cmlabs Official Writing Guideline for the UAE Region

Written by cmlabs | Last updated at Jun 13, 2024

NO. 00287/PP/CID/VI/2024

1. Language Aspects

A. Dominant Dialects

  • People in UAE mostly speak in Arabic (national language), with various dialects, like Emirati Arabic, Gulf Arabic, etc.
  • English is a second language. Despite being a second language, English is widely used for business in the UAE. 
  • English in UAE is more nativised (Filipino English, Indian English)
  • English in the UAE varies, some schools use American English and some use British English. Yet, the regulated language for English is British English. 
  • English is also used for communicating between two people with different dialects and insufficient knowledge of Modern Standard Arabic.
  • Some regions, like Dubai, utilise Gulf English: combining English with local or religious vocabulary.

B. Gulf English

Gulf English is the English variation developing in the UAE. Although its unique qualities are still little understood, everyone recognises its importance as the common language in a highly multilingual society. One of the language features you can find in Gulf English is borrowing Arabic words for English sentences, such as SoukAlhamdulillah, etc. 

In addition, there are also grammatical features of Gulf English according to Boyle (2011, in Siemund, et.al, 2020), such as: 

  • Prefer to-infinitive than verb -ing (e.g. Do you envisage to carry out this major project in phases?)
  • Adaptability in verbal transitivity (e.g. He appealed not to panic and assured that the authorities were keeping a close vigil on the progress of the depression.)
  • Plural forms for uncountable nouns (The duo exchanged verbal abuses.)

C. Slang

  • People speaking Gulf English mix English with:
  • Religious terms: Alhamdulillah, Insha Allah, Masha Allah.
  • Local food: Biryani.
  • Geographical features: Jabal (mountain).
  • Clothing: Abaya.
  • Unique grammatical characteristics that are mostly derived from Indian English.
  • Some Arabic slang you might hear in the residents’ conversations:
  • Boss: A casual style of speaking to men.
  • Habibi: My love, dear.
  • Wallah: I swear to God.
  • Yallah: Hurry!
  • Souk: Market.
  • Khalas: Done, finished. 
  • Shurta: Police. 
  • etc.
  • Slangs are rarely used in text and are mostly used in conversational contexts. 

D. Communication Styles

  • For business communication, avoid becoming more dominating because the Emiratis are very considerate. They perhaps need some time until they can make a business decision. 
  • Don’t cross business relationship lines. The Emiratis are very formal with business communication. 
  • The Emiratis addressed people with their official titles (Dr., Sheikh, etc.).
  • The Emiratis prefer indirect communication. They communicate subtly and in several ways, employing non-verbal clues, like as body language in addition to deliberate word choice.
  • They are very perceptive when it comes to their own and their peers' reputations.
  • Their “yes” might mean “no” as they try their best to not look bad. 
  • The Emiratis find it difficult to respond directly when they refuse to make a vocal commitment.
  • In the UAE, business is done based on trust; thus, if people try to move too quickly on commercial things, it will not succeed. 
  • Small chats are typical in the UAE.
  • We must recognise hierarchical systems and treat those in higher positions with the respect they deserve.

2. Technical Aspects

A. Grammar and Spelling

  • In terms of publications and media, the UAE mostly used Arabic. For English, the style guide released by the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority mentions that the UAE follows British English. 
  • However, you can still find online media in the UAE using American English. For this guideline, we will use British English as the officials have ruled. 

Rules for Writing Numbers

  • Currency: (1) AED 10.5 billion. (2) AED 10,000. (3) AED 10,000.55. Use the singular form of “million” and “billion” for money. 
  • Dates: 9 May 2024.
  • When writing decades, do not use an apostrophe (‘) before the ‘s’. E.g. 1950s.
  • Use the Gregorian calendar for general dates. 
  • Use the Islamic calendar for Islamic events, festivals, or observations. 
  • Times: HH:MM in the 12-hour clock system and use ‘am’ and ‘pm’ without space after the digits. E.g. 11am.

