The United Arab Emirates was established as a nation on December 2, 1971. When the British announced their intention to withdraw from the region, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder and first president of the UAE, successfully negotiated agreements between the emirates that now make up the nation.
The United Arab Emirates has a federal government with seven regional subdivisions, called emirates. The head of the federal government is the president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Abu Dhabi is the name of both the capital city and the largest of the emirates. The seven emirates are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Qaiwain.
The Emirate of Abu Dhabi makes up approximately 87 percent of the country's total landmass. About 70 percent of the land is desert, but the emirate also has 700 kilometers of coastline and some 200 islands.
December through March is considered the mild season with average temperatures ranging from 20°C to 22°C (about 68.5°F to 71.6°F). August is the hottest month of the year with an average temperature of 40°C (104°F). Humidity is high in the summer months. There is very little rain in Abu Dhabi from May to October; January is the wettest month, typically yielding a minimum of 22mm of rain.
Arabic is the official language of government and business in the UAE, although English, Persian, Hindi, and Urdu are also spoken. All signs (road, store, restaurant, etc.) are either in English or in both English and Arabic. It is quite easy to navigate the city using English. As a general rule, a wider range of languages is spoken — and with a higher level of fluency — in major cities than in rural areas.
The UAE's population is about 8.3 million and it is one of the most ethnically diverse in the Middle East. Roughly 11 percent of the population is Emirati; with other major demographic groups including South Asians, other Arab nationals, East Asians, and Western expatriates.
Education is highly valued in the UAE; since 1975 the literacy rate has risen from 54 percent among men and 31 percent among women to nearly 90 percent for both genders. The vast majority of students in their final year of secondary school apply to university. Today, 90 percent of women and 80 percent of men enrolled in their final year of secondary school apply for admission to a higher education institution. In the UAE the school week, like the workweek, is Sunday through Thursday.
Abu Dhabi is considered conservative but tolerant when it comes to dress code. Given the diverse nature of the population, one can see many different types of dress in Abu Dhabi (jeans, saris, business suits, dishdashas, and abayas). Visitors are free to wear the same clothes that they would wear at home, but both men and women typically refrain from wearing excessively revealing clothing out of respect for the local culture and customs. For most of the year, lightweight summer clothing is suitable. Warmer clothes are needed during the winter months, especially in the evening.
The official religion of the UAE is Islam, although other religions are respected and practiced freely.
The currency of the UAE is the dirham, which is divided into 100 fils. The UAE dirham is fixed to the US dollar at a rate of 3.67 dirham to the dollar.
The UAE is in Greenwich Mean Time plus four hours, or nine hours ahead of New York in Standard Time. During Daylight Savings Time, Abu Dhabi is eight hours ahead of New York.
There is a city bus system in Abu Dhabi, but metered taxis are inexpensive and readily available throughout the city. As at NYU's Washington Square campus, the University provides transportation to students.