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Diplomacy in Action

United Arab Emirates (02/02)


For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


United Arab Emirates

Area: 82,880 sq. km. (30,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Maine.
Cities (2000 est.): Capital--Abu Dhabi (pop. 928,000); Dubai (pop. 860,000).
Terrain: Largely desert with some agricultural areas.
Climate: Hot, humid, low annual rainfall.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--UAE, Emirati.
Population (2000 est.): 2.4 million.
Annual growth rate: 1.6%.
Ethnic groups: Arab, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, Filipino (27% of residents are UAE citizens).
Religions: Muslim (96%), Hindu, Christian.
Languages: Arabic (official), English, Hindi, Urdu, Persian.
Education: Years compulsory--ages 6-12. Literacy (UAE citizens)--about 80%.
Health: Life expectancy--About 74 yrs.
Work force (2000) 1.4 million (75% foreign in 15-64 age group): Agriculture--8%; industry--32%; services--60%.

Type: Federation of emirates.
Independence: December 2, 1971.
Provisional constitution: December 2, 1971.
Branches: Executive--7-member Supreme Council of Rulers, which elects president and vice president. Legislative--40-member Federal National Council (consultative only). Judicial--Islamic and secular courts. Administrative subdivisions: Seven largely self-governing city-states.
Political parties: None.
Suffrage: None.
Central government budget (2000): $6.5 billion.
Flag: A vertical red stripe on the staff side and three horizontal stripes--green, white, and black from top to bottom--on the right.

GDP (2000): $54 billion.
Annual growth rate: 4%.
Per capita GDP (2000): $22,800.
Inflation rate (2000 est.): 4.5%.
Natural resources: Oil and natural gas.
Agriculture (3% of 1996 GDP): Products--vegetables, dates, dairy products, poultry, fish.
Petroleum: 33% of 1996 GDP.
Other industry: 19% of 1996 GDP.
Services (45% of 1996 GDP): Trade, government, real estate.
Trade (2000 est.): Exports--$46 billion: petroleum, gas, and petroleum products. Major markets--Japan, India, Singapore. Imports--$34 billion: machinery, consumer goods, food. Major suppliers--western Europe, Japan, U.S. (8%).
Foreign economic aid (1973 through 1989): In excess of $15 billion.

Only 27% of the total population of 2.4 million are UAE citizens. The rest include significant numbers of other Arabs--Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Yemenis, Omanis--as well as many Iranians, Pakistanis, Indians, Filipinos, and west Europeans.

The majority of UAE citizens are Sunni Muslims with a small Shi'a minority. Most foreigners also are Muslim, although Hindus and Christians make up a portion of the UAE's foreign population.

Educational standards among UAE citizens population are rising rapidly. Citizens and temporary residents have taken advantage of facilities throughout the country. The UAE University in Al Ain had roughly 16,000 students in 2000. A network of technical-vocational colleges opened in 1989.

The UAE was formed from the group of tribally organized Arabian Peninsula shaikhdoms along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf and the northwestern coast of the Gulf of Oman. This area was converted to Islam in the 7th century; for centuries it was embroiled in dynastic disputes. It became known as the Pirate Coast as raiders based there harassed foreign shipping, although both European and Arab navies patrolled the area from the 17th century into the 19th century. Early British expeditions to protect the India trade from raiders at Ras al-Khaimah led to campaigns against that headquarters and other harbors along the coast in 1819. The next year, a general peace treaty was signed to which all the principal shaikhs of the coast adhered. Raids continued intermittently until 1835, when the shaikhs agreed not to engage in hostilities at sea. In 1853, they signed a treaty with the United Kingdom, under which the shaikhs (the "Trucial Shaikhdoms") agreed to a "perpetual maritime truce." It was enforced by the United Kingdom, and disputes among shaikhs were referred to the British for settlement.

Primarily in reaction to the ambitions of other European countries, the United Kingdom and the Trucial Shaikhdoms established closer bonds in an 1892 treaty, similar to treaties entered into by the U.K. with other Gulf principalities. The shaikhs 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 out in 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 would have settled the Abu Dhabi-Saudi border dispute; however, the agreement has yet to be ratified by the UAE Government and is not recognized by the Saudi Government. The border with Oman also remains officially unsettled, but the two governments agreed to delineate the border in May 1999.

In 1968, the U.K. announced its decision, reaffirmed in March 1971, to end the treaty relationships with the seven Trucial Shaikhdoms 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, even though the termination date of the British treaty relationship was the end of 1971. Bahrain became independent in August and Qatar in September 1971. When the British-Trucial Shaikhdoms 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.

Administratively, the UAE is a loose federation of seven emirates, each with its own ruler. The pace at which local government in each emirate evolves from traditional to modern is set primarily by the ruler. Under the provisional constitution of 1971, each emirate reserves considerable powers, including control over mineral rights (notably oil) 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 (cabinet), led by a prime minister (head of government); a supreme council of rulers; and a 40-member National Assembly, a consultative body whose members are appointed by the emirate rulers. President Shaikh Zayyed bin Sultan Al Nahyyan has been president of the UAE since it was founded.

