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Full of people who aim to combine the ancient and the modern, the UAE is an extremely rewarding place to visit. Set on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Gulf, the country was once a poor desert land, a confederation of tribal sheikhdoms on the periphery of the Arab world, subsisting on pearl diving and fishing. It was a British protectorate until independence in 1971, after which seven of the sheikhdoms united to form a federation, the UAE. The discovery of oil in the 1950s transformed the country's fortunes, and the UAE today is a land of contrasts—embracing skyscrapers, high-tech communications, and luxury hotels, while conservative values and religion remain strong. The UAE is a major player in the shifting alliances of the Middle East and the war against radical Islam, simultaneously seeking a global leadership position while maintaining its social systems and slowly integrating women into public life without violating its core beliefs.