UAE at 50: Why 2021 has been a year like no other

Legal reform, spectacular urban plans and sweeping changes to residency are among the changes set to transform life in the Emirates

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It has been a big year for the UAE, with a series of initiatives and announcements marking 50th anniversary celebrations that promise future prosperity as the nation strides towards its centenary.

Tied in with legal reforms and a change to the way we work, joining global economies with a Saturday to Sunday weekend from 2022, it has been a significant 12 months.

Changes to residential status and expansion of long-term visas made it easier for residents to plan for the future, and consider retiring in the Emirates for the first time.

A series of announcements in September revealed detailed plans for the future, with 50 national projects unveiled.

As the UAE prepares for 2022, here are just some of the changes that made 2021 special.

Laying the foundations of a strong economy

The 50 projects initiative aims to boost economic growth. A huge fund of Dh5 billion ($1.36bn) will support Emirati initiatives in priority sectors and stimulate industry.

Partnership with Emirates Development Bank will provide further financial stimulus in technology over the next five years as the UAE transitions towards a 5G world and even greater internet connectivity.

Khaled Mohamed Balama, governor of the Central Bank of the UAE, said the bank’s plan for the next 50 years was based on several major areas.

They include adopting artificial intelligence, analysing big data, using digital identity and dealing with the repercussions of climate change on the banking and insurance sector.

Meanwhile, a new 10x10 programme of exports aims to boost UAE trade to global markets by 10 per cent.

China, the UK, Netherlands, Italy, Russia, Poland, Luxembourg, Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia are all set to benefit from greater international trade with the UAE in the years ahead.

Urban Plan 2040, Dubai

Among the year’s significant announcements was the 2040 Urban Plan for Dubai in March.

It promises to reshape the face of the nation’s most populous emirate, by enhancing and expanding existing communities, while developing new areas to attract residents.

Dubai’s latest development plan is the seventh since 1960 and will see five areas benefit from substantial work.

Land will be prioritised for education and health care, boosting facilities' existing capacity by 25 per cent.

Substantial focus has been placed on attracting more people to Dubai to enhance growth.

Areas for hotels and tourism will expand by 134 per cent, while the number of safe public beaches will grow by 400 per cent.

The plan places the natural world at its centre, with 60 per cent of Dubai to comprise of nature reserves and natural areas, and more than half of the population will live within 800 metres of public transport, reducing the reliance on cars to help cut emissions.

New visas and long-term residency

Early announcements to complement 50 years of unification were an expanded framework for visas to attract new talent to the country to live and work.

New “green visas” were made available for freelancers, highly skilled professionals, investors, entrepreneurs and top performing students. A further change allows children over the age of 15 to work for the first time.

Another breakthrough was the decision to allow graduates to sponsor themselves for the first time.

Technological developments

Data could well become the currency of the future, and new data protection laws promise greater online protection for consumers and restrict the proliferation of fake news.

Education in coding, the process of designing new computer programmes, is seen as central to technological growth.

The 100 Coders Every Day initiative will increase the number of coders from 64,000 to 100,000 in a year.

Incentives and benefits will be offered to support new programming companies.

UAE's commitment to humanitarian aid

The UAE aims to continue its presence as a beacon of hope and opportunity in a region often plagued by turmoil and uncertainty.

It values “good neighbourliness” as a foundation of national stability.

Distributing humanitarian aid has been a key component of the UAE's foreign policy, not just in 2021 but especially during the entire Covid-19 pandemic, sending aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars to countries, including large shipments of personal protective equipment.

The UAE was also central in aid efforts for Afghanistan after the US withdrawal.

Biggest legal changes in UAE's history

Throughout 2021 there have been a series of amendments to existing laws, and numerous new laws to change the country's way of life.

In total, more than 40 new and updated laws have been drafted in, and include the decriminalisation of alcohol consumption and cohabitation of unmarried couples.

Here are some of the new laws in the UAE's largest legal reform

Here are some of the new laws in the UAE's largest legal reform

Other significant changes include new laws for non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi, allowing them to conduct procedures such as inheritance claims, divorce and child custody disputes in the jurisdictions of their countries of origin.

Greater rights have also been legally passed for women, and include an increase in maternity leave by a minimum of 30 per cent.

Employers must now offer a minimum of 45 days at full pay plus 15 more days at 50 per cent pay under the new terms.

Other new laws under consideration will tackle money laundering and terrorist financing by changing the way charitable donations are made.

Non-profit organisations will also face greater scrutiny under new legislation.

There have also been changes to UAE drug laws that limit criminal action against those in possession of items containing cannabis extracts, such as in cosmetics and health products.

Items with traces of the drug — such as the THC compound — will instead be seized and destroyed, with no punishment for first-time possession.

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Updated: December 30, 2021, 11:23 AM