The United Arab Emirates (FAE) is a federation in the Middle East. It borders Qatar in the northwest, Saudi Arabia in the west and south, and Oman (which also has an enclave within the FAE) in the east and northeast. FAE has a coast towards the Gulf of Persia and the Gulf of Oman. The federation was created in 1971 after the UK withdrew its commitments to military protection of Sheikhdom.
The FAE consists of seven Sheikh judgments, called emirates, which are governed by emirates with extended power, rooted in traditional family and clan structures in the respective emirates. The seven members of the federation are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Qaiwain.
The FAE is dominated by the largest and richest emirate, Abu Dhabi, who has the head of state and who, with his oil revenues, has contributed to economic development at the state level as well as those sheikhs which do not themselves have petroleum deposits or other sources of income. From being poor areas where pearl fishing used to be the most important business ground, some of the emirates for half a century – thanks to oil extraction – became among the countries in the world with the highest average per capita income.
People and society
The FAE has a total population of about 9.9 million (2020), but less than one million are native Emirate Arabs. The majority consists of foreign nationals, many of whom are guest workers from other Arab countries and South Asia.
In total, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are about the same size (with around 3.0 and 3.2 million inhabitants respectively), while Abu Dhabi is greatest when only Emirati Arabs are counted (over 535,000). Umm al-Qaiwain is the smallest of Sheikh empires with around 80,000 inhabitants. In recent times, population growth has been particularly high in Dubai. Labor immigration has led to great gender bias: about 75 percent of the population is male.
FAE has undergone rapid modernization from the mid-20th century, with strong urbanization. Around 85 percent of the population lives in cities, the largest of which are Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. Employment opportunities here, and in the richest emirates in general, have led to extensive internal labor immigration. There are significant economic and social differences between the emirates, with less prosperity in the small northern Sheikh empires than in the larger ones. A welfare system has been developed throughout the country. Clan and tribal affiliation is still important in social life. Islam is state religion; About 85 percent of Emirati Arabs are Sunni, the remainder Shia.
State and politics
The FAE is a federation of seven Sheikh judges ( Emirates ), which has extensive autonomy within the common state formation. The emirates all have a monarchical form of government, where the emir is designated from the leading family, and where the position is most often inherited. The head of the federation is appointed by the supreme governing body, the Supreme Council of Rulers (SCR), where the seven emirs meet. By virtue of its dominant size and economy, Abu Dhabi’s ruler, from the outset, has also been the FAE’s head of state; Dubai’s emir is prime minister.
The FAE has a 40-member Federal National Council (FNC), but not a democratic governing body. Parties are prohibited and only a small part of the inhabitants have the right to vote. FNC is advisory and has only limited influence. Emirates does not have equal representation and influence in the federal agencies, and Abu Dhabi and Dubai have veto rights in the SCR. The individual emirate has extensive self-government through its own governance system, while in particular foreign affairs, including security, and economic policy are governed at the federal level.
The FAE is a member of the UN and most of the UN’s special organizations, as well as the Arab League, the Gulf Council and OPEC.
FAE came into being in 1971 when six of the Sheikh tribes chose to establish an independent state by joining a federation. After the United Kingdom announced in 1968 that the protection of the emirates of the Gulf of Persia, the so-called Trucial States, would cease, Bahrain and Qatar also participated in the planning of a new federation, but these chose to stay out. Ras al-Khaimah joined in 1972.
The Emirates is located in an area of strategic importance to trade, and the area was formerly called the Pirate Coast. Britain’s desire to protect its trade with India led to the Sheikhs of the Gulf of Persia being forced in 1820 not to attack British ships – against military protection. The agreement was extended in 1853. Prior to this, the area was under the influence of the Ottoman Empire, which fought Portuguese warships.
As an independent state, the FAE has had extensive economic and social development, based on revenues from oil and gas exports, eventually to some extent as a center for finance, trade and tourism. Located in a multi-conflict geopolitical area, the FAE has built up a modern defense, and with these – especially within the framework of multinational military operations – has participated in several regional conflicts, including the war in Libya and the war in Syria. Participation in the war in Yemen has been of the greatest importance. It is part of the FAE’s regional ambitions as a trading nation, seeking control of the Gulf of Aden and entering the Red Sea.. As part of this strategy, FAE has established a presence in several ports on the Horn of Africa as well. In 2017, the FAE, along with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, acted against its former ally Qatar by trying to isolate the country.
Economy and business
The FAE laid the foundation for the modernization of the country before independence, after the start of oil extraction in 1962. Not all emirates have viable deposits of oil and gas, and the country has no other significant natural resources. But especially through transfers from Abu Dhabi, revenues from petroleum exports have contributed to economic development throughout the federation. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the foremost driving forces in the country’s development.
The FAE pursues an overall economic policy aimed at securing infrastructure development and contributing to the welfare of the entire federation, but each emirate has control over its own revenue – and responsibility for its own development. While Abu Dhabi has invested heavily in industrial travel related to oil and gas, Dubai has invested in becoming an international financial and trade center. The latter is in line with the area’s historical position as the center for regional and international trade; formerly especially of pearls.
Knowledge and culture
By independence, FAE had deficits on administrators as well as skilled personnel. This situation has persisted, and is resolved by importing both expertise and other manpower. At the same time, much has been invested in a modern education system, which is compulsory and free for children aged 6-12 years. Several universities and colleges have been established, including departments from foreign ones.
FAE has developed a cultural life that reflects both the traditions of tribal society and Bedouin life, and the modernization and globalization that characterize today’s urban and multicultural society. The influence of Islam is great, the influence of both western and eastern cultures is considerable. Abu Dhabi has invested in becoming an international art center, with a Guggenheim museum under construction, and Dubai has developed a media industry – without the country having complete freedom of expression – and press freedom.