United Arab Emirates

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United Arab Emirates

United Arab Emirates, federation of sheikhdoms (2015 est. pop. 5,780,000), c.30,000 sq mi (77,700 sq km), SE Arabia, on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The federation, commonly known as the UAE, consists of seven sheikhdoms: Abu Dhabi (territorially the largest of the sheikhdoms), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Qaiwain. The city of Abu Dhabi (1991 est. pop. 798,000) in Abu Dhabi is the capital.

Land and People

The land is largely hot, dry desert. Located in the eastern portion of the federation is a portion of the Jabal al Akhdar Mts. Less than half of the inhabitants of the UAE are Arabs, while South Asians make up about 40%, and there are also Iranians, East Asians, and Westerners. Only about 20% of the UAE's population are native citizens. The nonindigenous population was first attracted by the employment provided by the UAE's petroleum boom. Muslims comprise 96% of the population (80% of these are Sunni, the balance Shiite) and the remaining 4% are largely Christian or Hindu. The official language is Arabic, but Farsi and English are widely used, and Hindi and Urdu are spoken by many of the South Asians.


Industries involving the area's oil and natural-gas deposits are still critical to the economy, and provide the bulk of export earnings. However, the country's increasingly diversified economy relies also on international banking, financial services, regional corporate headquarters, and tourism. The traditional occupations of fishing and pearling are still practiced, and there is some agriculture (dates, vegetables, watermelon, poultry). Aluminum, fertilizer, and textiles are manufactured, and there is commercial ship repair. Imports include machinery and equipment, chemicals, and food; trading partners are Japan, India, Great Britain, South Korea, and China. The UAE has a large trade surplus.


The UAE is governed under the constitution of 1971, which was made permanent in 1996. A Federal Supreme Council (FSC), composed of the seven emirate rulers, is the highest constitutional authority in the UAE. The president, who is the head of state, is elected by the FSC for a five-year term, with no term limits. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The highest legislative body is the unicameral Federal National Council, with 40 members. The members were previously all appointed by the rulers of the constituent states, but beginning in 2006 elections (initially participated in only by a select group of voters) were held for half the members; the rest are still appointed. Local matters are dealt with by the sheikhs. Administratively, the country is divided into the seven emirates.


The states that comprise the UAE were formerly known as the Trucial States, Trucial Coast, or Trucial Oman. The term trucial refers to the fact that the sheikhs ruling the seven constituent states were bound by truces concluded with Great Britain in 1820 and by an agreement made in 1892 accepting British protection. Before British intervention, the area was notorious for its pirates and was called the Pirate Coast. After World War II the British granted internal autonomy to the sheikhdoms. Discussion of federation began in 1968 when Britain announced its intended withdrawal from the Persian Gulf area by 1971.

Originally Bahrain and Qatar were to be part of the federation, but after three years of negotiations they chose to be independent. Ras al-Khaimah at first opted for independence but reversed its decision in 1972. After the 1973 rise in oil prices, the UAE was transformed from an impoverished region with many nomads to a sophisticated state with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and a broad social welfare system. In 1981 the UAE joined the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The fall of the shah of Iran in 1979, the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, and the Iran-Iraq War threatened the stability of the UAE in the 1980s. In 1990, Iraq accused the UAE and Kuwait of overproduction of oil. The UAE participated with international coalition forces against Iraq during the Persian Gulf War (1991). Since the Gulf War the UAE has expanded its international contacts and diplomatic relations. A dispute erupted with Saudi Arabia in 1999 over relations with Iran, a traditional enemy; while Saudi Arabia appeared willing to seek improved ties, the emirates still regarded Iran as a foe.

Sheikh Zaid ibn Sultan Al-Nahayan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, was president of the UAE from the founding of the federation until his death in 2004, when his son and heir, Sheikh Khalifa ibn Zaid Al Nahayan, was elected to succeeded him. The financial crisis that resulted in Dubai in 2009, as the speculative bubble there collapsed and the government-owned Dubai World conglomerate struggled with huge debts, affected all the sheikhdoms to some degree and shook the banking system, and Dubai was forced to seek significant financial aid from Abu Dhabi.

In 2011 Emirati forces aided Bahrain in suppressing prodemocracy demonstrations. The UAE itself did not experience Arab Spring protests, but in 2013 more that 60 people were convicted of plotting the government's overthrow. An Islamist group that has called for political reforms and engaged in social service work was said to be behind the plot. In 2015, Emirati forces became a significant component of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen's civil war; at times, however, they were accused of undermining the government they were ostensibly supporting. In 2019, amid an ongoing stalemate in the war, the country reduced its forces in Yemen and withdrew from Aden in October.

