmoil better than many other world capitals.

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