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History of the United Arab Emirates


History of the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a country on the Arabian Peninsula located on the southeastern coast of the Persian Gulf and the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Oman. The UAE consists of seven 'emirates' and was founded on 2 December 1971 as a federation. Six of the seven sheikhdoms (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah) combined on that date. The seventh, Ras Al Khaimah, joined the federation on 10 February 1972

The seven sheikhdoms were formerly known as the Trucial States, in reference to the treaty relations established with the British in the 19th Century.

Artifacts uncovered in the UAE show a long history of human habitation and regional trade including with Mesopotamia. The area was settled by a number of tribes along both the coast and interior and was Islamised in the seventh century.

A number of incursions and bloody battles took place along the coast when the Portuguese, under Albuquerque, invaded the area. Conflicts between the maritime communities of the Trucial Coast and the British led to the sacking of Ras Al Khaimah by British forces in 1809 and again in 1819, which resulted in the first of a number of British treaties with the Trucial Rulers in 1820. These treaties, including the Treaty of Perpetual Maritime Peace, signed in 1853, led to peace and prosperity along the coast which lasted until the 1930s, when the pearl trade collapsed, leading to significant hardship among the coastal communities.

A British decision, taken in early 1968, to withdraw from its involvement in the Trucial States, led to the decision to found a Federation. This was agreed between two of the most influential Trucial Rulers, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai. The two invited other Trucial Rulers to join the Federation. At one stage it seemed likely Bahrain and Qatar would also join the Union, but both eventually decided on independence.

Today, the UAE is a modern, oil exporting country with a highly diversified economy, with Dubai in particular developing into a global hub for tourism, retail, and finance,[1] home to the world's tallest building, largest man-made seaport and busiest international airport.


  • Prehistory 1
  • Umm an-Nar Culture 2
  • Advent of Islam 3
  • Ottoman and Portuguese control 4
  • Trucial Sheikhs 5
  • The British era 6
  • The rise and fall of the pearling industry 7
  • The beginning of the oil era 8
  • Border disputes 9
  • Sheikh Zayed and the Union 10
  • Independence 11
    • Federation of Emirates 11.1
    • 1971–1972 11.2
  • Post-independence 12
    • 1973-2003 12.1
    • 2004-2008 12.2
    • 2008–present 12.3
  • See also 13
  • References 14
  • External links 15


In 2011 primitive hand-axes, as well as several kinds of scrapers and perforators, were excavated at the Jebel Faya archaeological site in the United Arab Emirates. These tools resemble the types used by early modern humans in East Africa. Through the technique of Thermoluminescence dating the artifacts were placed between 100,000 to 125,000 years old. This is the earliest evidence of modern humans found anywhere outside Africa and implies modern humans left Africa much earlier than previously thought.[2]

Umm an-Nar Culture

Umm an-Nar was a bronze age culture that existed from 2600-2000 BC in modern-day United Arab Emirates. The etymology derives from the island of the same name which lies adjacent to Abu Dhabi.[3] The key site is well protected, but its location between a refinery and a sensitive military area means public access is currently restricted. The UAE authorities are working to improve public access to the site, and plan to make this part of the Abu Dhabi cultural locations. One element of the Umm an-Nar culture is circular tombs typically characterized by well fitted stones in the outer wall and multiple human remains within.[4]

The Umm an-Nar culture, as indicated from inland 3rd millennium BC, covers no more than seven centuries (2700-2000 BC).

Advent of Islam

The arrival of envoys from Muhammad in 630 heralded the conversion of the region to Islam. After Muhammad's death, one of the major battles of the Ridda Wars was fought at Dibba, in present-day Fujairah. The defeat of the non-Muslims in this battle resulted in the triumph of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.

In 637, Julfar (today Ras al-Khaimah) was used as a staging post for the conquest of Iran. Over many centuries, Julfar became a wealthy port and pearling center from which dhows traveled throughout the Indian Ocean.