In 2017 the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a few other nations broke diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, accusing it of destabilizing the region; Qatar rejected the nations' accusations and demands. The UAE became in 2020 the third Arab country (after Egypt and Jordan) to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. In 2021 tensions eased with Qatar, which made few, if any, real concessions in the agreement it signed with the other Arab nations.


See D. Hawley, The Trucial States (1971); E. Mallakh, The Economic Development of the United Arab Emirates (1981); M. Peck, The United Arab Emirates (1986); A. O. Taryam, The Establishment of the United Arab Emirates (1987).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

United Arab Emirates


(UAE, al-Amirat al-Arabiya al-Muttahida), a state in Southwest Asia, on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bounded by Qatar on the north, Saudi Arabia on the south and southwest, and Oman on the northeast and southeast, and it is washed by the waters of the Persian Gulf on the north and the Gulf of Oman on the east. The UAE comprises the emirates of Abu Dhabi, the largest emirate, with an area of 65,000 sq km, Dubai (Dubayy), Sharjah (Ash Shariqah), Ajman (Ujman), Ras al-Khaimah (Ra’s al Khay-mah), Umm al-Qaiwain (Umm al Qawain), and Fujairah (Al Fujayrah). The population of the emirates is Abu Dhabi, more than 100,000 (1973); Dubai, more than 100,000; Sharjah, about 60,000; Ajman, more than 5,000; Ras al-Khaimah, more than 30,000; Umm al-Qaiwain, 5,000; and Fujairah, more than 15,000. The UAE also includes a number of islands in the Persian Gulf. The emirates cover an area of 83,600 sq km (according to the UN Statistical Yearbook for 1972), and their total population was estimated at 320,000 in late 1973, up from 200,000 in 1972 (UN estimate). The provisional capital is Abu Dhabi.

Constitution and government. The UAE is a federal state, and all the emirates are absolute monarchies. Only Abu Dhabi, which has a cabinet and a national consultative council, resembles a constitutional monarchy. In accordance with the provisional federal constitution of the UAE, adopted in June 1971, the rulers of the emirates make up the Supreme Council, a legislative body that elects a president and a vice-president. The president appoints the prime minister and cabinet members. The 40-member Federal National Council is an advisory body, and the number of seats allocated to each emirate on the council depends on its influence within the UAE.

Natural features. The UAE extends for 600 km along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf. Its predominantly low coast is indented by shallow bays and is fringed by numerous islands. Coral reefs stretch for a considerable distance along the coast.

Most of the area is covered with sandy desert plains and salt flats. In the west are rocky deserts, and in the east lie the spurs of the Oman Mountains, consisting of mesa massifs (maximum elevation, 1,127 m) composed of limestone, serpentinite, and shale. The chief mineral resource is petroleum.

The climate is tropical and dry, with January temperatures of about 20°C and July temperatures of about 30°-35°C, reaching a maximum of 50°C. The plains receive between 100 and 150 mm of rainfall annually and the mountains between 300 and 400 mm, with the maximum occurring in winter. There are no permanent rivers, but wadis are numerous. In the country’s few oases grow vineyards, date palms, acacias, and tamarisks; mangoes, bananas, lemons, and tobacco are also cultivated here. The mountains are covered with savanna vegetation. Rabbits, jerboas, gazelles, and several species of lizards and snakes inhabit the desert regions. The coastal waters in the Persian Gulf are rich in pearls and fish, including sardines and herring.

Population. Arabs constitute more than 90 percent of the total population. A considerable number of them are Palestinians and immigrants from other Arab countries, including Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. In addition to Arabs, the urban population includes Iranians, Baluchi, immigrants from India, Pakistan, and Africa, and a small number of British and Americans. Outside the cities, the native Arab population has preserved its tribal social structure. The major sedentary Arab tribes in the UAE are the Qawasim, Manasir, Bani Yas, and Dhawahir, and the largest tribe of nomads and seminomads is the Bani Qitab. The official language is Arabic. The overwhelming majority of the people are Sunni Muslims. Both the Muslim (lunar Hegira) and Gregorian calendars are used.

