Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Week 47: United Arab Emirates

Peace is possible.

Another late start this week, sorry, I've got short-term syndrome.  The end is in sight and I'm getting distracted easily!  But anyway, I've got a rather interesting country this week- the United Arab Emirates.  Never heard of it?  You'll probably recognize the names of 2 of it's main cities- Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  Those cities are also the names of 2 of the 7 "emirates", or principalities, that make up the country as a whole. 

In the 60s, as oil started to be found in the Arab nations, a group of Arab sheikhs, or emirs, joined together to support one another.  They decided it worked well and, by 1971, there were 7 emirates that were united.  They also invited neighboring Qatar and Bahrain to join but those countries wanted to be independent countries.  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a nice system going for it. 

 The 7 emirs each rule their own area for life- it is a hereditary throne- but the people elect members to a 40 person national council for the law- making and day to day running of the country.  Since the beginning, the UAE has put much of its oil revenues into healthcare, education and national infrastructure.  The country is growing quickly, Dubai especially.  

Dubai is the fastest growing city in the world.  Their economy has branched out and now gets a large portion of its money from tourism, trade, and real estate.  Impressive real estate too!  The tallest skyscraper in the world, the Burj Khalifa, is one of the now 400 or so that make up the Dubai skyline.  The world's only 7-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, sits on it's own man-made island and looks like a giant white sail against the sky.  Beautiful.  The malls and restaurants are gorgeous and there is virtually no crime in UAE, mostly due to very strict laws.  

Despite many "western" influences this is still a very Muslim country.  5 times a day the Islamic people stop what they are doing for prayers.  But, unlike some other more extreme Islamic countries, other religions are free to practice in UAE.  There are Christian churches, Hindu temples and Jewish synagogues.  They are asked not to try to preach in public but otherwise given no problems. 
The Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai houses the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding.  It promotes learning and understanding of Islamic traditions.  Islamic is an often misunderstood religion and they seem to be trying to change that.  They show that it's not always one way or another, they show that it is possible to live in peace instead of war.  

Because of the growth of the country, the native Emirati now only make up about 17% of the population.  Indian and other Asian immigrants make up about 50% of the rest.  The UAE is a pretty diverse nation.  Even in their cuisine.  Sure there is the regular Middle Eastern food, but you can find any type of cuisine you are looking for in UAE.

Traditionally, men in the UAE wear a kandura.  This is an ankle length white tunic.  The women would wear an abaya, a black over-garment that covers almost all the body.  These days they can wear more modern clothes in they wish, but they still dress very modestly and tourists are also encouraged to dress modestly.  Which is hard when you consider that between June and September the average temperature is 106° F, and up to 120°, especially in the desert.  Even in the "winter" it never gets below 50°.  Rainfall is sporadic and sparse but dust storms are pretty common!

Outside the cities are many historical sites that are interesting to visit, such as Hatta, once a resting place for merchants on the road to Oman.  These days it is a heritage village selling souvenirs and showcasing dozens of 18th century houses.  

The United Arab Emirates is an interesting country, a mix of old and new.  Skyscraper and sand.    

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