Federation of absolute monarchies represented by Federal Supreme Council alongside partly appointed-partly elected Federal National Council
Head of state
UAE President Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Emir of Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates' Ambassador to the UK
H.E. Mr Mansoor Abulhoul
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, 1-2 Grosvenor Crescent, London, SW1x 17EE
UK Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates
H.E. Mr Patrick Moody
British Embassy Abu Dhabi, Al Hisn Street, Al Markaziyah West, PO Box 248 Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The UAE borders the Persian Gulf, as well as a small border with Oman, to its north, the remainder of Oman to its east as well as a coast on the Gulf of Oman, and Saudi Arabia to its south and west. The UAE claims sovereignty over a number of disputed islands with Iran.These are Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb. The UAE is mostly desert with mountains in the east. It possesses significant oil and natural gas reserves. In contrast under 5% of the UAE’s land is agricultural. In December 2021, the UAE celebrated its Golden Jubilee.
The majority of the population live in the three largest emirates, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. The current population stands at just under 10 million people, with expats, an estimated 8.8 million, being greatly in the majority. Approximately 85% of inhabitants live in the above three regions.
The ethnic breakdown of the UAE mirrors that of many of the wealthy Gulf states which employ a large degree of migrant labour to help contribute to their booming economies. This translates to just 11.6% of the country being considered Emirati. Almost 60% of the country are from South Asia, 10% from Egypt, 6% from the Philippines, and the remaining 13% from other locations.
The UAE is a federation of monarchies, the capital of which is Abu Dhabi. It is divided into seven administrative divisions. The constitution was introduced in the 1970s and became permanent in May 1996. The legal system is a mixture of Sharia and civil law.
The country’s executive is made up of the president, vice-president and the prime minister and deputy prime minister. There is the Council of Ministers which is appointed by the prime minister and approved by the president.
The process for choosing presidents and vice presidents involves the Federal Supreme Council, which is made up of the rulers of each emirate. Posts last for 5-years and are renewable. The prime minister and deputy are appointed by the president.
The legislative of the UAE is the 40-seat Federal National Council. Half of the members of the council are appointed by the leaders of each emirate. The remaining twenty are appointed by an electoral college whose members are assigned by each emirate’s ruler.
The history of the modern state of the UAE can be traced to the so-called "Trucial States" which emerged in the 19th century. The name came from a series of truces that were signed by the ruling sheikhs along the coast of the Gulf. These states, at the end of the 19th century, outsourced the management of their foreign relations to Britain.
7 emirates = 1 country
In 1968, Britain announced the withdrawal of its troops from the Gulf. This started the process by which various states such as Qatar, Bahrain and Oman became independent modern states. The story of the UAE differs slightly in that, as its name suggests, rather than being comprised of one sheikhdom, they were actually a grouping of 6 at first, with Ras Al Khaimah joining a year later in 1972, uniting a total of 7 individual sheikhdoms into one country.
The 7 emirates are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah.
In the 1970s was a series of domestic agreements to promote centralisation and the emergence of a type of federal government. There were occasional moments when individual emirates became wary of the rate of centralisation, but compromise, often involving access to centralised government positions, tended to quell such fears. What emerged was a structure by which the UAE’s executive included a greater role for the increasingly affluent rulers of the Dubai emirate. Thus, the country’s executive now comprises leadership figured from the Nahyan (rulers of Abu Dhabi) and the Maktum family (rulers of Dubai).
The UAE experienced an economic boom towards the end of the 20th century, which was tempered by the 2008 financial crash. At the time, there was a particular concern that Dubai would struggle with the new economic reality, but a loan from Abu Dhabi helped the emirate weather the worst impacts of the crash.
The next internal difficulty would come in 2011 as the region saw protests of the Arab Spring. The UAE did not see the same scale of protests as other countries in MENA, but there were still criticisms that the tense political atmosphere was used to clamp down on expression. However, a significant programme of investments across the country, particularly concentrated on the realtively poorer northern emirates was also a significant factor that seemed to keep internal tensions reduced.
Since then the UAE has maintained its role as a key centre of business and investment for the region. It continues to play an active role in the geopolitics in the region and remains a close ally of most of its neighbours Gulf Arab neighbours.
Golden Jubilee 2021
The UAE began its celebrations for its Golden Jubilee with a series of spectaculars attended by leaders and crown princes of all 7 emirates in Hatta, Dubai on December 2nd 2021. The country received congratulations from countries all around the world.
An estimated 76% of people in the UAE are Muslim, Christians include around 9% and other faiths, including Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and the minority faiths of the Middle East number around 15%. Around four-fifths of Muslims in the country are Sunni, with Shia minorities being located in Dubai and Sharjah.
Emirati culture is based on Arab-Bedouin culture. As with many of the countries in the Gulf, there are also influences from areas like East Africa. Rapid urbanisation has obviously had a huge impact on the culture, with the vast majority of citizens now living in urban environments, in which many other nationalities also work and live. And yet, the traditional power structures of emirs ruling each emirate remain, as well as the pride many Emiratis have in their Bedouin roots.
