It's been nearly 6 months since I returned from Abu Dhabi which I suppose is more than enough time to reflect on the things I saw there. About a month ago I went to a comedy show by the Persian comic, Maz Jobrani which (although hilarious) is only worth mentioning because he asked the audience what the last country they had visited was and I responded United Arab Emirates. He then riffed on the general decadence of the country and used a phrase that I used a lot when I returned, which is that UAE is the "est country." (See, I'm funnier than I thought...) Meaning, everything has to have an "est" at the end of it: biggest, tallest, fastest, (gaudiest...) And it's really true.
The produced spectacle can distract from some things that are less obvious. Although I'm never keen on anyone being told what they can and can't wear, all things considered women are treated very well. Non-Emirati women can walk down the street in mini-skirts with relatively little fear of getting accosted. If a woman runs into trouble with a man (usually a visiting Saudi) the authorities will do something about it and generally take the woman's side. Emirati women have more freedoms than many other Arab countries and (knock on wood) it looks like it will stay that way.
UAE has every modern Western convenience you could ask for. Despite that, their world view can be very limited. The lucky ones travel, but many in the more remote areas never leave and misinformation can lead to biases. More importantly, the culture struggles to maintain its identity in the face of Westernization as well as the influx of foreign workers. It will be interesting to see how the country continues to evolve over time, I'm glad I got to see it at this stage!