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United Arab EmiratesThe
United Arab Emirates got its name when seven emirates united in 1971 (an emirate
is a Muslim state ruled by a monarch). The seven emirates are: Abu Dhabi, Ajman,
Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain.
Today in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) the culture seems quite modern and to
some, may even seem sterile. However, the country is extremely varied and what most
visitors see is the culture of the foreign population, not the locals. Moving from
the large cities of Dubai or Abu Dhabi to a desert oasis reveals substantial cultural
differences; in fact the cultural base remains in the desert.
Today, as in the past, the people's culture is based on the nomadic desert lifestyle
of the Bedouin people. The people survived the difficult conditions by eating dates
and camel's milk, but little else. Their lives were simple and social contact
was both sought and feared as there was a need for knowledge, but fear of unknown
people and enemies. In the country's deserts today there remains a simple lifestyle,
with simple foods and clothing. The people also remain curious, but skeptical of
outsiders although their kindness always seems to be more powerful in the modern
In the 600s and 700s Islam arrived to the region and the people accepted this religion.
It didn't alter their diets or even their architecture (as a primarily nomadic
people there was little), but their lifestyles changed to meet the restrictions
and rules of the new religion. Since this time the people have had greater outside
contacts as new foods were introduced and their language became more uniform with
the rest of the Arab world.
From a visual perspective, in the villages little has changed in the U.A.E. as the
people continue to dress in their "National Dress," their homes remain
traditional, and their foods are heavily influenced by the Lebanese cuisine, which
arrived shortly after Islam. In fact, many locals share this culture in the cities,
but the lifestyle is vastly different as business drives most schedules and life
seems more complex. However both in the villages and in the cities the culture is
changing, and at a very rapid pace.
With the discovery of oil in the U.A.E. in the 1900s the country became a rich and
highly influential country. As the government controlled these resources and the
income derived from it, they modernized their country quickly by building modern
buildings, roads, transportation hubs, and introducing computers, televisions, and
other technology. Today, the people have accepted these items while retaining traditional
aspects of their culture, most notably in the form of dress and religion. Despite
this, most locals own cars, have high-paying jobs, and have access to, and the resources
to afford, the world's best technology.
Much of the U.A.E.'s economic success comes from free trade, oil, and foreign
workers. As foreign workers arrive, the locals receive the higher paying jobs and
if there is a smaller demand for jobs, the government simply lets fewer immigrant
workers into the country to guarantee the locals have jobs. This essentially makes
the local population the upper class in a multi-classed society.
Due to the growing number of jobs, the foreigners have changed the culture to a
substantial degree. These people, from every part of the world, have brought with
them new dress, foods, religions, and a new way of life. Despite clinging to their
traditional roots, the local Emirati people, at least in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have
grown accustomed to Italian, Indian, and American food as they have grown extremely
tolerant of religious, ethnic, and cultural differences. With this comes constant
pressure as the local people (most particularly the sheiks) feel obligated to cater
to the foreign population, who is running their economy in some ways. This has led
to a difficult balance of maintaining the traditional, while integrating the foreign.
This has also led to a growing pride in being Emirati by some as traditional dress,
clothing, language, and lifestyle are points of emphasis and pride by the locals.
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