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Culture & People
 
 
 

Most people living in the UAE (known as Emiris) are Arabs, a large majority of whom are city and town dwellers. A small number are nomadic (having no permanent home). The population has grown dramatically since the mid-1960s, largely due to the influx of oil workers to the country. Four-fifths of the UAE’s inhabitants are foreign workers and their families. The UAE also has a very youthful population, due to the large numbers of young foreign workers, a cultural preference for large families, and improved medical care.

The UAE had an estimated population of 2,602,713 in 2006, with a density of 31 persons per sq km (81 per sq mi). Some 85 percent of the country’s population is urban.

Abu Dhabi is the country’s capital and second largest city. The metropolis serves as the financial, transportation, and communications center of this major oil-producing area. The city is also a significant port and is home to a majority of the federal government ministries. The emirate of Abu Dhabi as a whole contains nearly 40 percent of the UAE’s total population.

Dubai, located in the emirate of the same name, is the largest city in the UAE and the main trading center of the entire Persian Gulf. It is home to the principal port facilities in the UAE as well as the country’s busiest airport, along with the headquarters of several federal ministries. Other major cities in the UAE include Ash Shariqah, an important port and industrial hub in that emirate, and Al `Ayn, an educational and cultural center in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Ethnic Groups

The native Emiris are Arabs, and generally a different tribe dominates each emirate. About half of the UAE’s non-native population are Asians (largely Indians, Pakistanis, Ceylonese, Bangladeshis, and Filipinos), and most of the rest are Iranians or Arabs (primarily Jordanians, Palestinians, and Egyptians). A much smaller percentage comes from Europe and the United States. Although the disproportionate ratio of expatriates to Emiris has caused concern over the possible impact on the country’s security and social and cultural values, the level of tensions between the various ethnic communities is slight.

Language & Religion

Arabic is the official language of the UAE. English is also widely spoken, as are Hindi—the language of commerce—Urdu, and Persian. Islam is the country’s official religion, and all UAE natives and a majority of the expatriates are Muslim. More than 80 percent follow the Sunni branch of Islam, with the rest belonging to the Shia branch. The constitution guarantees religious freedom and other religions are represented, including Hinduism and Christianity.


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