Ottoman and Portuguese control

Ports in the Gulf and part of the population of the region of the UAE were under the direct influence of the Ottoman Empire by the 16th century.[5][6][7] Portuguese expansion into the Indian Ocean in the early 16th century following Vasco da Gama's route of exploration saw them battle the Ottomans up the coast of the Persian Gulf. The Portuguese eventually controlled the area for 150 years in which they conquered the coastal inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula.[8][9][10] However, the Ottoman Empire reasserted itself in the Persian Gulf until World War I when the UAE and neighboring areas became a British protectorate.[11]

Trucial Sheikhs

Portions of what is now the UAE came under the direct influence of the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century.[12] Thereafter, the region was known to the British as the "Pirate Coast",[13] as raiders based there harassed the shipping industry despite both European and Omani navies patrolling the area from the 17th to 19th centuries. British expeditions to protect the Indian trade from raiders at Ras al-Khaimah led to campaigns against that headquarters and other harbours along the coast in 1819. The next year, a peace treaty was signed to which all the sheikhs of the coast adhered. Raids continued intermittently until 1835, when the sheikhs agreed not to engage in hostilities at sea. In 1853, they signed a treaty with the United Kingdom, under which the sheikhs (the Trucial Sheikhdoms) agreed to a "perpetual maritime truce". It was enforced by the United Kingdom, and disputes among sheikhs were referred to the British for settlement.[14]

Flag of the Trucial Coast

The British era

Primarily in reaction to the ambitions of other European countries, the United Kingdom and the Trucial Sheikhdoms established closer bonds in an 1892 treaty, similar to treaties entered into by the UK with other Persian Gulf principalities. The sheikhs agreed not to dispose of any territory except to the United Kingdom and not to enter into relationships with any foreign government other than the United Kingdom without its consent. In return, the British promised to protect the Trucial Coast from all aggression by sea and to help in case of land attack.[15]

The rise and fall of the pearling industry

Arabian peninsula in 1914

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the pearling industry thrived in the relative calm at sea, providing both income and employment to the people of the Persian Gulf. It began to become a good economic resource for the local people. The First World War had a severe impact on the pearl fishery, but it was the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, coupled with the Japanese invention of the cultured pearl, that all but destroyed it. The industry eventually faded away shortly after the Second World War, when the newly independent Government of India imposed heavy taxation on pearls imported from the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.[16] The decline of pearling resulted in a very difficult era, with little opportunity to build any infrastructure.

The beginning of the oil era

In the 1930s, the first oil company teams carried out preliminary surveys. An onshore concession was granted to Petroleum Development (Trucial Coast) in 1939, and an offshore concession to D'Arcy Exploration Ltd in 1952. Oil was discovered under an old pearling bed in the Persian Gulf, Umm Shaif,in 1958, and in the desert at Murban in 1960. The first cargo of crude was exported from Jabel Dhanna in Abu Dhabi in 1962. As oil revenues increased, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, undertook a massive construction program, building schools, housing, hospitals and roads. When Dubai's oil exports commenced in 1969, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, was also able to use oil revenues to improve his people's quality of life.[17]

Border disputes

In 1955, the United Kingdom sided with Abu Dhabi in the latter's dispute with Oman over the Buraimi Oasis, another territory to the south.[18] A 1974 agreement between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia would have settled the Abu Dhabi – Saudi border dispute; however, the agreement has yet to be ratified by the UAE government and is not recognised by the Saudi government. The border with Oman also remains officially unsettled, but the two governments agreed to delineate the border in May 1999.[19]

Sheikh Zayed and the Union

Al Fahdi Fort in Dubai in the late 1950s

In the early 1960s, oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi, an event that led to quick unification calls made by UAE sheikdoms. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, and the British started losing their oil investments and contracts to U.S. oil companies.[20]

The British had earlier started a development office that helped in some small developments in the emirates. The sheikhs of the emirates then decided to form a council to coordinate matters between them and took over the development office. They formed the Trucial States Council,[21] and appointed Adi Bitar, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum's legal advisor, as Secretary General and Legal Advisor to the Council. This council was terminated once the United Arab Emirates was formed.[22]


By 1966, the British government had come to the conclusion that it could longer afford to govern what is now the United Arab Emirates. Much deliberation took place in the British parliament, with a number of MPs arguing that the Royal Navy would not be able to defend the Trucial Sheikhdoms. Denis Healey, who, at the time, was the UK Secretary of State for Defence, reported that the British Armed Forces were severely overextended, and in some respects, dangerously under-equipped to defend the Sheikhdoms. On 24 January 1968, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced the decision, reaffirmed in March 1971 by Prime Minister Edward Heath, to end the treaty relationships with the seven Trucial Sheikhdoms which had been, together with Bahrain and Qatar, under British protection.

