This year marks the 50th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates or the UAE. Located in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, squeezed between Oman and Saudia Arabia, this federation of seven emirate states was born in 1971. In the past five decades, it’s rapidly transformed from a quiet fishing backwater to one of the Middle East’s most important economic powerhouses. Most people have heard of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but how much do you know about the rest of the UAE’s emirates Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain and Fujairah? We’ve cherry-picked a few interesting facts about the United Arab Emirates to get you started.
Interesting facts about the United Arab Emirates
1. Before the UAE found oil, it was all about fishing and pearls
Rewind a century and the UAE looked like a very different place. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the industry relied on fishing and pearling. The UAE exported the pearls to India and other South Asian countries, serving as a major source of employment. But when Japan invented artificial pearls, the industry took a huge dive.
2. The UAE has broken a lot of world records
They’re good at breaking records in the UAE. As well as boasting the ‘tallest freestanding structure in the world’, the ‘world’s highest restaurant‘ and the ‘world’s fastest roller coaster’, the UAE also has claimed some pretty weird and wacky titles. Some of the most peculiar records include the ‘fastest marathon in an American football kit’ (Dubai), the ‘largest tin of caviar’ (Dubai), the ‘longest underwater live radio broadcast’ (Dubai) and the ‘most people to parachute from a balloon simultaneously’ (Dubai).
3. It’s home to the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city
Masdar City in Abu Dhabi was one of the world’s most ambitious urban planning experiments. The UAE first announced its plans for the innovative city in 2008. It was set to be the first-ever human settlement with no negative environmental impact—zero waste, zero carbon and fed by recycled water. Unlike the rest of Abu Dhabi, the streets here are made for walking too.
The first phase cost an estimated USD 20 bn. Originally authorities planned for a 50,000 population but today there are only 1,300 residents living here. There are around 4,000 office workers – mostly working for the renewable start-up firms – working here.
4. The UAE is home to the world’s first-ever seven-star hotel
Set on a manmade island 280m (920 ft) off Jumeirah Beach, the Burj Al Arab is one of the world’s most luxurious hotels. Soaring 321 m (1055 ft) high, it was the world’s tallest hotel. It’s since slipped to the fourth spot. The hotel opened in 1999 and was designed by Tom Wright to resemble a ship’s sail. The hotel features a fleet of white Rolls Royce cars, the world’s first beach terrace, three aquariums suites with 25 karat Ipads and menu for pillows.
Dubai also boasts six of the world’s top ten tallest hotels. Soaring 356 meters high, the four-star Gevora Hotel is the tallest in Dubai.
5. It created the world’s first government ministry for artificial intelligence
In 2017, the UAE appointed Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama as the country’s first Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence. The new ministry is part of the UAE’s mission to lead the global technological revolution through research, development and innovation. The minister was just 27 years old when he assumed the position too.
Artificial Intelligence plays a big part in the Gulf nation’s strategy. By 2030, the UAE estimates that AI will have a global market value of USD 15.7tr. The government hopes it will boost UAE’s GDP by 35% and cut administrative costs in half.
6. There are no rivers in the UAE
There are only 19 countries and 22 territories in the world without a permanent natural river flowing through them, and two of those are the Vatican and Monaco. The UAE is the largest subregion without any permanent natural rivers or lakes. However, there are plenty of wadis (channels or valleys) though, which fill with rainwater in wetter months. There are also small areas of wetlands.
More than two-thirds of the UAE’s total area is sandy and mostly uninhabited desert. Sandunes in the southeast of the region reach impressive heights of 100 m (300 ft).
7. You can get gold from ATMs
Fear not, you’ll never get caught out without your bullion again. The UAE boasts the world’s first gold-dispensing ATMs. You can take the gold out in grams, gold coins and one-ounce gold bars. The system updates prices every ten minutes to reflect real-time market fluctuations too.
Gold isn’t the only weird and wacky thing you’ll find in the United Arab Emirate’s vending machines either. You’ll find cupcakes, champagne and laptop-dispensing ATMs too.