The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a country in the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, in southwest Asia. It consists of seven absolute monarchies known as emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaima, Sharja and Umm al-Qaywayn. Before 1971, they were known as the ‘Trucial States’, owing to a truce that the British reached with the Arab Sheikhdoms in 1820, establishing a de-facto protectorate. The truce allowed the Sheikhs to pursue pirate activities aimed at targeting ships transiting the Persian Gulf.
The emirates that make up the present day United Arab Emirates (UAE) were founded by families from Central Arabia, which brought Islam to the area in the 7th century. During the sixteenth century, part of the area fell under the direct influence of the Ottoman Empire. Since then the region has been known as the “Pirate Coast”. Other than piracy, the population’s main economic activity was pearl fishing. The British government organized expeditions to stop the pirates and forced the Sheikhs to a first peace treaty in 1820 and a second in 1853 (hence the old name of the UAE as Trucial States).
According to the agreements, the British government assumed the responsibility of the truce but fell short of formally establishing a protectorate. But, in Great Britain established ‘exclusivity agreements’ in 1892, which strengthened their relationship until December 2, 1971, when they proclaimed the formation of a sovereign and independent state under the name of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE was an evolution of the Federation of Arab Emirates formed in 1968, which also included Bahrain and Qatar.
The new State Immediately joined both the Arab League and the United Nations. After centuries of nomadism and pearl fishing, shifting from Arab to Persian, Portuguese, Ottoman and, British, rule the UAE was until the discovery of oil (in the 1950s and 1960s), a poor region divided by tribal conflicts.
With independence in 1971, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), occupying an area almost entirely covered by the desert, managed to achieve and maintain one of the highest development rates in the Middle East. Indeed, it quickly established itself as one of the main and dynamic realities of the entire region. The United Arab Emirates is also the only country in the Arab world organized into a federal system of absolute hereditary monarchies. At ‘birth’ in 1971, the Emirates of the Federation were six. They added another in 1972. Of these, the two most important are Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The highest federal authority is the Supreme Council of the Seven Emirates. But each emirate maintains legislative power over internal matters as well as economic autonomy. The National Federal Council, which includes forty members (20 of them elected by the emirs and 20 based on the vote of the 12,000 – out of 750,000 citizens – who have voting rights serves for all practical terms as an advisory body. The president gets assistance from a Supreme Council, which meets at least twice a year to discuss issues of common concern. There is an advisory body, the National Consultative Assembly, which met for the first time in 1972. In 1973, the UAE adopted a single currency, the Dirham.
The individual Federated States nominate the president and prime minister. Yet, it is customary for the emirs of Abu Dhabi and Dubai to fill these roles. Thus, in 2004, when the ‘architect’ of the modern and independent UAE was formed in 1971, Sheykh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nayhan died, his son Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nayhan took over role as Ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE. The country held its first election in 2006 but with limited suffrage. The emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is also Prime Minister and vice president of the UAE. The city of Abu Dhabi with its 600,000 inhabitants is the federal capital. The federal authorities manage all matters related to foreign policy, defense, security, oil, health and labor relations among other responsibilities through appropriate ministries. The individual emirates, however, manage administrative affairs at the local level.
Every Emirate is a state in itself, with its own constitutions and its own government system. A Sheikh (elected) heads each emirate, whose streets are inevitably decorated with a gigantic image of the local Sheikh to demonstrate that governments are literally loved by the people. The various Emirates do not compete against each other; there is a kind of unofficial law that encourages cooperation for the common good of the UAE as a whole.
Oil continues to be the main source of the UAE’s federal government revenue (some 70.0%. Despite its size and prominent tourism industry, the UAE is the eighth producer in the world and holds some eight percent of the world’s total reserves. For about ten years, however, the UAE has made a strong effort to diversify its revenue and reduce its internal reliance on oil – allowing it to export more of it rather than use it domestically at subsidized cost. Abu Dhabi, for example, has encouraged the alternative energy sector, investing in an ambitious development plan aimed at filling some seven percent of all UAE national demand to seven percent by 2020. (A.B.)