Days after the announcement, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, fearing vulnerability, tried to persuade the British to honour the protection treaties by offering to pay in full the costs of keeping the British Armed Forces in the Emirates. The British Labour government rebuffed the offer.[23][24]

Federation of Emirates

The first conference on the Gulf federation in Abu Dhabi, 1968.

After Labour MP Goronwy Roberts informed Sheikh Zayed of the news of British withdrawal, the nine Gulf sheikhdoms attempted to form a federation of Arab emirates.[24] The federation was first proposed in February 1968 when the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai met in the desert location of Argoub El Sedirah and agreed on the principle of Union.[25] They announced their intention to form a coalition, extending an invitation to other Gulf states to join. Later that month, in a summit meeting attended by the rulers of Bahrain, Qatar and the Trucial Coast, the government of Qatar proposed the formation of a federation of Arab Emirates to be governed by a higher council composing of nine rulers. This proposal was accepted and a declaration of union was approved.[26] There were, however, several disagreements between the rulers on matters such as the location of the capital, the drafting of the constitution and the distribution of ministries.[26]

The proposed federation of Arab emirates.

Further political issues surfaced as a result of Bahrain attempting to impose a leading role in the nine-state union, as well as the emergence of a number of differences between the rulers of the Trucial Coast, Bahrain and Qatar, the latter two being in a long-running dispute over the Hawar Islands. While Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Rashid, had a strong connection to the Qatari ruling family, including the royal intermarriage of his daughter with the son of the Qatari emir,[27] the relationship between Abu Dhabi and Dubai (also cemented by intermarriage, Rashid's wife was a member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family[25]) was to endure the break-up of the talks with both Bahrain and Qatar. Overall, there were only four meetings between the nine rulers.[27] The last such meeting, which took place in Abu Dhabi, saw Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan elected as the first president of the federation. There were stalemates on numerous issues during the meeting, including the position of vice-president, the defense of the federation, and whether a constitution was required.[27]

Shortly after the meeting, the Political Agent in Abu Dhabi revealed the British government's interests in the outcome of the session, prompting Qatar to withdraw from the federation apparently over what it perceived as foreign interference in internal affairs. The nine-emirate federation was consequently disbanded despite efforts by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Britain to reinvigorate discussions.[28] Bahrain became independent in August 1971, and Qatar in September 1971.


When the British-Trucial Sheikhdoms treaty expired on December 1, 1971, the Trucial States became fully independent sheikhdoms.[24][29] Four more of the Trucial states (Ajman, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah), had decided to join Abu Dhabi and Dubai in signing the UAE's founding treaty, with a draft constitution in place drafted in record time to meet the December 2, 1971 deadline.[30] On that date, at the Dubai Guesthouse (now known as Union House), the emirates agreed to enter into a union to be called the United Arab Emirates. Ras al-Khaimah joined later, following Iran's swift annexation of the Tunbs islands, in early 1972.[31][32]

The move to form a union took place at a time of unprecedented instability in the region, with a border dispute killing 22 in Kalba and a coup in Sharjah in January 1972. The then emir of Qatar was deposed by his cousin in February 1972.



After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the UAE was identified as a major financial centre used by Al-Qaeda in transferring money to the hijackers. The nation immediately cooperated with the United States, freezing accounts tied to suspected terrorists and strongly clamping down on money laundering.

The country had already signed a military defence agreement with the United States in 1994 and one with France in 1995.

The UAE supports military operations from the United States and other coalition nations engaged in the invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) as well as operations supporting the Global War on Terrorism for the Horn of Africa at Al Dhafra Air Base, located outside of Abu Dhabi. The air base also supported Allied operations during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and Operation Northern Watch.


On 2 November 2004, the UAE's first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died. His eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, succeeded him as ruler of Abu Dhabi. In accordance with the constitution, the UAE's Supreme Council of Rulers elected Khalifa as president. Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan succeeded Khalifa as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.[33] In January 2006, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, died, and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum assumed both roles.

