The United Arab Emirates: Background information when reading Temporary People

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Temporary People

by Deepak Unnikrishnan

Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan X
Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan
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    Mar 2017, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

The United Arab Emirates

This article relates to Temporary People

Print Review

The UAE Temporary People is set largely in the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven states located on the Persian Gulf. Each of the seven, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Qaiwan have their own local governments, which are overseen by a federal president in Abu Dhabi, the nation's capital. The current leader is Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, son of the UAE's founder and first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Before the founding of the UAE, the area was populated by different groups of Muslim tribes, most notably the Bani Yas, but the area was plagued by pirates, which also impacted the European trade routes to India and the Far East. In 1820, the British signed a treaty of protection with local leaders, vowing to rid the area of the raiders. The territory became known as "The Trucial Sheikhdoms" at this time. The states were largely known for their pearl industry, until oil was discovered in the area in 1958. This bonanza allowed for Sheikh Zayed, who became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, to invest heavily in infrastructure and modernization. In 1971, Sheikh Zayed and the rulers of Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, and Umm al-Qaiwan reached an agreement to incorporate into a federation, with Ras al-Khaimah joining the following year.

Abu Dhabi skyline The UAE has a population of 5.6 million people, with 942,000 living in Abu Dhabi and nearly 2 million in Dubai, the nation's largest city. Islam is the official national religion, and Arabic the language, though Abu Dhabi and Dubai in particular have become cultural melting pots of diversity. The UAE reported the gross domestic product for 2015 as US$375 billion. Oil and natural gas continue to be the major exports but due to a concerted effort to diversify the economy, they now represent just a quarter of the total GDP.

In Temporary People, Deepak Unnikrishnan illuminates the hardships faced by the UAE's large population of migrant workers. Human Rights Watch has reported widespread incidents of contract fraud, where workers are denied payment previously agreed upon, abuse, and employers withholding workers' passports. Female domestic workers, of which there are over 146,000 in the UAE, are particularly at risk for exploitation, with reports of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, and 21-hour work days. As the UAE's migrant workers, most of whom come from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, are not UAE citizens, their rights are not protected. In 2013, an employee strike at Dubai's construction firm Arabtec, resulted in the deportation of two dozen workers. These workers reported their income at around the equivalent of $200/month (by comparison, according to the CIA Factbook, the per capita GDP of the UAE was $67,700 in 2016.)

Picture of Abu Dhabi skyline by Vikramjit Kakati

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Lisa Butts

This article relates to Temporary People. It first ran in the April 5, 2017 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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