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Arabic Website Localization for the UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a rich market with disproportionate growth and wealth for its small population: the country has purchasing power of over $145 billion, with an annual growth rate of over 8.5% (2007), yet the population is only 4.4 million. On-line spending exceeds $37 million with an internet population expected to reach 2.089 million users by end of 2010.

There are seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They are: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, and Fujairah. Each of the emirates is named after its principal city.

If you want to conduct successful on-line business in the UAE, there are many factors to consider, from cultural and linguistic to consumer preference. This blog will provide guidance in understanding Arabic consumer behavior and Arabic cultural values strategic to your success in the United Arab Emirates.

Doing Online Business in Dubai and the UAE


  • ECommerce penetration in the UAE is the highest of all the Arab states at 25.1%. (Khaleej Times, 2008)
  • According to the UAE Ministry of Planning, the UAE is the most wired nation in the Arab world and one of the top nations of the on-line world.
  • 84% of the on-line users looking to make a purchasing decision on a product gather on-line purchasing recommendations. (AME Info, 2007)
  • 52% of Internet users in the UAE have created their own on-line content. This includes creating web pages, writing personal blogs, uploading photos, music or videos, and participating in on-line gaming. (AME Info, 2007)
  • Web 2.0 Internet usage in the UAE is presently dominated by younger males. As sites become more established, their user base is expected to grow to include females and older male users. (AME Info, 2007)
  • Currently there are 29 free trade zones in the UAE, with another nine in development. The Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai is the most prominent. In these free trade zones, foreign companies are permitted to establish wholly-owned branches which are exempt from the requirement to appoint a national agent (sponsor).Islam is the official religion of the UAE, with the majority of the population being Sunni Muslim and approximately 20% of the population being Shi’a Muslim.
  • The social life in the UAE is greatly influenced by tribal values. This is due to the fact that the Emiratis often identify themselves by tribal origins, and in smaller states, primarily associate with those who share their tribal affiliation.
Insight into UAE Consumer Values
  • Tribal Values: Tribal values are derived primarily from Islam and the family’s heritage. They influence political, social and financial endeavors. (Culture Grams, 2008)
  • Prestige: It is considered important to carry items that give a person prestige and these items can be designated by consumer segments. These include western items and technology gadgets. (AME Info, 2008)
  • Family: Family ties, both nuclear and extended, are extremely important to UAE consumers. It is expected that people will share resources with their family. Although women play a central role in the family, it is considered unacceptable for them to live alone. (Culture Grams, 2008)
  • Product Type: Husbands are key decision makers when purchasing luxury items. On the other hand, wives play a decisive role when it comes to household items.
  • Price: UAE consumers seek out the best product price for the quality and required benefits.
  • Quality: UAE consumers look for high product quality and durability. (, 2009)
Arabic Language in the UAE

The Modern Arabic dialects are considered to be a part of the Arabo-Canaanite sub-branch of West Semantic languages. They have over 200 million native speakers. There are six major dialect groups of Arabic: Egyptian Arabic, Maghrebi Arabic, Levantine Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, East Arabian Arabic and Gulf Arabic, which is the primary language spoken in the United Arab Emirates. (, 2009)

The Arabic alphabet derives from the Aramaic script. It bears a resemblance to Coptic, Cyrillic, and Greek Script. The Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters. Moreover, letters change form depending on where they appear: beginning, middle, end of a sentence, or on their own. (, 2008)

Arabic Language Facts and Tips
  • Diacritics: These marks placed above or below letters usually represent vowel sounds or other modifiers.
  • Numbers: Arabic numbers can be represented by either Hindi or Arabic numeric digits depending on the dialect of the target region.
  • Text expansion: When some languages such as English, are translated into Arabic, the text can expand up to 15-20%. This means the text takes up more physical space on the page and the words inside the graphics, tool bars, tables, etc. can all expand.
  • Bi-Directional: Languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, and Farsi are written primarily right-to-left (for strings) but are often referred to as bi-directional text because numbers and Latin based characters are written from the left-to-right. So, the resulting text, while primarily right-to-left oriented, contains some left-to-right elements, necessitating a bi-directional reading style. Bi-directional text is sometimes referred to as BiDi.
  • Tables: Avoid using too many nested fields and indents as these can reduce available space for text expansion after the translation. In addition, because Arabic is read right-to-left, the tables will need to be reversed.
  • Letters: Arabic letters change shape depending on context. Moreover, each letter has up to four shapes: Initial form, final form, medial form and isolated form. Letters that can be joined are always joined. (, 2008)
Cultural Factors for Arabic Website Localization

When localizing web content into Arabic for UAE consumers, many factors must be taken into consideration, from layout and color to cultural correctness and meaning associated with certain images.