In March 2006, the United States forced the state-owned Dubai Ports World to relinquish control of terminals at six major American ports. Critics of the ports deal feared an increased risk of terrorist attack, saying the UAE had been home to two of the 9/11 hijackers.[34]

In December 2006, the UAE prepared for its first election to determine half the members of UAE's Federal National Council from 450 candidates. However, only 7000 Emirati citizens, less than 1% of the Emirati population, were given the right to vote in the election. The exact manner of selection was opaque. Notably, women were included in the electorate.[35]


In 2011, the Middle East saw a number of pro-democratic uprisings, popularly known as the Arab Spring. The UAE saw comparatively little unrest, but did face one high-profile case in which five pro-democracy activists were arrested on charges of insulting the president, Sheikh Khalifa, the vice president, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (and presumed successor to Sheikh Khalifa), Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.[36] The trial of the UAE Five attracted international publicity and protest from a number of human rights groups,[37] including Amnesty International, which named the five men prisoners of conscience.[36] The defendants were convicted and given two- to three-year prison sentences on 27 November 2011. However, all five were pardoned without comment by Sheikh Khalifa the following day.[38]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ UAE History: 20,000 - 2,000 years ago - UAEinteract
  4. ^ The Archaeology of Ras al-Khaimah
  5. ^ History of the UAE
  6. ^ History of The United Arab Emirates - Ottoman Rule
  7. ^ British and Ottoman rule
  8. ^ Portuguese history UAE
  9. ^ "NCDR | UAE History | Portuguese Era". 2005-01-30. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  10. ^ "United Arab Emirates History, UAE History, History of the Arabian Peninsula, Arabian Culture". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  11. ^ Comparative law and justice/United Arab Emirates
  12. ^ "Ottoman Empire - History of Ottoman Empire | Dictionary of Contemporary World History". 1923-10-29. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  13. ^ Belgrave, Sir Charles (1966) The Pirate Coast, London: G. Bell and Sons
  14. ^ "UK in the UAE". 2008-05-01. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  15. ^ Tore Kjeilen (2007-04-04). "Trucial States". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  16. ^ "UAE History & Traditions: Pearls & pearling". UAEinteract. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  17. ^ "Middle East | Country profiles | Country profile: United Arab Emirates". BBC News. 2009-03-11. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  18. ^ "United Arab Emirates (06/07)". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  19. ^ "Oil at heart of renewed UAE-Saudi border dispute - Jane's Security News". Archived from the original on August 14, 2007. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  20. ^ "United Arab Emirates - Oil and Natural Gas". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  21. ^ "Al Khaleej News Paper". 
  22. ^ "Trucial States Council until 1971 (United Arab Emirates)". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  23. ^ Jonathan Gornall. "Sun sets on British Empire as UAE raises its flag - The National". Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  24. ^ a b c "History the United Arab Emirates UAE". TEN Guide. 1972-02-11. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  25. ^ a b Maktoum, Mohammed (2012). Spirit of the Union. UAE: Motivate. pp. 30–38.  
  26. ^ a b Zahlan, Rosemarie Said (1979). The creation of Qatar (print ed.). Barnes & Noble Books. p. 104.  
  27. ^ a b c R.S. Zahlan (1979), p. 105
  28. ^ R.S. Zahlan (1979), p. 106
  29. ^ "Bahrain – INDEPENDENCE". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  30. ^ "United Arab Emirates: History, Geography, Government, and Culture". Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  31. ^ Smith, Simon C. (2004). Britain's Revival and Fall in the Gulf: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial States, 1950–71. London: Routledge.  
  32. ^ "Trucial Oman or Trucial States – Origin of Trucial Oman or Trucial States". Oxford Dictionary of World Place Names. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  33. ^ "Veteran Gulf ruler Zayed dies". BBC News. 2004-11-02. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  34. ^ "United Arab Emirates profile". BBC News. 2013-10-26. 
  35. ^ Wheeler, Julia (15 December 2006). "UAE prepares for first elections". Archived from the original on 13 April 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  36. ^ a b "UAE: End Trial of Activists Charged with Insulting Officials".  
  37. ^ "'"Five jailed UAE activists 'receive presidential pardon. BBC News. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 
  38. ^ "UAE pardons jailed activists". Al Jazeera. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 22 January 2012. 

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