Rules for Writing Names

  • All names of highways, wadis, beaches, mangroves, oases, deserts, cities, emirates, etc. should have their first letter capitalised.
  • The initial letters of terms like "roads," "wadis," "beaches," "mangroves," "oases," "deserts," "cities," "emirates," etc. should not be capitalised. E.g. Liwa oasis.
  • You can write: the road/s, wadi/s, beach/es, mangrove/s, oasis/es, desert/s, city/ies, emirate/s, etc. when discussing them later in the text. 
  • The first name is the individual's given name, then “ibn”, which denotes both the father's name and son of, is followed once again by “ibn”, which denotes the father of his father. The family name comes next after this.
  • Meanwhile, daughters will use “bint”. The order will be her initial name, the name of her father (bint), the grandfather's name (ibn), and the family name that came next.
  • Rulers’ names: H. H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.
  • Names of emirates and their order:
  • Abu Dhabi
  • Dubai
  • Sharjah
  • Ajman
  • Umm Al Quwain
  • Ras Al Khaimah
  • Fujairah

General Rules

  • Use active voice with the subject at the beginning of the sentence. 
  • Use “people of determination” to discuss people with special needs, disabled, etc. 
  • Avoid using “expatriates”, use “residents” or “expatriate residents” instead. 
  • Use “Emiratis” or “UAE nationals” to discuss the UAE residents. Avoid using “the locals”.

3. Cultural Aspects

A. Social Values

The Emiratis are mostly Muslims, even though there are other religions like Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. In the UAE, social class is well-defined. The first gap exists between Emirati nationals and immigrants referred to as "incomers."

Politically and socially, the reigning Sheikh families occupy the top echelons of society. They are incredibly powerful and wealthy. 

Despite the patriarchal society that has historically underpinned Emirati culture, the UAE supports gender equality and upholds equal rights for all sexes. Women are granted equal legal standing, job and educational opportunities, title claims, and the ability to inherit property. 

Thus, if you plan to write personalised content about the UAE, it is advisable to adhere to the social values in this country. 

B. Cultural Sensitivities

The UAE adheres to Islamic and Sharia laws. Therefore, the gender norms are strictly defined. Men ought to be considerate and respectful to women. In a business context, men usually do not shake hands with women colleagues. 

Moreover, people in the UAE must dress modestly. Even though the UAE is more liberal than some other nations in the region, modest clothing is nevertheless required in public, especially in more traditional areas.

Also, the visitors must respect all religions and cultures by not recording or taking pictures of cultural or religious practices without permission, and women without permission. 

Furthermore, some aspects that must be considered to avoid becoming disrespectful in the UAE are men should not stare at women for long periods and compliment them, it is improper for non-Muslims to touch a Qur'an or visit a mosque, avoid swearing in public, avoid showing affection (kissing, hugging the opposite sex) in public, avoid showing the soles of your feet, and avoid using the left hand for most of the activities. 

Yet, for writing, there are some cultural sensitivities you should pay attention to in writing for UAE, including you must avoid criticising the government and the royal family. In addition, do not commit religious blasphemy or make any comments on religions in the UAE, especially Islam. 

Actions involving those sensitivities, including writing output, can be seen as content of public order violations and offences against the UAE and/or racism, discrimination, and disregard for religion (see below for explanations). 

4. Prohibited Content

Based on the guide issued by the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority, there are 19 kinds of prohibited content on the Internet, such as:

1. Blocked Content

This category covers online material that permits or facilitates users' access to content that is forbidden, such as proxy servers and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which primarily provide access to content that is restricted on the internet.

2. Pornography and Nudity

Pornography and nudity include graphic and nude material; anything on the internet that encourages or makes it easier to post or trade child pornography; content that calls for the acceptance or promotion of harmful ideas like homosexuality, or that inspires, encourages, supports, or publishes views that entail everything from youth corruption to aggressiveness against public decency; and many more. 

3. Fraud, Impersonation, and Phishing

Fraud, impersonation, and phishing include material from the internet used in fraud, theft, embezzlement, and deception schemes; content that gathers, publishes, or grants access to others for bank statements, accounts, data, credit card numbers, electronic card numbers, or any other type of electronic payment method, including content that gathers, publishes, or grants access to names, secret numbers, or access codes for websites or other information technology tools; and many more. 

4. Defamation, Slander, and Insult

Internet information that contains offensive, slanderous, and defamatory statements.

5. Invasion of Privacy

Invasion of privacy includes online material containing devices for listening in on people's calls, spying, stealing or disclosing personal information, monitoring, recording, or illegally intercepting conversations or communications; information on the internet about medical records, diagnosis, treatment, and exams; and many more. 

