The UAE is one of the youngest nations in the Middle East. It has an estimated population of some 9.5 million, a high percentage (over 80%) of which is formed by expatriates operating in different economic sectors. Even though it is a rich state thanks to oil – the UAE has diversified its economy, becoming a global scale financial, trade, tourism and transportation center.
The legal system adopted in the UAE reflects its international outlook. While, maintaining the traditions of the Arabian Peninsula through Islamic Sharia Law, it has also adopted western civil and business laws that favor the concept of contractual freedom. This allows parties to contract and regulate their business relations freely. Unlike Saudi Arabia, for example, which uniquely adopts uses the Quran and the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad as its Constitution, the UAE cites Islamic Law as ‘one’ of its sources. There are other specific sources of law including Federal laws and regulations as well as local Emirate laws and regulations.
The establishment of the UAE involves the allocation and division of powers between the federal government and the government of each Emirate. In addition, the Constitution provides the legal framework for the Federation as a whole and as the basis for all laws promulgated both at federal and single Emirate level. Federal legislation prevails over the laws emanating from the individual Emirates. But, the local government of each Emirate can legislate on local issues that are not directly subject to federal jurisdiction. Therefore, the government of each Emirate has legal powers to regulate business and the activities of companies that are not already regulated at federal level.
Sharia Law typically serves in courts as interpretive support in cases of express lack of legislation regarding particular cases involving religion, morality and other personal matters. Sharia also influences legal decisions in cases of succession laws or divorce, for example. But, Sharia can also affect rulings related to Islamic banking, of which the UAE is an important hub. The official religion is Islam and some three quarters of the population practices it in its Sunni form. Compared to other Gulf Arab states, the United Arab Emirates has rather liberal laws, but Sharia law does apply to some criminal acts, which are punishable by death. Women in the UAE can drive unlike their Saudi neighbors.
The Armed forces (army, navy, air force, Federal Police Force) of the seven emirates and the country’s national were formally united in 1976. Some emirates have maintained areas of autonomy. There is no draft. In 2011, the UAE saw what might be its most prominent international action to date. The UAE air force with the technical assistance of the United States, deployed its F-16 fighter jets in the NATO sponsored military operations, launched by France, to destroy the regime of Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. After, as the regime disintegrated in a myriad of competing militias and interests, the UAE special forces backed some of the secular militias to fight against the Muslim Brotherhood backed groups. That put the UAE in direct contrast to its Gulf neighbor Qatar, which acted on behalf of the Islamist militias. (A.B.)