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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 April 2019

How the news shaped our lives in the UAE in 2018

We take a look at the top stories month by month over the last year

Qasr Al Hosn - the newly refurbished 18th century building stands in front of modern skyscrapers on the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Photo by Reem Mohammed / The National
Qasr Al Hosn - the newly refurbished 18th century building stands in front of modern skyscrapers on the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Photo by Reem Mohammed / The National

2018 has been an impressive year for the UAE. Dubai International Airport surpassed the one billion passenger mark, two Emiratis began training to go into space and the Emirati passport rose up the ranks to be among the most powerful in the world. But it has also been a year of great change, with economic and visa reforms set to change life for many residents. From the successes to the tragedies, and the supercar antics, we take a look over the most important news stories from the last year.

VAT was introduced in the UAE on January 1, 2018. Pawan Singh / The National
VAT was introduced in the UAE on January 1, 2018. Pawan Singh / The National

January VAT introduced

As the UAE saw in a new year with a spectacular laser show, the introduction of VAT for the first time in the country’s history wasn’t far behind. While many customers reported feeling the pinch on their weekly shop, fears of chaos at the checkouts turned out to have been largely unfounded with shopkeepers reporting the change over had been mostly stress free. It was small change, however, that proved to be the bad penny, with the elusive 1, 5 and 10 fil coins causing confusion over whether prices should be rounded up or down. The Central Bank released circulation figures of each coin that showed them to be in the millions, although many UAE residents were left questioning whether they had ever even seen one of them.

Actress Sridevi Kapoor arrives for the gala presentation of English Vinglish at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. She was found dead in her hotel room in Dubai in 2018. Reuters
Actress Sridevi Kapoor arrives for the gala presentation of English Vinglish at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. She was found dead in her hotel room in Dubai in 2018. Reuters

February Sridevi found dead

Tragedy left A-listers from Bollywood and beyond awestruck when on February 24 Indian superstar Sridevi Kapoor was found dead in the bathtub in Dubai’s Emirates Towers hotel at the age of just 54. She was in the UAE to attend a family wedding, and the cause of death was later found to be accidental drowning while under the influence of alcohol. Tributes poured in from around the world and thousands flooded the streets of Mumbai for an emotional goodbye to mark her funeral a few days later, bringing traffic to a standstill. The Kapoor family said their lives would never be the same again following her loss.

Smartphones and electronic devices often mean we are unplugged from the real world
Smartphones and electronic devices often mean we are unplugged from the real world

March influencers licensed

From shots of skinny women impossibly draped across the sand at a Dubai beach club to offering #cheatday temptation in the shape of a freak shake swirled with more artificial colours than the festival of Holi, not everyone is a fan of the work of social media influencers. Yet the announcement of a new set of licences showed that they are here to stay, for now, at least. The two licences are required by anyone accepting money in return for promoting a business or brand on their social media account and cost Dh30,000, with experts saying the move would bring “integrity” to the market. If you can’t beat them, regulate them.

A customer fills up his tank at the Adnoc self service area on the first day of the new system. Victor Besa / The National 
A customer fills up his tank at the Adnoc self service area on the first day of the new system. Victor Besa / The National 

April pump your own petrol introduced

UAE drivers learnt a new skill this year — how to pump their own petrol. Adnoc Distribution introduced a Dh10 serving fee at its petrol stations for the first time, meaning thrifty drivers had to learn to fill up their own cars. Residents expressed fears for, among other things, the effect of the summer heat and dismay over the rising cost of living, with one anonymous reader writing to The National to say that most road users “seem incapable of understanding what their indicators are for. Can we really trust these people with petrol pumps and extremely flammable liquid?” But the new system was fully introduced in Abu Dhabi in the summer after a successful two-month trial, which found one third of residents chose to pump their own, and later it was rolled out to the Northern Emirates.

The UAE Government issued new visa regulations this year. Andrew Parsons / The National
The UAE Government issued new visa regulations this year. Andrew Parsons / The National

May visa reforms

As part of sweeping changes to the UAE’s residency system, key workers were given the right to apply for long-term visas. It was part of a series of moves that marked a year of reform for the UAE, with further changes including the addition of retirement and post-graduation visas.

June stimulus package announced

With visa reform not enough for an ambitious UAE, the Government also announced a three-year package of economic reforms including Dh50 billion of investment. The move is part of efforts to diversify away from an oil-based economy and boost business and enterprise. With Dh20b set to be put into the economy in 2019 alone, next year looks like an intriguing time for the country.

