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Country Profile: All about United Arab Emirates


The UAE flag incorporates all four Pan-Arab colors, representing fertility (green), neutrality (white), petroleum resources (black) and unity (red).

Location:  Slightly larger than South Carolina and bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, the UAE is located between Oman and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.

The Emirates: Abu Dhabi (capital), Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah.

Total population: 9.2 million

Language: Arabic (official); also Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu.

Religions: Muslim (official) 76 percent; Christian 9 percent; other 15 percent.

Government: Federation of monarchies. A body known as the Supreme Council of Rulers elects the president, and the president appoints the prime minister. The Supreme Council is the top policy-making body in the UAE, with both legislative and executive powers.

Economy: With its open economy and high per capita income, the UAE is an attractive market for franchisors. The country’s free trade zones—designated areas offering 100 percent foreign ownership and zero taxes—are helping to attract foreign investors. Between 2012 and 2014, U.S. foreign direct investment in the UAE jumped by more than 76 percent to $15 billion.

Challenges: While the portion of GDP based on oil and gas output has been reduced to 25 percent, the UAE’s dependence on oil, its large (about 85 percent) expatriate workforce, and inflation pressures remain long-term challenges.

GDP (official exchange rate): $375 billion

GDP (real growth rate): 2.3 percent

Currency: Emirati Dirham (conversion rate at press time: 1 AED equals .27 USD).

Franchise association: The Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry is launching a UAE Franchise Development Association.  

Ease of doing business ranking by World Bank: 26, up from 34 in 2016

Expert input: “There’s tremendous growth in the UAE,” said Edwards Global Services CEO William Edwards. “It’s the place where we tend to put a first location of our brand in the Middle East.”

Regional unrest: While it essentially avoided the Arab Spring protests in 2010-11, the UAE government, in an effort to stem
potential unrest, announced a multi-year, $1.6-billion infrastructure investment plan for the poorer northern emirates and aggressively pursued advocates of political reform. The UAE continues to play an important role in stabilizing the region and is a member of a U.S.-led global coalition to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and a coalition partner in a Saudi-led military campaign to restore the government of Yemen.

Sources: U.S. Commercial Service, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Embassy of the UAE.

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