Note to our readers: Background Notes are no longer being updated or produced. They are being replaced with Fact Sheets focusing on U.S. relations with countries and providing links to additional resources. For archived versions of Background Notes, see http://www.state.gov/outofdate/bgn/.
Area: 82,880 sq. km. (30,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Maine.
Major cities: Capital--Abu Dhabi; Dubai.
Terrain: Largely desert with some agricultural areas.
Climate: Hot, humid, low annual rainfall.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--U.A.E., Emirati.
Population (2009 est., U.A.E. Government): 8.9 million.
Ethnic groups (U.A.E. Government): Indian (1.75 million); Pakistani (1.25 million); Bangladeshi (500,000); other Asian (1 million); European and African (500,000); and Emirati (890,000).
Religions: Muslim (96%), Hindu, Christian.
Languages: Arabic (official), English, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali.
Education: Years compulsory--ages 6-12. Literacy--90% for Emirati citizens.
Health: Life expectancy--78.3 yrs.
Work force (2008, World Bank): Total--2.8 million. Agriculture--5%; industry--60%; services--35% (rounded). Female participation rate--41.8%.
Type: Federation with specified powers reserved for the U.A.E. federal government and other powers reserved to member emirates.
Independence: December 2, 1971.
Provisional constitution: December 2, 1971.
Branches: Executive--7-member Supreme Council of Rulers (comprising the hereditary rulers of each Emirate), which elects president and vice president; prime minister is selected by president. Legislative--40-member Federal National Council (consultative only). Judicial--Islamic and secular courts.
Administrative subdivisions: Seven largely self-governing emirates.
Political parties: None.
Suffrage: State-nominated electors chose half of the Federal National Council members in 2006 and 2011. The other half were directly appointed by the leadership of each Emirate.
Federal government budget (2011): 41 billion AED (United Arab Emirates dirhams), or approx. U.S. $11 billion.
Economy (World Bank data)
GDP (2009): 914.3 billion AED (approx. U.S. $248 billion).
Annual growth rate (2007): 6.3%.
Per capita GDP (2008): over U.S. $53,400.
Natural resources: Oil and natural gas.
Petroleum (2008 est.): 36.8% of GDP.
Mining, manufacturing, and construction, of which manufacturing was 12.2% of GDP in 2008 (est.).
Services: 56.1% of 2009 GDP.
Trade (2006 est.): Exports--$157 billion: petroleum, gas, and petroleum products. Major markets--Japan, South Korea, Thailand, India. Imports--$126.6 billion: machinery, chemicals, food. Major suppliers--Western Europe, Japan, U.S., China, India.
Foreign economic aid (2009): 8.9 billion AED (approx. U.S. $2.4 billion).
Of the total 8.9 million residents, less than 15% are Emirati, more than one-third are South Asian, and a significant number are from Europe and North Africa.
The majority of Emirati citizens are Sunni Muslim with a Shi'a minority. Many foreigners are Muslim; Hindus and Christians make up a portion of the U.A.E.'s foreign population.
Educational standards are rising rapidly. Citizens and temporary residents have taken advantage of higher education facilities throughout the country. In the 2010 spring semester, U.A.E. University in Al Ain had roughly 12,000 students and American University Sharjah had over 5,000 students enrolled. The Higher Colleges of Technology, a network of technical-vocational colleges, opened in 1989 with men's and women's campuses in each emirate. Zayed University for women opened in 1998 with campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Many foreign universities, including ones from the U.S., U.K., and Australia, also have campuses in the U.A.E.
The U.A.E. was formed from the group of tribally organized Arabian Peninsula sheikhdoms along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf and the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Oman. For centuries, the sheikhdoms were embroiled in dynastic disputes. It became known as the Pirate Coast as raiders based there harassed foreign shipping, despite both European and Arab navies patrolling the area from the 17th to the 19th century. Early British expeditions to protect India trade from raiders at Ras al-Khaimah led to campaigns against other harbors along the coast in 1819. The next year, a general peace treaty was signed to which all the principal 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 Political Resident, a British civil servant, for settlement.
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 U.K. with other 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 assist the Sheikhs in the case of land attack.
In 1955, the United Kingdom sided with Abu Dhabi in the latter's dispute with Saudi Arabia over the Buraimi Oasis and other territory to the south. A 1974 agreement between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia almost settled their border dispute, but the agreement was never ratified by the U.A.E. Government. The border with Oman also remains officially unsettled, although the two governments agreed to delineate the border in May 1999.
