System of government
The federal government consists of a president, prime minister and a cabinet; the ruler of Abu Dhabi has been the president since the birth of the country and the ruler of Dubai has been the prime minister and also vice-president. The cabinet posts are shared out so that no emirate feels left out.
The highest decision-making body in the country is called the Supreme Council and consists of the seven rulers; this body has to ratify all laws. The president has to ratify ticklish decisions such as the occasional execution. Each emirate has its own local administration to look after its civic needs. Those with more money go in for bigger, more grandiose projects; the smaller emirates, which are dependent on Abu Dhabi for funds, have to make do with smaller expressions of Bedou pride.
Cabinet posts are changed but rarely; there are times though when popular, high-profile ministers are removed. The last one I can recall was the dumping of Dr Mana Saeed Al Otaiba, the oil minister, a few years back. He was a favourite of the president himself but other pressures contributed to his downfall; the president still keeps him around as a special adviser.
The country is a police state though the sword is generally out of sight and people have a degree of personal freedom. But this is deceptive; the fact that one needs permission from one's sponsor for anything from installing a phone to buying a car ensures that authorities can keep track of people very easily. But even with these measures in force, inefficiency ensures that a large number of illegal transactions take place.
One thing which would strike any resident as funny is the way some of the emirates, Dubai in particular, thumb their noses at federal laws, mostly those which are promulgated to regulate expatriate labour. The reason for this is not hard to find -- Abu Dhabi is an oil-driven economy while Dubai depends more on trade. The majority of the traders in Dubai are expatriates from the Indian subcontinent and restricting their activites too much will lead to a downswing. Hence, Dubai sometimes ignores federal laws though nobody speaks about it openly.