The UAE is a coastal nation with many islands in the Middle-East. It extends from the Qatar peninsula to the Strait of Hormuz and along the Gulf of Oman. It shares its borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia. Most part of the country is covered by the Arabian Desert. Only a small part of the country covers flat lands and coastal plains. It has oases (eg: Liwa and Tawam) and salt marshes. The north-eastern part of the country is flanked by the Hajar Mountain that supports little vegetation. Oil and natural gas are the primary natural resources of the UAE. It gets most of its water from desalination plants.
THE UAE before 1971
The people of the UAE during ancient and medieval period have led a tribal lifestyle. They involved in hunting, agriculture, fishing, animal husbandry and trading. A couple of Palaeolithic and Neolithic sites have been found in the the UAE especially in the principalities of Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Some of the ancient settlements have had contacts with ancient Mesopotamian and Indus Valley settlements.
During the medieval period, Europeans had naval contacts with the UAE. The Portuguese arrived in the UAE in 1500s while the British arrived in 1700s. The UAE coast along the Persian Gulf was termed ‘Pirate Coast’ by the British after the British ships to India along the Persian Gulf came under the attack of the UAE pirates during the medieval era. The British in a desperate attempt to safeguard its sea route to India, launched some military expeditions/campaigns against the pirates. So, Britain signed maritime truce in 1820 and signed several treaties and agreements in 1835, 1839 and 1847 with various Arabian principalities/emirates. In 1853, Britain signed the Perpetual Treaty of Maritime Truce with some emirates on the Pirate Coast. These emirates were collectively called the ‘Trucial States’ after signing of the Maritime Truce. In 1892, ‘Exclusive Agreements’ were signed. As per these treaties and agreements, Britain handled the foreign relations of the Trucial States and agreed to protect the Trucial States from external aggression. In return, the Trucial States promised a safe passage for British ships through their territories. Trucial States eventually became a British protectorate.
Trucial States, ‘Pirate Coast’ as such, remained independent from the regional powers such as Ottoman Empire and Persian Empire. This was because the Trucial States were underdeveloped and impoverished (until oil was discovered). They mainly relied on pearling and fishing for their income.
Due to the economic depressions that took place in 1920’s and 1930’s, pearling industry was completely affected. Then during 1940’s when pearling industry started to grow again, countries like India imposed heavy import duty for pearls from the Trucial States. In 1950’s, bores were drilled in the Trucial States to extract oil. The principality of Abu Dhabi was the first emirate of Trucial States to export oil in 1962 and Dubai followed the line in 1969.
The UAE after 1971
The UAE is a union of seven principalities called ‘Emirates’ or ‘Sheikhdoms’. Each emirate is ruled by a ruler titled ‘Sheikh’ or ‘Emir’, who acts as a monarch. The seven Emirates of the UAE are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Fujairah and Ras al-Khaimah.
The UAE in real sense emerged as an independent nation in 1971. In the early 1950’s, with the British support, Trucial States Council was formed. The British also raised Trucial Oman Scouts to maintain peace and security in the region. In December 1971, THE UAE was born after six of the seven emirates joined to form a nation now known as ‘The UAE’. Ras al-Khaimah was the seventh and the last emirate that joined THE UAE in 1972.
The UAE is a federal constitutional monarchy. A provisional constitution was adopted in 1971 and was replaced with a permanent constitution in 1996. The government of The UAE can be divided in to 3 braches:
1. Legislative (Supreme Council and National Council)
2. Executive (President, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Council of Ministers)
3. Judicial (Supreme Court and lower courts)
The Supreme Council consisting of seven rulers of each of the emirates of The UAE is the most politically powerful body of THE UAE. President and Prime Ministers are elected by the Supreme Council.
As per 1985 census, only 20% of people in the UAE were its citizens. The remaining 80% were not citizens and were from India, Pakistan, Oman, Iran, Palestine and other countries. Oil wealth let to rapid urbanisation and attracted people from other countries to work in the UAE. 3 cities in the UAE (Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah hosted 80% of the country’s population. There was also a social transformation due to revenues from oil and natural gas. The UAE citizens per capita income in 1980’s was found to be $100,000.
From the revenue generated during 1970s and early 1980s, the UAE constructed new roads, airports, seaports and hotels. Eventually, it laid the foundation for a social welfare system. During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), the UAE was divided in terms of supporting Iran and Iraq. Dubai supported Iran while rest of the Emirates supported Iraq. During the Kuwait War (1990-91), the UAE was a part of the coalition forces against Kuwait and it sent its forces to assist coalition forces. About one-third of the UAE’s military forces were foreigners.
Though economic growth slowed down in 1980’s, there was a dramatic economic growth between 1990s and 2000s. The UAE government developed the country and also invested in overseas areas. Local Islamic banks flourished. The financial crisis of 2008-2009 had an effect on THE UAE especially housing and real-estate sectors. Dubai became an example for economic and cultural globalisation. For example, Indoor snow skiing establishments were built in the UAE which is one of the hottest places on earth. The UAE also became a major hub for tourism and air-transportation.
Foreigners occupied most of the private sector jobs. However, their living condition is very poor. Citizens, on the other hand, enjoy a high standard of living as life expectancy increased, fertility rates fell, literacy grew, new colleges opened and latest technologies were adopted.
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