Facts and figures

Currency: dirhams and fils (100 fils is equal to one dirham; currency is linked to the American dollar which is worth 3.675 dirhams).

Population: Around 2.2 million. The citizens are around 600,000, the rest are expatriates. Indians (500,000), Pakistanis (350,000), Bangladeshis (100,000), Filipinos, Sri Lankans (around 100,000 apiece) are the major communities. There are around 50,000 Britons and smaller numbers of other Westerners.

Transport: mostly by taxi, though a motley bus service does exist. The authorities are slowly introducing inter-emirate bus services. There is no railway network. Car ownership is high and even though obtaining a licence is quite an exercise, people go through the trouble as a car is a necessity. As in Europe and the US, traffic moves on the right side of the road.

Religious freedom: The various religions have relative freedom; there are churches and the Hindus are allowed to keep their gods in a house where they can go and worship. This is not called a temple though it effectively is one. At times like the Gulf war, when the more fanatic elements perceive the West as being against the Arabs, then there are stray acts of vandalism. One that does come to mind occurred in December 1992 when illiterate tribesmen from Peshawar in Pakistan destroyed the church in Al Ain under the mistaken notion that the people who worshipped therein had something to do with the destruction of the Babri Mosque in India.

The reaction was short and swift. Police surrounded the camps where these Pathans lived and cut off the water and electricity; there were many of them living without proper entry permits and over the next two weeks, some 3,000 were deported. The Pakistani labour minister came rushing to Abu Dhabi to ensure that the deportation did not spread. His fear was that the country's main source of foreign exchange would be cut to a trickle. What sparked the deportations was a complaint by the British and American ambassadors about the damage to the church.<

Driving licences: The licences of some Western countries are exchanged for an UAE licence. Asians have to take an arduous driving test -- it used to consist of four preliminaries (reverse parking, parallel parking, moving on an incline and an oral test on road signs) and a road test. Getting through the first four is not difficult; the last one can take you anything from a month to nine years or more! Failure means one has to get a fresh test date and that can be 45 days or more from the date of failing. Time passes soon and with classes costing around $10 per hour, most people cannot afford to take too many.

There are schools where one can join, attend classes every day and get test dates fast as well. Two exist in Dubai; the police school and a private enterprise run by an ex-policeman.

In July 1998, the UAE decided that only people with a salary of 3,500 dirhams per montn would be allowed to apply for driving licences; doubtless, this was thought to be the only way that waywardness can be controlled on the roads as the traffic is now fairly unmanageable. This restriction was later lifted. The chaos on the roads springs primarily from the number of nationalities on the road and the fact that citizens get away with anything.

Schools: There are schools for every community though the quality of education is rather poor. Of recent times, some institutions are tying up with Western organisations to impart collegiate education and the standard is a bit better at these places. One, of course, pays through the nose.

Medical facilities: Goverment hospitals in Dubai have a system whereby one takes a health card for payment of 300 dirhams per year; this enables one to obtain free medical treatment as an in-patient; out-patient treatment is available for a small sum (20 dirhams) though one needs to spend quite some time to see a doctor. Visits to specialist doctors require appointments and one may not get one for six months; the fees are higher - 75 to 150 dirhams depending on the doctor one needs to see.

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