Principal Government Officials
Supreme Council
President, Ruler of Abu Dhabi--Shaikh Zayyed bin Sultan Al Nahayyan
Vice President and Prime Minister, Ruler of Dubai--Shaikh Maktum bin Rashid Al Maktum
Ruler of Sharjah--Shaikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi
Ruler of Ajman--Shaikh Humaid bin Rashid al-Nuaimi
Ruler of Umm al-Qaiwain--Shaikh Rashid bin Ahmad al-Mualla
Ruler of Ras al-Khaimah--Shaikh Saqr bin Muhammad al-Qasimi
Ruler of Fujairah--Shaikh Hamad bin Muhammad al-Sharqi
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs--Hamdan bin Zayed al Nahyan
Ambassador to the United States--Al Asri Saeed Ahmed al-Dhahri
Ambassador to the United Nations--Abd al-Aziz bin Nasir al-Shamsi

The UAE maintains an embassy in the United States at 1255 22nd Street, NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC, 20037 (tel.202-955-7999). The UAE Mission to the UN is located at 747 3rd Avenue, 36th Floor, New York, NY 10017 (tel. 212-371-0480).

The relative political and financial influence of each emirate is reflected in the allocation of positions in the federal government. The ruler of Abu Dhabi, whose emirate is the UAE's major oil producer, is president of the UAE. The ruler of Dubai, which is the UAE's commercial center and a significant oil producer, is vice president and prime minister.

Since achieving independence in 1971, the UAE has worked to strengthen its federal institutions. Nonetheless, each emirate still retains substantial autonomy, and progress toward greater federal integration has slowed in recent years. A basic concept in the UAE Government's development as a federal system is that a significant percentage of each emirate's revenues should be devoted to the UAE central budget.

The UAE has no political parties. There is talk of steps toward democratic government, but nothing concrete has emerged. 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 but have not fundamentally altered this traditional political system.

The Trucial Oman Scouts, long the symbol of public order on the coast and commanded by British officers, were turned over to the UAE as its defense forces in 1971. The UAE armed forces, consisting of 65,000 troops, are headquartered in Abu Dhabi and are primarily responsible for the defense of the seven emirates.

The UAE military relies heavily on troop force from other Arab countries and Pakistan. The officer corps, however, is composed almost exclusively of UAE nationals.

The UAE air force has about 3,500 personnel. The air force agreed in 1999 to purchase 80 advanced U.S. F-16 multirole fighter aircraft. Other equipment includes French Mirage 3s and 5s and Mirage 2000s, British Hawk aircraft, and French helicopters. The air defense has a Hawk missile program for which the United States is providing training. The UAE has taken delivery of two of five Triad I-Hawk batteries. The UAE navy is small--about 1,500 personnel--and maintains 12 well-equipped coastal patrol boats and 8 missile crafts.

The UAE sent forces to liberate Kuwait during the 1990-91 Gulf War. In addition, it continues to contribute to the continued security and stability of the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. It is a leading partner in the campaign against terrorism, providing assistance in the military, diplomatic, and financial arenas.

Prior to the first exports of oil in 1962, the UAE 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 UAE has huge proven oil reserves, estimated at 98.2 billion barrels in 1998, with gas reserves estimated at 5.8 billion cubic meters; at present production rates, these supplies would last well over 150 years.

In 2000, the UAE produced about 2.2 million barrels of oil per day--of which Abu Dhabi produced approximately 85%--with Dubai, and Sharjah to a much lesser extent, producing the rest.

Major increases in imports occurred in manufactured goods, machinery, and transportation equipment, which together 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 $150 billion in overseas investments.

More than 200 factories 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 in the complex.

Except in the free trade zone, the UAE requires at least 51% local citizen ownership in all businesses operating in the country as part of its attempt to place Emiratis into leadership positions.

As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the UAE participates in the 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 UAE joined 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 UAE's stature among recipient states. Most of this foreign aid (in excess of $15 billion) has been to Arab and Muslim countries.

Following Iraq's 1990 invasion and attempted annexation of Kuwait, the UAE has sought to rely on the GCC, the United States, and other Western allies for its security. The UAE believes that the Arab League needs to be restructured to become a viable institution.

The UAE is a member of the following international organizations: UN and several of its specialized agencies (ICAO, ILO, UPU, WHO, WIPO); World Bank, 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 United States has enjoyed friendly relations with the UAE since 1971. Private commercial ties, especially in petroleum, have developed into friendly government-to-government ties which include security assistance. The breadth, depth, and quality of U.S.-UAE relations increased dramatically as a result of the U.S.-led coalition's campaign to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. The United States was the third country to establish formal diplomatic relations with the UAE and has had an ambassador resident in the UAE since 1974.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Marcelle Wahba
Deputy Chief of Mission--Gordon Olson
Political Officer--Stephanie Williams
Economic Officer--Thomas Williams
Consular Officer--Mark Marrano
Public Affairs Officer--Katherine Van De Vate
Commercial Officer--Nancy Charles-Parker

Mailing address--PO Box 4009, Abu Dhabi; tel: (971) (2) 4436691, PAO 4436567; fax: 4434802; Commercial Office: 6273666; fax: 6271377; Consul General in Dubai--Richard Olson, Jr.; PO Box 9343; tel: (971) (4) 3313115; fax: 3313043, Commercial Office: 3313584).

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