|Soon after assuming power on 6th August 1966 as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed underscored the importance of union and remarked: “In harmony, in some sort of federation, we could follow the example of other developing countries”. The significance of unity and the need to work in co-operation with the other emirates was thus ingrained in Sheikh Zayed’s thinking very early in his career. Although he was fully aware that federation was a novel concept in the region, yet he had a firm conviction that it could be implemented on the basis of common ties that bound the different emirates, and the history and heritage that they shared together for centuries. To translate his ideals of union, co-operation and mutual support into practice, Sheikh Zayed began to devote a large part of his emirate’s income from oil to the Trucial States Development Fund long before the inception of the UAE as a federal state.
In 1968 the British Government, under the pressure of adverse economic conditions, announced the termination of all its treaties protecting the Trucial States and its intention to withdraw from the Gulf by the end of 1971. This sudden decision while threatening to create a military and political vacuum in the area, also helped to reduce the obstacles and difficulties that had hindered the earlier attempts at union of the emirates. The very prospect of ending the special relationship that had existed between Britain and the Trucial States for one hundred and fifty years, clearly sounded the signal for some form of association more formal and more binding than was represented by the Trucial States Council. As a result of these new forces set in motion, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, along with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, promptly initiated the move towards establishing a federation. This federation was meant to be the nucleus of Arab unity and to protect the potentially oil-rich coast from the ambitions of the more powerful neighboring countries.
The initiative taken by the Rulers of the two leading emirates resulted in a meeting on 18th February 1968, at al Semha on the border between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This was a historic meeting where Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid agreed to merge their respective emirates in a union and jointly conduct foreign affairs, defense, security and social services and adopt a common immigration policy. Other administrative matters were left to the jurisdiction of the local government of each emirate. This momentous agreement came to be known as the Union Accord and may be considered as the first step towards uniting the Trucial Coast as a whole. In order to further strengthen the federation, Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid also invited the Rulers of the five other Trucial States and Bahrain and Qatar to join in the negotiations for the formation of the union.
From 25th to 27th February 1968, the Rulers of these nine states convened a constitutional conference in Dubai. For over three years the eleven-point agreement, conceived in Dubai, served as the basis for intensive efforts to shape the constitutional and legal framework for this ‘Union of Arab Emirates’, comprising these nine member states.
There were countless meetings on many levels of authority. The
key issues were agreed in the meetings of the Supreme Council
of Rulers, formed by the nine Heads of State. There were formal
discussions by the Deputy Rulers and by various committees,
involving civil servants from these emirates as well as external
advisers. In the summer of 1971, it became clear that
Iran no longer lay claim to Bahrain and the Ruler of Bahrain,
Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifah, declared the island states’
independence on 14th August 1971. Qatar followed suit
on 1st September 1971.
The authorities in the seven Trucial States next worked on an
alternative to the ‘Union of Arab Emirates’. Already
the Rulers of the six Trucial States viz., Abu Dhabi, Dubai,
Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Qaiwain and Fujairah, (with Ras al Khaimah
still hesitating) had decided to form the United Arab Emirates
in a meeting held in Dubai on 18th July 1971. The foundation
of an independent, sovereign state was formally proclaimed on
2nd December 1971, and after Ras al Khaimah joined on 10th February
1972, the federation was complete with the inclusion of all
the seven former Trucial States. This newly founded federal
state became officially known as Dawlat al Imarat al Arabiyya
al Muttahida or the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A Provisional
Constitution, based on an amended version of the earlier draft
constitution of the nine Gulf States, was agreed upon as its
formal basis. It defined as its highest objective, the common
good of the UAE as a whole. The Provisional Constitution consisting
of 152 articles, divided into a Preamble and 10 parts, specified
the powers which were to be allocated to the new federal institutions,
while all others were to remain the prerogative of the local
governments of the individual emirates. The five central authorities
outlined in the Constitution are:
The Supreme Council constituted by the seven Rulers; it is the
highest policy-making body of the state and is vested with the
ultimate legislative and executive powers.
The President and Vice President of the federal state.
The Council of Ministers or Cabinet.
The Federal National Council (FNC); it is a consultative council
comprising forty members drawn from the emirates on the basis
of their population with eight deputies each from Abu Dhabi
and Dubai, six each from Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah, and four
each from Fujairah, Ajman and Umm al Qaiwain.
The Judiciary; it is structured into a hierarchy of courts at
the apex of which is the Federal Supreme Court.
The Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was
elected by his fellow Rulers as the first President of the UAE,
a post to which he has been successively re-elected at five-year
intervals. The then Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed
Al Maktoum, was elected as Vice-President, a post which he held
until his death in 1990, when his eldest son Sheikh Maktoum
bin Rashid was elected to succeed him. In a historic meeting
on 20th May 1996, the Federal Supreme Council approved a draft
amendment that made the country’s Provisional Constitution
the permanent Constitution of the UAE, and named Abu Dhabi as
the capital of the state.
