United Arab Emirates, a small island consisting of 7 emirates or sheikdoms, together a federal constitutional monarchy with its 7 emirs or sheikhs as federal council and a president and prime minister elected from among them. Officially an Islamic nation, the country provides for religious tolerance — as it must: UAE population, at 9.5 million, a growth of 5.4 million since 2005, consists of 11.5% citizens — and the remainder, foreign migrant workers. UAE has the second-largest Arab economy after Saudi Arabia.
Bedouins, one of the earth’s earliest peoples and desert nomads of the Arabian world, are at the core of UAE’s several millennia-old culture. Primarily Arabic and Persian, the Emirati culture has also been influenced by the ancient Romans, Portuguese, and British, the latter of whom were in UAE most recently — from 1922 until its 1966 independence. With such a majority population of foreign migrants, the UAE government has made a concerted effort to identify, strengthen, and celebrate Emirati culture — so that it is not lost.
In a country with such a high percentage of foreigners, most of whom are male labourers, women represent only 28% of the total UAE population. Gender roles remain largely defined in Emirati culture, and both men and women still wear traditional dress — with modest attire generally required. UAE is among the more conservative Arabic nations; women must have permission of a male guardian to marry or remarry, for example. The status of women is on the rise, however: the number of women in the labour force has recently surged to 51%, and women hold 22.5% of parliamentary seats — with the president decreeing a 50% quota in December 2018. Emirati women are highly educated, making up 77% of tertiary enrollment and 70% of all university graduates.
Education is highly valued in UAE, well funded with a curriculum set to match the nation’s development goals; the preservation of Emirati culture is also given high priority. Government initiatives of cultural preservation, known as “Emiratism,” include the promotion of Emirati identity, prioritising of citizen employment, and other sociocultural initiatives.
The fine arts are highly valued by Emirati people. Architecture is inspired by Islamic, Arabic, and Persian styles; there is a strong emphasis on literature and poetry, music and dance. In visual arts, contemporary styles — including themes of social criticism — can easily be seen, in addition to the influences of Islam in sacred art forms.
Emirati culture is a blend of tradition and modernity, of defined gender roles and a current emphasis on gender equality — with education of women far outpacing that of men. Based in Bedouin, Arabic, and Persian traditions, hospitality and etiquette are especially high values. However, the federation has also been often accused of human rights violations — as journalistic freedom of speech is strongly curtailed, and its criminal law, by most measures, draconian.