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 (2002 est.): Capital--Abu Dhabi (pop. 1,000,000); Dubai (pop. 860,000).
Terrain: Largely desert with some agricultural areas.
Climate: Hot, humid, low annual rainfall.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--U.A.E., Emirati.
Population (2004 est.): 4.3 million.
Annual growth rate: 6.9%.
Ethnic groups: Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Egyptian, Jordanian, Iranian, Filipino, Other Arab, (15-20% of residents are U.A.E. citizens).
Religions: Muslim (96%), Hindu, Christian.
Languages: Arabic (official), English, Hindi, Urdu, Persian.
Education: Years compulsory--ages 6-12. Literacy (U.A.E. citizens)--about 80%.
Health: Life expectancy--About 74 yrs.
Work force (2003) 2.485 million (93% 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.
Central government budget (2006): $7 billion.
GDP (2004): $102 billion.
Annual growth rate: 7%.
Per capita GDP (2004): $21,600.
Inflation rate (2004 est.): 4.6%.
Natural resources: Oil and natural gas.
Agriculture (3.0% of GDP): Products--vegetables, dates, dairy products, poultry, fish.
Petroleum: 31.9% of 2003 GDP.
Other industry: 25% of 2002 GDP.
Services (44% of 2003 GDP): Trade, government, real estate.
Trade (2004 est.): Exports--$82.3 billion: petroleum, gas, and petroleum products. Major markets--Japan, India, Singapore, Iran. Imports--$54.2 billion: machinery, consumer goods, food. Major suppliers--western Europe, Japan, U.S. (6.5%), China, India.
Foreign economic aid (2003): In excess of $5.25 billion.
Only 15-20% of the total population of 4.041 million are U.A.E. citizens. The rest include significant numbers of other Arabs--Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Yemenis, Omanis--as well as many Iranians, Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Afghanis, Filipinos, and west Europeans.
The majority of U.A.E. 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 U.A.E.'s foreign population.
Educational standards among U.A.E. 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 17,000 students in 2004. 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.
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. 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 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.
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 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 U.A.E. 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 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, 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 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.
The U.A.E. sent forces to liberate Kuwait during the 1990-91 Gulf War.
In 2004, the U.A.E.’s first and only president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died. His eldest son 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 Maktum bin Rashid Al Maktum, 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, Crown Prince of Dubai and Minister of Defense. On February 9, 2006, the U.A.E. announced a cabinet reshuffle.
Administratively, the U.A.E. 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, 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.
Principal Government Officials
President, Ruler of Abu Dhabi--Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Vice President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Ruler of Dubai--Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Deputy Prime Minister--Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed al Nahyan
Deputy Prime Minister--Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed al Nahyan
Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince--Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Finance and Industry--Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Minister of Economy--Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi
Minister of Interior--Major Gen. Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Minister of Justice--Mohammed Nakhira Al Daheri
Minister of Energy--Mohammed bin Dha’en Al Hamili
Minister of Higher Education--Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan
Minister of Education--Dr. Hanif Hassan
Minister of State for Financial and Industrial Affairs--Dr. Mohammed Khalfan Bin Kharbash
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs--Mohammed Hussain Al Sha’ali
Minister of Federal National Council Affairs--Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash
Ambassador to the United States--Saqr Ghobash (designate)
Ambassador to the United Nations--Abd al-Aziz Bin Nasir al-Shamsi
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).
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 U.A.E.'s major oil producer, is president of the U.A.E. The ruler of Dubai, which is the U.A.E.'s commercial center, is vice president and prime minister.
Since achieving independence in 1971, the U.A.E. 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 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. 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 U.A.E. as its defense forces in 1971. The U.A.E. armed forces, consisting of 65,500 troops, are headquartered in Abu Dhabi and are primarily responsible for the defense of the seven emirates.
The U.A.E. military relies heavily on troop forces from other Arab countries and Pakistan. The officer corps, however, is composed almost exclusively of U.A.E. nationals. The air force is linked into a joint air defense system with the other six national of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) aimed at protecting the airspace of the allied states.
The U.A.E. air force has about 4,000 personnel. The air force has begun receiving the first of its 80 advanced U.S. F-16 multirole fighter aircraft. Other equipment includes French Mirage 2000-9s, British Hawk aircraft, 36 transport aircraft and U.S. Apache and French Puma helicopters. The U.A.E. has taken delivery of two of five Triad I-Hawk batteries. The U.A.E. navy is small--about 2,500 personnel--and maintains 12 well-equipped coastal patrol boats and 8 missile crafts. Although primarily concerned with coastal defense, the navy is currently expanding and modernizing its force to include blue water capabilities.
The U.A.E. contributes 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 since September 11, 2001. The U.A.E. military currently provides humanitarian assistance to Iraq.
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 98.8 billion barrels in 2003, with gas reserves estimated at (212 trillion cubic feet); at present production rates, these supplies would last well over 150 years.
In 2005, the U.A.E. produced about 2.5 million barrels of oil per day--of which Abu Dhabi produced approximately 94%--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 $250 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 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 into leadership positions.
As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the U.A.E. 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 U.A.E. 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 U.A.E.'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 U.A.E. has sought to rely on the GCC, the United States, and other Western allies for its security. The U.A.E. believes that the Arab League needs to be restructured to become a viable institution and would like to increase strength and interoperability of the GCC defense forces.
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, 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 U.A.E. 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.-U.A.E. relations increased dramatically as a result of the U.S.-led coalition's campaign to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. In 2002, the U.S. and the U.A.E. launched a strategic partnership dialogue covering virtually every aspect of the relationship. The U.A.E. has been a key partner in the war on terror after September 11, 2001. 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--Michele J. Sison
Deputy Chief of Mission--Martin Quinn
Political Officer--Joel Maybury
Economic Officer--Oliver John
Consular Officer--Robert Dolce
Management Officer--Debra Smoker-Ali
Public Affairs Officer--Hilary Olsin-Windecker
Commercial Officer--Christian Reed
U.S. Embassy mailing address--PO Box 4009, Abu Dhabi; tel: (971) (2) 414-2200, PAO (971)(2) 414-2410; fax: (971)(2) 414-2603; Commercial Office: (971)(2) 414-2304; fax: (971)(2) 414-2228; Consul General in Dubai--Jason L. Davis; PO Box 9343; tel: (971) (4) 311-6000; fax: (971)(4) 311-6166, Commercial Office: (971)(4) 311-6149).