Category: Sociology
Cultural Issues Facing UAE

The United Arabs Emirates, commonly referred to as UAE, is a federation of seven Sheikhdoms namely Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qiwain, and Fujairah (Fullard, 2015). Islam is the state religion while Arabic is the primary official language. With a population of about 9.3 million as of 2013, the United Arab Emirates remains a rather small country when compared to its neighbor Saudi Arabia that has a population of 28.8 million people. However, UAE has continued to attract a great deal of international attention. Bold development initiatives and many innovative policies have made it a preferred destination for virtually hundreds of nationalities from around the world. Today, the United Arab Emirates is considered to be among the most culturally diverse nations of the world. Globalization, migration, and Emiratization have made the state undergo significant social and cultural changes. From the outset, the United Arab Emirates is perceived to be a country that offers high standards of living for everyone. However, behind these perceptions, UAE is a state that is home to various cultural issues. The aim of this paper is to explore and critically evaluate the cultural problems that the United Arab Emirates is facing and how well the government is addressing these aspects both internally and externally.


The United Arab Emirates is reportedly one of the most diverse nations of the world. Since the country attained its independence on 2 December 1971, it has been known for hosting hundreds of nationalities within its borders where ethnic groups from all over the world are represented. Today, the United Arab Emirates has made significant advancements socially, economically, politically, and cultural, and its blend of cultures has been recognized as an important factor that has fueled rapid developments. Located in the areas bordering three continents, that is, Africa, Europe, and Asia, UAE is a home to an assortment of religions and cultures. According to a 2012 survey, the total United Arab Emirates population by race comprised 19 percent of Emiratis, 23 percent of Arabs and Iranians, 50 percent of South Asians, and 8 percent of other expatriates. The country continues to encourage more people to apply for Emirati citizenship as it seeks to increase the rate of Emiratis in its population to 50 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2030. Besides, the state’s proactive trade, investment-led economic policies, the rush to develop infrastructure, and the high infusion of foreign investments has unleashed a major demand for foreign labor. Today, the United Arab Emirates’ total population comprises about 80 percent of foreigners from all over the world. Although the cultural diversity has influenced developments and has brought about other positive aspects to UAE, it has resulted in a dark underside in which the country continues to suffer from an untold number of various cultural crises. Expatriates from all over the world bring to the United Arab Emirates their customs, values, and behaviors that may be different from those of the Emiratis. As a result, several cultural issues and challenges have emerged as a result of migration and Emiratization.

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Cultural Issues Facing the United Arab Emirates

Although there have been significant efforts to make the United Arab Emirates a better place for everyone, the progress has been uneven. In some areas such as discrimination, women rights and gender gaps, treatment of migrants, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence and divorce, UAE continues to lag behind.

Discrimination, Prejudice, and Stereotypes

Discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping have been prevalent throughout the history of mankind. By definition, discrimination means treating, considering, or making a distinction in favor of or against a person based on factors such as race, region, or gender among other aspects. Prejudice has to do with irrational and inflexible attitudes and opinions held by one group of individuals against another while stereotypes mean widely held, fixed, and oversimplified images about other people. It is true to say that discrimination, stereotypes, and prejudices are deeply rooted in the United Arab Emirates society. It is common to see that people from different races are mistreated, exploited, and biased. Discrimination is a universally condemned vice. A high number of migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates are being confronted by a growing hostility of discrimination based on race, religion, and/or gender.

The first aspect is racial discrimination. Firm research evidence shows that people from other races besides Arabian are discriminated and prejudiced. They are denied the rights to equal opportunities in education, health, and recruitment and promotion. They are considered racially inferior while the Emiratis are deemed racially superior. For example, it is rare to find black men holding government offices or political positions in the United Arab Emirates. All top ranking jobs and positions are reserved for Arabic people. When it comes to the workplace, individuals with different cultural roots are mistreated and exploited through low wages when compared to those paid to Emiratis.

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The secondly aspect is religious discrimination. In the United Arab Emirates, Islam is considered to be the state religion. People affiliated to other religions are deemed inferior, impure, and outcasts and their religions are excluded. For example, migrant workers professing Christianity and Hinduism are discriminated against on religious grounds and are prohibited practicing their religions openly through acts such as displaying their religious symbols such as the Hindu tilaka and Christian crosses. At times, religious discrimination is seen through job adverts where applicants from certain religions are excluded from the recruitment processes and only Muslim candidates are considered.

The last aspect is sexual discrimination. In the United Arab Emirates, conservative Islamic values have made women second class citizens and an inferior group that should always be submissive to men. As a result, females, including migrant workers, are concentrated in informal occupations such as agriculture and domestic work. Besides, many women are considered to be pleasure tools meant only to sexually satisfy men. They are thus vulnerable to sexual abuse and other forms of exploitation.