Between 1963 and 1971 the population increased at an average annual rate of 3 percent. Immigration has been stimulated by the rapid development of the oil industry. Most of the population is concentrated along the coast and in the oases. In 1970 urban dwellers accounted for 52 percent of the total population. The largest cities are Abu Dhabi (46,000 inhabitants in 1973), Dubai, and Sharjah.

Historical survey. The territory occupied by the emirates was part of Oman in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the beginning of modern times. However, over the centuries, many of the principalities in the area enjoyed considerable independence. In the sixth century B.C., the area came under the control of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty, and from the third to the sixth century A.D., it was part of the Sassanian state. In the seventh century, during the rise of feudalism, the territory was incorporated into the Caliphate, and Islam became the dominant religion.

In the mid-eighth century, the inhabitants of the area, chiefly those of Sharjah and Dubai, took part in an uprising of Omani tribes against the vicegerent of the Umayyad caliph. As a consequence, de facto independent princes ruled the principalities from the mid-eighth century to the late ninth century, when they became vassals of the Abbasids. In the 13th century, the area was several times invaded by the Hulaguids. From the early 16th to the mid-17th century part of the region came under Portuguese rule, and later Iran, Turkey, the rulers of Oman, and the Wahhabis fought for control over the area. From time to time the rulers of one of the principalities, usually Sharjah, would seize the coastal regions of southwestern Iran.

In the 18th century, the population of the area, which had been engaged chiefly in coastal trade, was drawn into a conflict with the British East India Company, whose ships monopolized the cargo traffic between the ports of the Persian Gulf, depriving the inhabitants of their livelihood. There were incessant conflicts between the East India Company and the local Arabs, whom the British regarded as pirates, and the British named the region the Pirate Coast.

In the early 19th century, the East India Company sent military forces to the region under the pretext of combating piracy, and in 1820 it compelled the emirs and sheikhs of seven Arab principalities to sign the General Peace Treaty, which paved the way for British control over the area and for the permanent partition of ancient Oman into the Imamate of Oman, the Sultanate of Muscat, and the Pirate Coast. Subsequently, in 1835, 1839, 1853, and 1892, new agreements were signed between representatives of the East India Company and local rulers, resulting in the establishment of a British protectorate. After seizing this strategically important territory, the British colonialists renamed it Trucial Oman in 1853 and established military bases, mostly in Sharjah. Political authority was exercised through a British “political agent,” who was subordinate to a resident based first in Bushire (Iran) and later in Bahrain. British domination did not alter the feudal or tribal relations that survived in Trucial Oman.

In the 1920’s an anti-British movement arose in Trucial Oman. Centered in Sharjah and Ras al-Khaiman, the movement caused concern to the colonial authorities, particularly after rich oil reserves were discovered in the area, chiefly in Abu Dhabi, and drilling was begun by foreign oil monopolies. To strengthen their position, the colonial authorities encouraged the adoption of plans, which they had proposed as early as the 1920’s, to create a federation of principalities.

In 1968, after Britain’s Labour government had announced the withdrawal of British forces from regions east of the Suez Canal, including the Persian Gulf, by the end of 1971, the Trucial States signed an agreement to form a federation of Arab sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. The federation was to include Bahrain and Qatar, which were also protectorates of Great Britain. The plan failed, however, owing to disagreements among the future participants in the federation and to the sporadic opposition of Saudi Arabia and especially Iran. The growth of the national liberation movement in the Near East, the breakdown of the imperialist colonial system, and a drastic weakening of Great Britain’s military, political, and economic power compelled Britain to relinquish its protectorate over Trucial Oman, as well as Qatar and Bahrain, and to withdraw its troops from the area (the withdrawal was completed by the end of 1971).

The independent state of the United Arab Emirates, proclaimed on Dec. 2, 1971, comprised the sheikhdoms of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Umm al-Qaiwain, and Ajman. In 1972, Ras al-Khaimah joined the federation. On Dec. 2, 1971, Great Britain and the UAE concluded a friendship treaty providing for “consultation, in the event of need, regarding all matters of interest to both sides.”

On Dec. 6, 1971, the UAE joined the Arab League, and on Dec. 9, 1971, it became a member of the UN. In December 1971, diplomatic relations were established between the Soviet Union and the UAE. In the 1970’s the UAE took part in all Arab summit talks and participated in attempts to resolve the Middle East crisis.


