The oldest history of the area that today constitutes the formation of the United Arab Emirates (FAE) is inadequately documented, but archaeological finds attest to early human activity, dating back to 100,000 years, and trade with the outside world from around 3000 BCE. – first with cups, then with pearls. The importance of the Gulf Coast to regional trade was already established and developed in recent times.
Most of the known history is related to the time following the agreements entered into with the United Kingdom from 1820, which had to protect trade with India from piracy which was a threat in the Gulf of Persia. The United Kingdom, through its administration in India, entered into agreements with the Sheikh tribes, which in practice led to their becoming British protectorates. Following a more comprehensive agreement in 1855, on a ‘perpetual ceasefire’, the area became known as Trucial States, having previously been referred to as the Pirate Coast.
The Emirates’ early, as well as later history, is closely linked to the Arabian Peninsula, to which the area belongs, as well as Iran on the other side of the Gulf of Persia. Sheikh empires developed around ruling families who are still in power. They were brought together through the agreements they bilaterally entered into with the United Kingdom, after which they applied for a federation, and became an independent state, in 1971. Within this, which mainly oversees foreign policy and coordination of economic development, each emirate still has extensive self-government.
The two richest emirates, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, hold a dominant position, with the right of veto in the supreme governing council, which brings together the rulers of the seven Sheikh empires. Since independence, the FAE has experienced continued rapid economic development and modernization, but there are major economic and social differences between the Emirates – and the population.
The Arab Spring in 2011 contributed to increased demands for democratization, but political parties are still banned, and only a few have the right to vote – to a parliament that has little influence.