Women Rights and Gender Gaps

In the recent years, the United Arab Emirates has achieved success in promoting women rights and narrowing gender gaps that have remained unsolved for decades. Even though females in UAE have gained some form of legal protection, the progress has been uneven (Al-Jenaibi, 2015). Some backward beliefs of treating women as inferior beings and second class citizens are continuing to exist in some regions influenced by conservative Islamic beliefs that demand that females should remain under the command of their male counterparts.

Even though, women are finding it hard to access equal opportunities in education, health, and political policies when compared to their male counterparts.  Female rights and gender gaps remain an area of a key concern if the region is to harness in full productive capacity.

Domestic Violence and Divorce

In the United Arab Emirates, domestic violence and divorce are among the most complicated human rights issues trending today. Addressing these complicated and pressing problems has been cumbersome because of the conservative Islamic beliefs and variations in the interpretations of religious institutions, conversions, reforms, and education by different schools of Islamic jurisprudence, histories and politics. For instance, many Emirati men believe that hitting a woman is allowed. They justify their actions through Surah An-Nisa, 34 in the Quran regarding marital relationships in which hitting a female is acceptable. These beliefs fuel domestic violence and abuse. Other verses in the Quran do not support hitting a woman, but they support separating from her. As such, the United Arab Emirates, a staunch Islamic country, views divorce as a normal incident that has been justified in the Quran. Today, UAE is confronted with a challenge to solve the issues of domestic violence and divorce.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment, especially by employees, is one of the most common complaints heard in any part of the world. While some countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States ensure that any kind of harassment or bullying against workers is prohibited by the law, the same cannot be said about the United Arab Emirates. In theory and in practice, the law in UAE has not provided any form of protection against sexual harassment and bullying for a long time. The only clause used for protections is under Article 359 of the United Arab Emirates penal code. The act provides that anyone who tries to shame a female by words or deeds in a public street deserves detention for up to one year and a fine not exceeding ten thousand Dirhams. Undoubtedly, the provisions of this legislation are not sufficient to curb the widely spread incidences of sexual assault and harassment. Due to the vulnerable and isolated positions of foreign domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates, cases of sexual harassment and abuse have emerged alongside other forms of exploitative treatment. Reports show that sexual abuse is usually carried out by male employers or male members of a household. Today, the authorities in the United Arab Emirates are looking to strengthen the Act so that incidences of sexual assault can be adequately curtailed.

How Well the Government Is Addressing These Issues Both Internally and Externally

The authorities in the United Arab Emirates are working diligently to ensure that the country gets rid of all the cultural issues it is currently facing. In this section, the paper will evaluate how the UAE government is addressing the challenges of discrimination, women rights and gender gaps, domestic violence and divorce, and sexual harassment.

Concerning the issues of discrimination, prejudice, and stereotypes, in the recent years, the United Arab Emirates has worked tireless to eliminate discrimination, which is a universally condemned vice. In 2015, the authorities introduced a non-discriminatory law intended to crack down on this problem on the basis of ethnicity and religion (The National Staff, 2015). With the new law, people from different religions and races are now guaranteed the freedom from religious intolerance and racism. The United Arab Emirates did this with the intention of spreading peace and a culture of non-discrimination (The National Staff, 2015). However, there is still a need for stricter laws, especially amid many aspects of concern that incite racial hatred.

Second is the issue of women rights and gender gaps. The UAE government is becoming more concerned with female rights and gender gaps. In 2015, the authorities set up a council to address the challenges in strive to make the country achieve success in gender equality (Beach, 2015). Through the UAE Gender Balance Scheme, the government is inspired to boost the role of women in building the state’s future, which is only possible through closing the gender gaps.

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Third is the challenge of domestic violence and divorce. The United Arab Emirates has realized that there is a need to abolish the belief that women are inferior beings, and that there is a need to take action to eliminate this bias. Females are increasingly being appreciated for the important contributions they make to the society. The government is acting to eliminate the discrimination that women face in law and in practice. The United Arab Emirates is continuously examining the many ways in which its laws and practices continue the discrimination against females with the aim of making necessary changes. Finally, the government of UAE is putting in significant efforts to ensure that cases of sexual harassment are curtailed and that women dignity is respected.


The paper examined the various cultural issues that the United Arab Emirates is facing. Looking from globalization, migration, and Emiratization perspectives, the paper notes that UAE has continued to become a home to thousands of expatriates from all over the world. Because of the differences in cultures, customs, and values, the United Arab Emirates has kept on facing various cultural aspects. The paper discussed the issues of discrimination, prejudice, and stereotypes, domestic violence and divorce, women and gender gaps, and sexual harassment. Many people in the United Arab Emirates, especially migrant workers, are discriminated against on the basis of their race, religion, and gender. Similarly, for a long time, women have been considered second class citizens who are inferior and should be submissive to men. Females have been subjects of domestic violence and sexual harassment. Notably, all these issues are caused by conservative Islamic beliefs. The United Arab Emirates is a steadfast Islamic country and has for centuries adhered to the Islamic rules, some of which are backwards. The government of UAE has continued to make significant advances in addressing these challenges. Much progress has been made through introduction of new laws and amendments and strengthening of existing ones.

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