Warner Bros. World opened on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, this year, with pre-opening ticket sales proving it is already a hit with tourists and residents. Antonie Robertson / The National 
Warner Bros. World opened on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, this year, with pre-opening ticket sales proving it is already a hit with tourists and residents. Antonie Robertson / The National 

July Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi opens

The world may not have known it wanted it, but pre-launch ticket sales for the first Warner Brothers-branded indoor theme park, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, proved otherwise. Fifteen-thousand tickets and annual passes were sold before the doors opened, with immersive experiences including recreations of The Flinstones’ prehistoric home city of Bedrock, Superman’s Metropolis and Batman’s Gotham City, where you can take a ride in a prototype Batplane. It is hoped the park will help cement the capital as a world-leading family destination and that’s not all, folks — you can even buy Warner Bros' beetroot crisps.

The Lamborghini Huracan that was involved in a Dh175,000 night of speeding parked outside the Five Hotel, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, during a two-week standstill over payment. Leslie Pableo / The National
The Lamborghini Huracan that was involved in a Dh175,000 night of speeding parked outside the Five Hotel, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, during a two-week standstill over payment. Leslie Pableo / The National

August — Lamborghini tourist saga

All eyes were on Dubai this summer when British tourist Farah Hashi managed to run up Dh175,000 in traffic fines in a single night in a bright yellow rented Lamborghini Huracan. Mr Hashi was caught speeding a staggering 33 times between 2.31am and 6.26am on July 31, with speeds ranging between 126kph to 230kph. The incident, first reported by The National, and the subsequent two-week stand off with the rental company over payment for the vehicle, attracted the attention of the international media before Mr Hashi eventually flew home in September.

Sultan Al Neyadi and Hazza al Mansouri were selected from thousands of Emiratis to be the first to go into space. They are training in Russia ahead one of the two journeying to the International Space Station in April.
Sultan Al Neyadi and Hazza al Mansouri were selected from thousands of Emiratis to be the first to go into space. They are training in Russia ahead one of the two journeying to the International Space Station in April.

September first Emirati astronauts chosen

The hunt for the first Emirati astronaut began at the end of 2017 and thousands applied for the chance to be part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre's astronaut corps. Entrants were slowly whittled down through tests that measured their intelligence, aptitude, neurocognitive ability, personality and working memory, until Sultan Saif Al Neyadi, a doctor of information technology, and Hazza Al Mansouri, a military pilot, were chosen. They have been sent to Russia for advanced training before next year's mission with the first astronaut scheduled to lift off in April as part of an agreement with Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency.

The UAE announced plans to launch a national orchestra to help celebrate the country's rich musical heritage. 
The UAE announced plans to launch a national orchestra to help celebrate the country's rich musical heritage. 

October national orchestra announced

Noura Al Kaabi, the Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, announced plans to launch a national orchestra to help celebrate the country's rich musical heritage. Plans are under way to attract both home-grown and international talent and the idea has received widespread support. Musicians have pointed to the UAE being home to one of the most cosmopolitan societies in the world, allowing the formation of a national orchestra to draw inspiration from many of the music-rich traditions of communities residing in the country.

Qasr Al Hosn, Abu Dhabi's oldest building, shows the capital's ancient history for opening night. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
Qasr Al Hosn, Abu Dhabi's oldest building, shows the capital's ancient history for opening night. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

November Qasr Al Hosn restoration unveiled

Abu Dhabi’s oldest standing building was to re-open as a museum after almost 10 years of extensive repairs, it was announced in November. Following some of the most detailed restoration and archaeological work the city has ever seen, officials said the Qasr Al Hosn fort was nearing completion.

The two-century-old building opened on December 7 to widespread acclaim. Already, tourists and Emiratis alike are flooding to the site to glimpse what life used to be like for the UAE's founders. In March 2019, two more buildings that are part of the new complex will be ready — a 900-seat amphitheatre and the Abu Dhabi Children’s Library.

Pope Francis is to visit Abu Dhabi in February, it was announced in 2018. He will take part in a large public Catholic mass in line with the Year of Tolerance. 
Pope Francis is to visit Abu Dhabi in February, it was announced in 2018. He will take part in a large public Catholic mass in line with the Year of Tolerance. 

December Pope Francis coming to Abu Dhabi

As part of moves to mark 2019 as the Year of Tolerance, it was revealed that Pope Francis is to visit the Emirates in February 2019. The news followed an official invitation from the UAE that was delivered in person by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, in June, and a visit to the Vatican in 2016 by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. It's estimated there are around one million Christians living in the UAE — that's roughly 10 per cent of the country's population. Many are Catholics from the Philippines, India and African nations. The Pope will hold a public Mass at Zayed Sports City.

Updated: December 31, 2018 01:18 PM

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