6. Public Order Violations and Offenses Against the UAE

Public order violations and offences against the UAE include anything that appears on the internet with the intent to make fun of or damage the standing, reputation, or status of the UAE, the institutions, the president, the rulers of its emirates, their crown princes, deputy rulers, the flag of the UAE, the national anthem, or the emblems; internet material that encourages or demands breaking the relevant laws and rules, and many more.

7. Defending Illegal Behaviors and Abilities

Internet content that incites, encourages, calls for, or offers instructions on how to commit crimes or felonies, or that helps carry out or support the commission of crimes such as rape, blackmail, robbery, theft, fraud, forgery, faking, bribery, killing, suicide, blackmail, rape, commercial cheating, violating someone else's property, abduction, dodging legal action, money laundering, smuggling content that is prohibited, and other crimes that are punishable by law.

8. Drugs

Internet information that encourages or helps with the trade in narcotics and mind-altering substances, as well as the methods for producing, getting, and using drugs under illegal conditions.

9. Pharmaceutical and Medical Activities that Break the Law

Pharmaceutical and medical activities that break the law include internet content by physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers which is illegal under applicable legislation; internet material that, in contrast to cabinet resolutions on the subject, contains health ads; online material is used to trade or market prescription drugs that are issued without a doctor's prescription and to provide them without one; and many more.

10. Intellectual Property Rights Violations

Intellectual property rights violations include internet material that violates intellectual property rights, including the provision and publication of electronic programs and games, movies, photographs, drawings, books, encrypted TV and radio channels, and other works of intellectual property; and many more. 

11. Racism, Discrimination, and Disregard for Religion

Racism, discrimination, and disregard for religion include internet content that insults, denigrates, ridicules, offends, or violates any religion or its rituals, sanctities, or holy texts; or that interferes with the right of individuals to freely exercise their faith by using violence or threats; content that encourages or contains statements encouraging apostasy and departing from Islam or encouraging conversion to a different faith; and many more. 

12. Adware and Malevolent Software

Adware and malevolent software include content on the Internet that encourages, supports, or helps create, publish, distribute, and develop malicious programs and viruses, hacking, and piracy programs; additionally, websites that incite, promote, or publish information about how to hack networks, information technology devices, or communications, or to gain unauthorised access to them, or to disrupt them; and many more. 

13. Trading or Promoting Forbidden Goods and Services

The content includes websites that advertise, deal, trade, or facilitate the sale of goods that are illegal in the United Arab Emirates under current legislation, or that are restricted goods that need a license from the relevant authorities and cannot be sold or distributed without that permission. Examples of such websites include but are not limited to, the following:

  • Gambling tools and machines.
  • Counterfeit money.
  • Hazardous waste.
  • Prints, paintings, photographs, drawings, cards, books, magazines, and stone sculptures, which are contrary to the Islamic religion or public morals, or involve intent of corruption or sedition.
  • And many more. 

14. Unlawful Communication Services

Internet material that, per a rule or judgment made by the appropriate authorities, encourages or permits access to unlawful communication services falls under this category.

15. Gambling Content

Internet content promoting gambling and associated activities like lotteries and betting falls under this category. It also covers content about electronic gaming.

16. Terrorism Content

Terrorism content includes any content on the internet that is associated with terrorist organisations, associations, organisations, or bodies; internet information that promotes, incites, or permits criminal activity against the United Arab Emirates, one of its nationals, workers, or interests, or against public finances or facilities overseas, such as embassies, consulates, missions, or affiliate offices; and many more. 

17. Forbidden Top-Level Domains

Regardless of whether the content of the website is under UAE law, this category contains top-level domains that are registered online for illegal reasons. .xxx top-level domains, for example, are used for pornographic content.

18. Illegal Activities

Other than what is specified in the other categories, this category contains online content that is primarily utilised to carry out illegal crimes in the United Arab Emirates, such as encouraging or advocating for the unlicensed gathering of contributions, promoting investment funds or portfolios and engaging in stock, currency, and commodities trading without first getting a license from the appropriate authorities following applicable legislation; and many more

19. Either as Directed by a Judge or in Compliance with the Law

Internet content that is prohibited under UAE legislation or by an order from a municipal or federal court, public prosecution, or any combination of these regarding criminal, civil, commercial, legal, or other situations, falls under this category.

For more information about prohibited content in the UAE, please refer to the guide issued by the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority.

5. Additional Information

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