Once a small fishing village centered around a natural harbor, the United Arab Emirates and it’s capital, Dubai, have blossomed into global economic and tourist superpowers. With large oil deposits discovered approximately 30 years ago, the UAE has transformed profoundly into a modern state with high living standards. Because of the rapid development in this former desert, the nation’s most populous city, Dubai, has become a melting pot with 80% of its 2 million-person population being non-native. Despite a thriving economy and being a cosmopolitan hub in the middle-east, the UAE has it’s fair share of downfalls as well, both internally, and abroad.
The United Arab Emirates as a whole has an economy that has thrived because of it’s large deposits of oil, natural gas, and geographical position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
The first president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, oversaw developments of the Emirates and directed oil revenues into healthcare, education and infrastructure. Amongst all countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United Arab Emirates has the most diverse economy, though heavily reliant on it’s natural resources nonetheless.
In contrast, Dubai’s economy only relies on oil for about 3% of it’s economic output.
With a long-standing relationship with the United Kingdom, Dubai has maintained access to formerly restricted trade routes allowing it to boom in the 1970’s & 80’s as it brought otherwise restricted imports (gold, diamonds) into the region. With an open-market economy and no corporate tax rate, Dubai itself has transformed into a major hub of commercial activity thriving on tourism, foreign investment, banking, retail, and luxury services. The large amount of foreign trade has caused expats to flock to the area and make their homes in the once empty desert.
Elements of Sharia law are used in the UAE’s criminal and civil courts, which international rights groups suggest are discriminatory against women. With these laws in place, flogging is a punishment for criminal offences ranging from premarital sex, adultery, alcohol consumption, or verbal abuse. Lashings, stoning, and amputations are also legal punishments in the Emirates.
Because of the large amount of expats now living in the United Arab Emirates, construction has boomed, and this had led to millions of low-wage migrant workers making their way to the Gulf in search of work, in this industry in particular. However, hundreds of workers have died during high-valued construction projects. For those
that live through the grueling work, it’s not much better – The Human Rights Watch exposed workers facing, “Poor housing, unpaid wages and benefits, broken contracts, and unauthorized confiscation of passports.” Developers behind the projects these workers are slaving away on reject the HRW’s “unfounded conclusions.”
These harsh realities aren’t faced only by workers. Tourists have constantly reported claims of rape in which the courts have responded with charging the accusing women with crimes such as “public intoxication” and “illicit sex & alcohol consumption.” Additionally, kissing in public and homosexuallity are considered capital offenses. In 2013, a man was sent to trial for initiating a “gay handshake.”
Any sort of criticism of the government is punishable by death for native UAE citizens and will result in deportation of foreigners. Forced disappearances, kidnappings, and mysterious deaths have all occurred to those who have openly, or privately, criticized the government or commented on any persons the government has found guilty of a crime.
While the UAE’s growth and economic stability and an otherwise underdeveloped and war-torn region are impressive, the country seems to have a long way to go before it becomes an optimal place for expats to move to permanently. Western ideals may never make their way into laws in this strict, Sharia-law country, but for the tourist making his or her way around the world, the UAE has the infrastructure, entertainment, global security, and sights to keep the most frequent traveler full of excitement.