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Society

National Day in the UAE / Photo Shutterstock

UAE society has one of the highest standards of living, due mainly to its vast oil wealth, small population, and welfare system. Citizens of the UAE receive many privileges and benefits from their federal and local governments, including free higher education and social security. Emiratis are thus well-educated and mostly urban.

Citizens of the UAE constitute roughly 19 percent of UAE society; the remainder (approximately 81 percent) are expatriate foreigners of approximately 200 different nationalities. The largest single group are South and South-East Asians, especially Indians, who make up about 60 percent of the total population. As temporary or long-term foreign residents, expatriates are ineligible for state benefits, and their standard of living can vary considerably, according to their employment and income. Western employees, at the top of the expatriate salary scale, can expect to be paid handsomely, while labourers and construction workers are paid extremely low wages and receive fewer benefits.

The social and economic status of these workers is defined by harsh working and living conditions. While national Emiratis occupy many of the positions in the government and public sector, expatriates (with the exception of some top management positions) occupy most of the other positions in the economy. The UAE government is trying to reduce this dependency on foreign labour by encouraging the gradual nationalization (called Emiratization) of certain jobs. In addition, expatriates (with few exceptions) are not allowed to start or own a business, unless they have a national Emirati partner.

Outside the work place, the interaction between these segments of society is very limited, and each group leads a mostly insular existence, living in secluded labour camps, apartment towers, gated communities, or exclusive residential areas. Differences of culture, language, religion, and social status tend to separate and even alienate various classes or sections of society into distinct communities reflecting the national or ethnic origins of these populations. One of the most marginalized groups is the Bedouns, long-time residents who had never been naturalized in the UAE.

Further Reading

The UAE has few civil-society organizations. Neither citizens nor expatriates are allowed to form advocacy groups or political parties. UAE citizens are supposed to be able to express their concerns directly to the leadership thro...
The expatriate labour force represents about 85 percent of the UAE's work force. These are all temporary guest workers, who send much of their earnings home (as much as USD 22 billion in 2006) and generally return to their countri...
According to the 2011 Human Development Report, the UAE ranked first in the region and 30th in the world on the Human Development Index. The country was rated one of only two countries in the region in the categories of 'most adva...
The UAE has one of the lowest pupil-to-teacher ratios (12:1) in the world. Education is compulsory through the ninth grade, although this requirement is not enforced. Children of citizens attend gender-segregated schools. In 2004 ...
Health care is free only for UAE citizens. Standards of health care in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are considered generally high, as result of significant government spending on this sector. In 2002, total expenditures on healt...
Women's equality is not clearly established in the UAE Constitution. In practice, women's social, economic, and legal rights are not equally protected or consistently observed, because of traditional and institutional biases again...
The unemployment rate is relatively low, usually no more than 4 percent. According to another study, by The National Human Resources and Development Authority (Tanmia), ‘In 2003 an estimated 73 percent of the population was in t...
The UAE is an international centre of human trafficking, especially in women and children. According to reports in 2010, human trafficking accounted for a shocking 37 percent of all cases referred to the Dubai Foundation for Women...
The economic downturn seems to have brought further hardship for these most vulnerable groups. Tens of thousands of migrant labourers were asked to return to their home countries from the UAE. To avoid paying them compensation req...
The government does not allow international human-rights NGOs to be based in the country but does allow limited visits by their representatives. There are no transparent standards governing these visits, but the government general...

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