As I mentioned previously, a mobile phone number is practically a national i.d. number in Abu Dhabi in that it is needed as a reference for any service here. The National i.d. card is actually an i.d. and is necessary for services such as registering your car or checking into a hotel without a passport.
Last year, the UAE government-created agency, the Emirates Identity Authority decided that every person in the UAE would need a national identity card by January of 2011. Anyone without it would be denied vital services, the most vital being car registration. The card itself is a useful form of i.d. and had a chip that can be scanned for ease of use. The process of getting one, however, is not so easy and has cause a few big issues.
Luckily, I could see that there was big trouble ahead and got to work on it in May 2010. Even so, I had annoying problems. You can read about my experiences here and here. Eventually, they must have realized that having two centers in a city of over a million and taking 30 minutes per person wasn't going to get the job done so they allowed the process to be completed at typing centers around the city.
The form needs to be filled out online and the large population of poor immigrant workers and laborers don't exactly have access to computers. The influx of people trying to get their card before the deadline caused a backlog of work at the centers. This caused issues with passports and other sensitive documents needing to be stored on premises.
As of now, I don't know what the process involves. I'll have to find out. I recently read a blurb in the news saying that while children didn't need identity cards before, they are now required to have one. I'm not looking forward to doing this again. A few weeks ago, a coworker desperately needed to find someone to cover his classes because he finally got his appointment to get his i.d. card and had to go or wait weeks for another appointment. The Emirates Identity Authority has now determined that enough people have their cards (only about six months past the deadline) where that can require them for vital services. We'll see how that goes.