The United Arab Emirates (short name Emirates) is a federation of seven states called emirates located in the Middle East, bordering Oman and Saudi Arabia and sharing sea borders with Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Iran. The capital is Abu Dhabi, and the other six states are Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah. The United Arab Emirates formed in 1971 after independence from Britain. Just like in the United States, every state has a high level of autonomy. The political system of the United Arab Emirates is a constitutional monarchy with a presidential system of government based on a 1971 Constitution. Here, the rulers of each emirate (called Sheikhs) can make decisions that impact the way of life of each emirate, including oil revenues. However the United Arab Emirates is governed by a Supreme Council of Rulers made up of seven armis who appoint the prime minister and the cabinet. The king of Abu Dhabi is always elected President while the king of Dubai is always elected Prime Minister. Once a quiet country in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates used to have an economy that relied on fishing and the pearling industry. The discovery of oil in the 1950s changed that dramatically. Today, with the world's seventh largest oil reserves, the United Arab Emirates is one of the strongest countries in the region. The authorities, trying to reduce the country's dependance on oil revenues, have also invested in the tourism and construction sectors, with Dubai, having beautiful beaches and magnificent hotels, becoming a tourism honeypot.
Arabic is the official language. Islam is the official religion. The UAE is one of themost liberal countries in the Gulf region. Except for sexually explicit material, as well as censored movies and magazines, every product available in the West is also available in the United Arab Emirates. Fast-food chains like KFC and McDonald's can be found in all emirates, and supermarkets offer products from Europe and the U.S. Even alcohol is available at many restaurants and bars in Dubai and in tourist hotels of every other emirate except Sharjah whose ruling sheikhs tend to be more conservative. But you need a license to buy alcohol, proof that you are a non-Muslim, and a passport will not be enough. However the United Arab Emirates still offers an environment that is familiar to westerners, for it is a country so modern, it is like a giant Disneyland for many tourists. With Saudi Arabia to the west and southwest, and Oman to the southeast, the United Arab Emirates is a good starting point for tourists who want to travel to the Middle East. A country with many attractions, starting with the gourmet restaurants, five-star spas, and rows of skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi, and ending with the rugged Wadis (dry valleys) bordering Oman.
United Arab Emirates can make Westerners feel at home, but they can also give Westerners a taste of the exotic. A souq, or souk, is a commercial quarter in any Arabized or Muslim city, although the term can also refer to a market in the abstract economic sense. Even though the United Arab Emirates possesses several modern malls, and tourists can be captivated by them, Dubai souks are still famous worldwide, particularly the Dubai Gold Souk and the ancient Covered Souk. In souks, you can find products from all over the world. There are also Gold souks, fish souks, spike souks, where you can buy any conceivable spice, and textile souks, where you can find a rainbow of textures, and an infinity of weaves and embroidery. Souks, bustling with people as they are, can be a little stressful. If you prefer tranquility, you can visit the mountain scenery of Hatta, or travel to Abu Dhabi's desert sands for a camel ride. The Al-Buraimi oasis spands both sides of the Abu Dhabi-Oman border. South of Abu Dhabi, sand dunes merge into the border with Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates has something for everyone.