In 1968, the U.K. announced its decision to end the treaty relationships with the seven Trucial Sheikhdoms which had been, together with Bahrain and Qatar, under British protection. The nine attempted to form a union of Arab emirates, but by mid-1971 they were unable to agree on terms of union. Bahrain became independent in August and Qatar in September, 1971. When the British-Trucial Sheikhdoms treaty expired on December 1, 1971, they became fully independent. On December 2, 1971, six of them entered into a union called the United Arab Emirates. The seventh, Ras al-Khaimah, joined in early 1972. Abu Dhabi’s ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan was elected by the Supreme Council as President and Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Rashid bin Said al Maktoum, became Prime Minister.
The U.A.E. sent forces to help liberate Kuwait during the 1990-91 Gulf War. U.A.E. troops have also participated in peacekeeping missions to Lebanon, Somalia, Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.
In 2004, the U.A.E.'s first and only president until that time, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died. His eldest son and Crown Prince, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, succeeded him as Ruler of Abu Dhabi. In accordance with the Constitution, the U.A.E.'s Supreme Council of Rulers elected Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan as U.A.E. Federal President. Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan succeeded Khalifa as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. In January 2006, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, U.A.E. Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, passed away and was replaced by his brother, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Administratively, the U.A.E. is a loose federation of seven emirates, each with its own ruler. Under the provisional constitution of 1971, each emirate reserves considerable powers, including control over mineral rights (notably oil and gas) and revenues. In this milieu, federal powers have developed slowly. The constitution established the positions of President (Chief of State) and Vice President, each serving 5-year terms; a Council of Ministers, led by a Prime Minister (head of government); a supreme council of rulers; and a 40-member Federal National Council (FNC). The FNC is a consultative body with half its members appointed by the emirate rulers and half elected through an electorate chosen by the rulers of each emirate.
Principal Government Officials
President, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces --Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Vice President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Ruler of Dubai--Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior--Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs--Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince--Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Finance--Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Minister of State for Finance--Obaid Humaid Al Tayer
Minister of Education--Humaid Mohammed Obeid al Qattami
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs--Mohammed Anwar Gargash
Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research--Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan
Minister of Public Works--Hamdan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan
Minister of Economy--Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri
Minister of Foreign Trade--Lubna Al Qasimi
Minister of Justice--Hadef bin Jua'an Al Dhaheri
Minister of Energy--Mohammed bin Dha'en Al Hamili
Minister of Labour--Saqr Ghobash Saeed Ghobash
Minister for Cabinet Affairs--Mohammed Abdullah Al Gargawi
Minister of Social Affairs--Mariam Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi
Minister of Health (acting/interim)-- Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Owais
Minister of Environment and Water--Rashid Ahmad bin Fahad
Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development--Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Owais
Ambassador to the United States--Yousef Al Otaiba
Ambassador to the United Nations in New York--Ahmad Al Jarman
The U.A.E. maintains an embassy in the United States at 3522 International Court, NW, Washington, DC, 20008 (tel. 202-243-2400). The U.A.E. Mission to the UN is located at 747 3rd Avenue, 36th Floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-371-0480).
While the U.A.E. has worked to strengthen its federal institutions since achieving independence, each emirate still retains substantial autonomy. A basic concept in the U.A.E. Government's development as a federal system is that a significant percentage of each emirate's revenues should be devoted to the U.A.E. central budget.
The U.A.E. has no political parties. The rulers hold power on the basis of their dynastic position and their legitimacy in a system of tribal consensus. Rapid modernization, enormous strides in education, and the influx of a large foreign population have changed the face of the society. In December 2006, the U.A.E. held its first-ever limited elections to select half the members of the FNC. Ballots were cast by electors selected by the ruler of each emirate. One woman was elected to the FNC and additional women were appointed to be council members. In September 2011, the U.A.E. held its second FNC elections, this time expanding the electoral pool from under 7,000 in 2006 to nearly 130,000 voters. Again, one woman was elected; an additional six were later appointed.
The Trucial Oman Scouts, long the symbol of public order on the coast and commanded by British officers, were turned over to the U.A.E. as its defense forces in 1971. The U.A.E. Armed Forces, consisting of 64,000, are headquartered in Abu Dhabi and are primarily responsible for the defense of the seven emirates.
Although small in number, the U.A.E. armed forces are equipped with some of the most modern weapon systems, purchased from a variety of countries. In 2010 and 2011, the U.A.E. was one of the largest foreign buyers of U.S. defense equipment with a portfolio value of $14B The military has been reducing the number of foreign nationals in its ranks, and its officer corps is composed almost entirely of U.A.E. nationals. The U.A.E. air force has about 4,000 personnel. The Air Force has advanced U.S. F-16 BLOCK 60 multirole fighter aircraft. Other equipment includes French Mirage 2000-9 fighters, British Hawk trainer aircraft, 36 transport aircraft and U.S. Apache and Black Hawk helicopters. In 2011, the UAE Air Force participated in Operation Unified Protector in Libya, conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground operations. The U.A.E. Navy is small--about 2,500 personnel--and maintains 12 well-equipped coastal patrol boats and 8 missile boats. Although primarily concerned with coastal defense, the Navy is constructing a six-unit class of blue water corvettes in conjunction with French shipbuilder CMN. The U.A.E.'s Land Forces are equipped with several hundred French LeClerc tanks and a similar number of Russian BMP-3 armored fighting vehicles. In early 2010, the Presidential Guard (PG) was formed. The PG is comprised of Marines, Reconnaissance, Aviation, Special Forces/Amiri Guard and Mechanized Brigades. PG personnel are conducting operations in Afghanistan (the only Arab personnel undertaking full-scale operations in the country).