While connection to past traditions remain an anchoring point for Emirati culture, there is also in contrast a radical optimism at the heart of much of the country, particularly well embodied in the case of places like Dubai. Comparing pictures of Dubai in the 1970s and 1980s now give an indication of the scale of rapid development that the area went through in a very short space of time. This would have been impossible without vast oil reserves, but, nevertheless, Dubai in particular was a fast learner and a pioneer. This culture of optimistic development has been summed up by many commenators as the leading example globally of the “build it and they will come” philosophy.
GDP per capita in the UAE stands at around $68,000. The main industries in the UAE include petrol, fishing, cement and some aluminium. Unemployment stands at just 1.6%.
The UAE, while very reliant on its oil industry, has made significant progress in diversifying its economy and now hosts a significant service sector as well with a sizeable private sector. It is one of the most diversified economies in the GCC. Various zero-tax free trade zones in the country have also attracted investment.
The 2008 financial crash impacted the UAE significantly and was particularly challenging for the Dubai governate, which was reliant at the time on stable property prices. Although the situation has since stabilised, memory of the crash and relative instability in the oil prices make further diversification, effective taxation and more jobs for UAE nationals economic priorities for the UAE at the moment.
Britain and local rulers sign a treaty to sign along Gulf coast. As a result of these treaties and agreements, the area becomes known as the Trucial Coast
Agreement between London and the Trucial States gives Britain control over foreign affairs while each emirate retains control of domestic affairs
The 7 emirates form the Trucial Council
Oil is discovered off Trucial Coast in the Umm Shaif oil field, described as a 'super giant" of 300 km2
Oil comes on stream and is exported for the first time from Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nuhayyan becomes ruler of Abu Dhabi
As independence looms, Bahrain and Qatar join the Trucial States
Iar seizes the islands of Greater and Lesser Tunb, as well as Abu Must
INDEPENDENCE FROM BRITAIN: Six emirates come together to form the United Arab Emirates, with Sheikh al-Nuhayyan as Federation President
The UAE joins the Arab League
Ras al-Khaymah becomes the 7th emirate to join the UAE
The Federal National Council is established, a consultative body whose 40 members are appointed by the 7 emirs
The UAE is a founding member of the economic union, the Gulf Cooperation Council. The GCC's first meeting is in Abu Dhabi
Sheikh al-Nuhayyan is re-elected as UAE President - his fourth term
Attempted coup attempt in Sharjah. The ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi, abdicates but is then reinstated by Federal Supreme Council
GULF WAR: UAE forces join US-led allies against Iraq following Saddam Hussein's illegal annexation of Kuwait
The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) dramatically collapses. Abu Dhabi's ruling family own a 77.4% share
Iran insists UAE nationals must have visas to visit contested islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb
Abu Dhabi sues former BCCI executives for damages
11 of the 12 former BCCI executives accused of fraud are given jail sentences and ordered to pay compensation
Iran angers UAE by building airport on contested islands of Greater and Less Tunb and Abu Masa
2 former BCCI executives are cleared on appeal of fraud charges
POST 9/11 ATTACKS: UAE government orders banks to freeze the assets of 62 organisations suspected by the US of funding terrorism
Sheikh Khalifa announces plans for the UAE's first elections. Half of the members of the consultative Federal National Council will selected by a small citizen franchise
UAE announces big economic changes, including bringing weekends into line with the West, the right to form trade unions and laws to reduce dependence on expat workers
1ST EVER NATIONAL ELECTIONS: First ever national elections. A small number of hand-picked voters choose half the members of the advisory Federal National Council -the remainder are still appointed
Dubai and Qatar become the the 2 biggest shareholders in the London Stock Exchange, then the 3rd largest stock exchange in the world
The UAE and France sign a deal allowing France to set up a permanent military base in Abu Dhabi
The UAE cancels half the debt owed to it by Iraq, almost $7 billion
Dubai helps to weather the global economic storm by selling $10 billion in bonds to the UAE
The UAE withdraws from play for Gulf monetary union, dealing a blow dreams of further regional economic union
Burj Khalifa tower opens in Dubai as the world's tallest building and man-made structure
LIBYA CIVIL WAR: The UAE joins international military NATO operation in Libya
The UAE recalls its ambassador to Iran, after the Iranian president visits the contest island of Abu Masa
The UAE begins to operate key overland oil pipeline, bypassing the vital Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has repeatedly threatened to close
The UAE prosecutes a number of Egyptians and Emiratis for attempting to set ups a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed in the UAE
QATAR PROTEST: The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain withdraw their ambassadors to Qatar in protest over its alleged interference in their affairs
The UAE announces plans to send unmanned spacecraft to Mars in what would be the first space probe by an Arab or Islamic country
The UAE intervenes in Libya, launching airstrikes against Islamist militants
The UAE and 4 other Arab states take part in US-led airstrikes on the Islamic State militants in Syria
The UAE and 4 other GCC states take part in Saudi-led airstrikes on Houthis rebels in Yemen
QATAR BLOCKADE: The UAE joins Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt in severing diplomatic relations with Qatar over its alleged funding of terrorism. They also ban Qatari plans and ships from their collective airspace and waters
ABRAHAM ACCORDS: The UAE establishes diplomatic relations with Israel
END OF QATAR BLOCKADE: The UAE Joins Saudi Arabia and other countries in reaching agreement with Qatar and ending the boycott
Dec' 2nd 2021
GOLDEN JUBILEE: The UAE and 7 Emirati leaders celebrate 50 years of UAE in Hatta, Dubai and across the country