United Arab Emirates Table of Contents
A harsh environment and marginal economic conditions kept the population of the region low and economically depressed until the exploitation of oil. According to estimates, between 1900 and 1960 there were 80,000 to 95,000 inhabitants in the amirates, mostly in small coastal settlements. Although the population of the amirates probably did not increase a great deal during this period, there were considerable shifts within the territories, caused by changes in economic and political conditions. Whereas Sharjah was dominant in the nineteenth century, by 1939 Dubayy was the most populous amirate, with an estimated population of 20,000, one-quarter of whom were foreigners. The largest minorities were Iranians and Indians in Dubayy and in other amirates. Abu Dhabi's onshore oil exports began in 1963, bringing wealth and a demand for foreign labor. The 1968 census, conducted under the British, was the area's first; it enumerated 180,226 inhabitants. Ever greater demands for labor and expertise fueled a population boom throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, but population growth has slowed since 1985.
The UAE had an officially estimated population of 1.9 million in mid-1991. Only about 12 percent of the total actually were UAE citizens. The number of foreign workers has increased dramatically since 1968, when they constituted 36 percent of the total population. By 1975 foreigners accounted for 70 percent of the population, increasing to 80 percent in 1980 and to 88 percent in 1985. Since 1985, the percentage of foreigners has leveled at 88 percent. About 87 percent of the total population consists of ethnic Arabs. The largest non-Arab group consists of Asians from India and Pakistan, about 9.5 percent of the population. Some 2 percent are Iranians. Other groups, including Africans and Europeans, make up less than 2 percent of the population.
Although the population density was about twenty-five persons per square kilometer in 1991, the population was unevenly distributed among the seven amirates. The three most populous amirates, Abu Dhabi, Dubayy, and Sharjah--together accounted for roughly 84 percent of the total population. The remaining 16 percent lived in Ras al Khaymah, Ajman, Al Fujayrah, and Umm al Qaywayn (see table 25, Appendix).
The population of the UAE is overwhelmingly urban, with more than 90 percent of the people living in cities. The largest city, Abu Dhabi, the federal capital, had an estimated population of 475,000 in 1992. Dubayy, the second largest city and the UAE's main port and commercial center, had an estimated population of 395,000. The residential neighborhoods along the Persian Gulf coast north of the center of Dubayy were contiguous with those of the city of Sharjah (estimated population of 130,000). Sharjah in turn flowed into the city of Ajman (estimated population of 30,000). About fifty kilometers north of Ajman is the city of Ras al Khaymah (estimated population of 45,000). The largest inland population concentration is in the contiguous villages and residential developments at Al Ayn (estimated population of 105,000) in Abu Dhabi's Al Buraymi Oasis.
Data as of January 1993