Economy. The UAE’s economy is based on the extraction of oil, which began on an industrial scale in the 1960’s. The emirate of Abu Dhabi is one of the major producers of crude oil in the Near East, holding tenth place among capitalist and developing countries in 1972. In 1973,62.7 million tons of oil were produced by Abu Dhabi and 12 million tons by Dubai. Oil exploration and extraction are conducted by mixed companies owned by both national and foreign capital (British, Anglo-Dutch, French, American, and Japanese). In 1974, 25 percent of the stock of these companies was transferred to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, whose share is to increase to 51 percent by 1982. The Abu Dhabi National Petroleum Company was formed in late 1973. Since 1972, the government of the UAE has received concessionary payments from the foreign companies and 55 percent of their net profits from the sale of oil. The income from oil, totaling more than £450 million in Abu Dhabi in 1973 and £72 million in Dubai, is used for economic development. Also important are the extraction of salt and ochre.

Special attention is being given to creating an infrastructure and building industrial enterprises. Among enterprises under construction in 1974, largely with foreign capital, were a cement factory, a gas plant, a sulfur factory, an oil refinery, and a petrochemical works. Abu Dhabi has assumed the leading role in the economic development of the UAE. The trade and financial center of the UAE is Dubai: about 85 percent of its imports are reexported to the other emirates and to neighboring countries. Feudal and clan-tribal relations persist in certain economic sectors not associated with the petroleum industry. The traditional occupations are fishing (a catch of about 15,000 tons in 1973), pearl fishing (which provided 90 percent of the national income before the 1960’s but whose importance has since declined sharply), oasis agriculture (date-palms, fruit, cereals, raised mainly in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Qaiwain), and nomadic livestock raising. Handicrafts, which are especially well developed in Dubai and Sharjah, include rug-making, the weaving of wool cloth, and the chasing of gold and silver objects.

Motor vehicles provide the chief means of transportation, although pack animals are still used. In 1973 the country had about 720 km of motor-vehicle roads. The chief ports are Abu Dhabi and Rashid, in Dubai. A dry dock for the repair of oil supertankers was under construction in Dubai in 1974. The cities of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah have international airports. The principal exports, in addition to oil, are fresh and dried fish, dates, and pearls. The main imports are equipment (Abu Dhabi 46 percent and Dubai 27 percent), food, and various consumer goods, such as clothing and electrical houshold appliances. The chief trading partners are Great Britain (supplying more than 35 percent of Abu Dhabi’s imports and about 20 percent of Dubai’s imports), the USA (14 percent), Japan, Switzerland, India, and the Federal Republic of Germany. Ajman, Fujairah, and Umm al-Qaiwain also derive revenue from the sale of their postage stamps.

The monetary unit is the federal dirham, introduced in May 1973.


Education. Until the mid-20th century, the only schools in the sheikhdoms and sultanates of the UAE were small study groups affiliated with mosques. The first secular primary schools were founded in the 1950’s, and a law providing for free education was enacted in the 1960’s. The educational system consists of preschool institutions for children between the ages of four and six, four-year primary schools, three-year lower secondary schools, and three-year upper secondary schools. Boys and girls are educated separately. In rural localities, primary school education lasts no more than two or three years. In the 1973–74 school year the UAE had about 100 schools with an enrollment of about 50,000 students, of whom 32,000 attended primary schools, 14,000 lower secondary schools, and 3,000 upper secondary schools.

Vocational training is offered in business and agricultural schools and in centers for training personnel for the petroleum industry in Abu Dhabi. In the 1973–74 school year more than 700 persons were enrolled in vocational schools and centers. Specialized secondary schools include a secondary polytechnical school, a secondary business school, and a pedagogical institute (all founded in 1972) in Abu Dhabi and a women’s pedagogical institute (founded in 1968) in Sharjah. There are no institutions of higher learning.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

United Arab Emirates

Official name: United Arab Emirates

Capital city: Abu Dhabi

Internet country code: .ae

Flag description: Three equal horizontal bands of green (top), white, and black with a wider vertical red band on the hoist side

Geographical description: Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia

Total area: 30,000 sq. mi. (82,880 sq. km.)

Climate: Desert; cooler in eastern mountains

Nationality: noun: Emirati(s); adjective: Emirati

Population: 4,444,011 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Jordanian, Iranian, Filipino, other Arab; only 15-20% of
residents are U.A.E. citizens)

Languages spoken: Arabic (official), Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu

Religions: Muslim 96% (Shi’a 16%), other (includes Chris­tian, Hindu) 4%

Legal Holidays:

New Year's DayJan 1
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
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