The U.A.E. contributes to the continued security and stability of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. It is a leading partner in U.S. counterterrorism efforts, providing assistance in the military, diplomatic, and financial arenas since September 11, 2001.
The U..A.E. also contributes to international counterpiracy efforts. It hosted a counterpiracy conference in Spring 2011 – the first such conference co-hosted by a foreign government and private industry, which also (as another first in the case of private industry) succeeded in raising donations to be put towards the UN Trust Fund. The U.A.E. continues to look for ways to improve its efforts. It will reportedly host another counterpiracy conference in 2012. The U.A.E. also will host the Spring 2012 plenary meeting of the UN Contact on Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia.
Also on the piracy front, two U.A.E. vessels were pirated in 2011. Most notable was the M/V Arrilah, which the U.A.E. military successfully retook.
Prior to the first exports of oil in 1962, the U.A.E. economy was dominated by pearl production, fishing, agriculture, and herding. Since the rise of oil prices in 1973, however, petroleum has dominated the economy, accounting for most of its export earnings and providing significant opportunities for investment. The U.A.E. has huge proven oil reserves, estimated at 97.8 billion barrels in 2011, with gas reserves estimated at 214.2 trillion cubic feet; at present production rates, these supplies would last well over 150 years. In 2009, the U.A.E. produced about 2.41 million barrels of oil per day.
Major increases in imports have occurred in manufactured goods, machinery, and transportation equipment, which together have accounted for 70% of total imports. Another important foreign exchange earner, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority--which controls the investments of Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest emirate--manages an estimated $600 billion in overseas investments.
More than 6,000 companies from more than 120 countries operate at the Jebel Ali complex in Dubai, which includes a deep-water port and a free trade zone for manufacturing and distribution in which all goods for re-export or transshipment enjoy a 100% duty exemption. A major power plant with associated water desalination units, an aluminum smelter, and a steel fabrication unit are prominent facilities near the complex.
Except in the free trade zone, the U.A.E. requires at least 51% local citizen ownership in all businesses operating in the country as part of its attempt to place Emiratis in leadership positions.
As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the U.A.E. participates in a wide range of GCC activities that focus on economic issues. These include regular consultations and development of common policies covering trade, investment, banking and finance, transportation, telecommunications, and other technical areas, including protection of intellectual property rights.
The U.A.E. is a member of the United Nations and the Arab League and has established diplomatic relations with more than 60 countries, including the U.S., Japan, Russia, the People's Republic of China, and most western European countries. It has played a moderate role in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, the United Nations, and the GCC.
Substantial development assistance has increased the U.A.E.'s stature among recipient states. Most of this foreign aid (in excess of $15 billion over time) has been to Arab and Muslim countries. In 2007, the U.A.E. pledged and delivered $300 million to Lebanon, and was the first country to fulfill its pledge. The U.A.E. has provided significant monetary and material support to the Iraqi Government, including a pledge of $215 million in economic and reconstruction assistance, and has also provided substantial aid to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Authority.
The U.A.E. is a member of the following international organizations: UN and several of its specialized agencies (ICAO, ILO, UPU, WHO, WIPO); World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Arab League, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, and the Non-Aligned Movement. The U.A.E. is also a member of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and hosts the headquarters at Abu Dhabi.
The United States has enjoyed friendly relations with the U.A.E. since 1971. Private commercial ties, especially in petroleum (the U.A.E. is the only GCC state to allow private-sector participation in its oil and gas sector), have developed into friendly government-to-government ties, which include security cooperation. The U.A.E. is the United States’ single largest export market in the Middle East and North Africa region, with $14.4 billion in exports in 2008 and more than 750 U.S. firms operating locally. There are nearly 50 weekly non-stop flights to the U.A.E. from six U.S. cities. U.A.E. ports host more U.S. Navy ships than any port outside the U.S. The United States was the third country to establish formal diplomatic relations with the U.A.E. and has had an ambassador resident in the U.A.E. since 1974.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Michael H. Corbin
Deputy Chief of Mission-- L. Victor Hurtado
Consul General (Dubai)--Justin Siberell
U.S. Embassy mailing address--PO Box 4009, Abu Dhabi; tel: (971) (2) 414-2200.
Consulate General Dubai--PO Box 121777; tel: (971) (4) 309-4000.