Culturally Correct Website Globalization and Translation for the UAE
  • Collectivism: The UAE is a collectivist culture. The targeted websites may be culturally customized by emphasizing values important in collectivist cultures. Research suggests there are several web-specific features that can be included in a site to make it more appealing. For example, a theme that emphasizes family.
  • Masculinity – Femininity: Although the UAE is a culture that shows a slight preference for masculinity, the blending of certain feminine values into a website is considered appropriate. There are numerous ways masculinity can be depicted, including achievement orientation, success, product durability, and a sense of adventure and fun. Femininity can be expressed by creating a website focused on softer themes with a softer-sell approach.
  • High-Low Context: The UAE is a high context culture. Incorporating elements such as harmony and aesthetics can help to customize your site for the UAE market.
  • Power Distance: Since the UAE scores high on the power distance value, cultural customization may be achieved by adding elements that emphasize honor and recognition, like displaying awards that a company or brand has received.
Symbols and Icons Appropriate for UAE Culture

An ancient culture like that of the United Arab Emirates utilizes a long list of symbols and icons that carry special cultural meaning. It is important to be aware of them to avoid any cultural blunders and inadvertent use of offensive symbols.

  • Hands: The entire hand should be used when pointing, as pointing with just one finger is considered rude. The use of left hand is considered rude. Shaking hands, eating and gesturing should be done with the right hand, though passing items with both is acceptable. (CultureGrams, 2008)
  • It is considered bad luck to step across a doorway with the left foot first. (World Trade Press, 2008)
  • It is considered bad luck to return to a building (usually home) to retrieve a forgotten item. (World Trade Press, 2008)
  • Bismillah: In Arabic, it literally means “In the Name of Allah”. This is spoken as a gesture of respect and acknowledgement before undertaking a number of activities including prayer, eating and as a general expression of sincerity. (, 2008)
  • Allah – Muhammad (Sala Allah Aleyh Wa Salam): Images of people and animals are forbidden by Islamic law; therefore, calligraphic art is used as an alternative form of creative expression. High offense is taken in the pictorial rending of any religious figure, such as Allah or Mohammed. Therefore, calligraphic art is used as an alternative form of creative expression. (, 2008)
Spatial Orientation for Arabic Website Translation

Spatial orientation refers to how web content is structured. According to Wendy Barber and Albert Badre, authors of “Culturability: The Merging of Culture and Usability” (1998), spatial orientation has a direct effect on website usability, because it affects visual perception. Manipulating the orientation can change the user’s comfort level. What is user-friendly for one country may be vastly different for another.

The Arabic Language is read right to left. In addition, the usage of pictures and graphics should be carefully considered in placement, in order to ensure the layout be culturally sensitive and aesthetically pleasing.

Use of Color for Arabic Website Customization

For the United Arab Emirates certain colors carry specific meaning and symbolize aspects of their culture.

  • Green: Holiness or luck
  • Blue: Immortality, a protective color
  • Yellow: Strength, reliability, happiness and prosperity
  • Red: Danger or evil
  • White: Purity or mourning
Arabic SEO in Dubai and the UAE Market

The key to promoting a website internationally is to create localized content and keywords, register local domain names and then promote it through local search engines, affiliate marketing, online and offline branding and promotions.

Long term search engine marketing plans should include the use of keywords in both Arabic and English, as these are the primary business languages in the UAE. In addition, it is important to remember that there are many different expatriate sub-groups in the United Arab Emirates that prefer to speak their national language. Therefore if attempting to target one of these groups, research should be done on their preferred language in order to properly target the correct search engines and keywords. For more information about Arabic language consideration, check our blog post on Arabic SEO.

General Rules for Arabic Website Domains
  • The Arabic top level domain which is being used for an Arabic domain name trial is امارات
  • The Arabic domain name will look like: اتصالات.امارات
  • The dash/hyphen ( – ) character is used in Arabic domain names as a separator e.g دولة – الإمارات.امارات
  • Maximum number of dash/hyphens ( – ) must be considered

The top level domain in the United Arab Emirates is .ae. Other popular domains are .com, .org, .net, .info, and .biz.

Summary for Successful On-line Business in the UAE

Due to language and cultural complexities, there are many critical considerations to review before localizing your Arabic website or content for UAE consumers. GPI has produced a more comprehensive white paper on Arabic Website Translation and E-Business for UAE that covers these issues in depth.