The UAE embarked on its political career as a federation of
seven regional states of very different sizes, natural resources,
population and wealth, but with a common history and heritage.
Abu Dhabi, is the largest in terms of area, and is also blessed
with the richest oil reserves. The federal institutions are
very largely financed by Abu Dhabi. Dubai was even in 1971,
the best connected of the city-states and continues to grow
as the hub of the region’s trade and business. Some of
the other emirates have always been endowed with relative wealth
of water and arable land. But despite these disparities, the
UAE’s impressive record of progress has been possible
because of the success of the federation and its leaders working
in a spirit of harmony and co-operation for the achievement
of common goals.
The central authorities undertook as their primary duty, the
utilization of the wealth of the country’s natural resources
for the benefit of the UAE as a whole. This contributed in a
large measure to the success and permanence of the federation.
The Rulers of the UAE, which today ranks among the top oil and
gas producers worldwide, used its oil wealth with remarkable
vision and foresight to improve the lives of its people, and
create an infrastructure that supports a growing list of non-oil
industries and activities. From the very outset, it has been
the firm conviction of Sheikh Zayed that “Money is of
no value unless it is used for the benefit of the people”.
The social services provided by the federal ministries, especially
free education, housing, healthcare and social aid for the Emiratis,
paved the way for a rapid and phenomenal growth and development
throughout the country. And finally with the advent of modern
technology, the UAE has been transformed from one of the least
developed countries to a modern nation state within less than
Another important factor contributing to the political stability
enjoyed by the UAE since its formal inception, is the carefully
planned and successfully implemented foreign policy of its leaders
which is primarily aimed at “promoting conciliation and
defusing confrontation and conflict”. The cornerstone
of the UAE’s foreign policy is to protect the sovereignty
of the country and the independence of its citizens within the
broader framework of Gulf security. Another
key component of this policy has been to gradually expand the
country’s political horizons and develop relations with
international powers and work in co-operation with international
Thus soon after its emergence as a full-fledged state, the UAE
joined the Arab League and the United Nations. It was one of
the driving forces behind the foundation of the Islamic Conference
Organization (ICO) in the 1970s. The establishment of the Gulf
Co-operation Council (GCC), comprising the UAE, Oman, Qatar,
Bahrain Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, at a summit held in Abu Dhabi
in 1981, and the promotion of relations with other Arab countries,
are reflections of the UAE’s determination to bolster
solidarity with the rest of the Arab World.
The role of the President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan,
needs to be particularly emphasized in this connection as his
stature has grown internationally in tandem with the status
of the country on the world stage. Over the years, he has emerged
as the mentor and mediator for the younger statesmen not only
in the GCC, but also within the Arab World and for many a developing
country. It is also largely due to his humanitarian approach
derived from his firm faith in Islam, that a host of poor countries
and communities worldwide have benefited from the financial
and material assistance given in the name of the UAE by the
Ruler of Abu Dhabi. Furthermore, the UAE’s military organization
is the only non-Nato force helping with peacekeeping in Kosovo.
It is not surprising therefore, that the spectacular generosity
of this small country has drawn the attention of the world by
helping to alleviate the misery of the victims of natural or
man-made calamities at home and abroad.
Even individually, all the emirates and notably Abu Dhabi, Dubai
and Sharjah, are drawing international attention by offering
wide-ranging economic opportunities, sports and leisure facilities,
cultural activities and also by creating awareness for the protection
of the environment and wildlife, and by promoting tourism. The
remarkable advancement of the Emirati women in every sphere
of life constitutes another important yardstick for measuring
the progress of the country as a whole. Accorded equal status
and opportunities by the Constitution, women of the UAE today
are making their presence felt in society in a pronounced way.
The UAE Women’s Federation established in Abu Dhabi in
1975 by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, wife of the President,
along with its branches in all the other emirates, deserves
credit for playing a major role in the emancipation of women.
However, what is even more noteworthy is that despite overall
modernization, the architects of UAE’s development consider
the preservation and continuation of their traditional culture
and time-honored heritage to be of utmost importance.
The success of the UAE’s political system lies in the
fact that it represents a unique combination of the traditional
and modern with an inherent commitment “to consensus,
discussion and direct democracy”. The sacrifices and achievements
of its founding fathers, contributed to the emergence of this
modern nation in place of the erstwhile independent and backward
emirates. The UAE is the only federal state in the Arab world
that has not only survived, but has succeeded in evolving a
distinct national identity through the passage of time. On the
occasion of the celebration of twenty-five years of success
of the federation, Sheikh Zayed had remarked with satisfaction,
“that which has been accomplished has exceeded all our
expectations, and that, with the help of God and a sincere will,
confirms that there is nothing that cannot be achieved in the
service of the people if determination is firm and intentions
are sincere”. The Federation of the UAE is, and will continue
to be, a source of pride for the present and future generations