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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.