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United Arab Emirates (UAE),
federation of sheikhdoms (2005 est. pop. 2,563,000), c.30,000 sq mi (77,700 sq
km), SE Arabia, on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The federation,
commonly known as the UAE, consists of seven sheikhdoms: Abu Dhabi
(territorially the largest of the sheikhdoms), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah,
Sharjah, and Umm al-Qaiwain. The city of Abu Dhabi (1991 est. pop. 798,000) in
Abu Dhabi is the capital.
Land and People
The land is largely hot, dry desert. Located in the eastern portion of the
federation is a portion of the Jabal al Akhdar Mts. Less than half of the
inhabitants of the UAE are Arabs, while South Asians make up about 40%, and
there are also Iranians, East Asians, and Westerners. Only about 20% of the
UAE's population are native citizens. The nonindigenous population was first
attracted by the employment provided by the UAE's petroleum boom. Muslims
comprise 96% of the population (80% of these are Sunni, the balance Shiite) and
the remaining 4% are largely Christian or Hindu. The official language is
Arabic, but Farsi and English are widely used, and Hindi and Urdu are spoken by
many of the South Asians.
Industries involving the area's oil and natural-gas deposits are still critical
to the economy, and provide the bulk of export earnings. However, the country's
increasingly diversified economy relies also on international banking, financial
services, regional corporate headquarters, and tourism. The traditional
occupations of fishing and pearling are still practiced, and there is some
agriculture (dates, vegetables, watermelon, poultry). Aluminum, fertilizer, and
textiles are manufactured, and there is commercial ship repair. Imports include
machinery and equipment, chemicals, and food; trading partners are Japan, India,
Great Britain, South Korea, and China. The UAE has a large trade surplus.
The UAE is governed under the constitution of 1971, which was made permanent in
1996. A Federal Supreme Council (FSC), composed of the seven emirate rulers, is
the highest constitutional authority in the UAE. The president, who is the head
of state, is elected by the FSC for a five-year term, with no term limits. The
government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president.
The highest legislative body is the unicameral Federal National Council, with 40
members. The members were previously all appointed by the rulers of the
constituent states, but beginning in 2006 elections (initially participated in
only by a select group of voters) were held for half the members; the rest are
still appointed. Local matters are dealt with by the sheikhs. Administratively,
the country is divided into the seven emirates.
The states that comprise the UAE were formerly known as the Trucial States,
Trucial Coast, or Trucial Oman. The term trucial refers to the fact that the
sheikhs ruling the seven constituent states were bound by truces concluded with
Great Britain in 1820 and by an agreement made in 1892 accepting British
protection. Before British intervention, the area was notorious for its pirates
and was called the Pirate Coast. After World War II the British granted internal
autonomy to the sheikhdoms. Discussion of federation began in 1968 when Britain
announced its intended withdrawal from the Persian Gulf area by 1971.
Originally Bahrain and Qatar were to be part of the federation, but after three
years of negotiations they chose to be independent. Ras al-Khaimah at first
opted for independence but reversed its decision in 1972. After the 1973 rise in
oil prices, the UAE was transformed from an impoverished region with many nomads
to a sophisticated state with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world
and a broad social welfare system. In 1981 the UAE joined the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC). The fall of the shah of Iran in 1979, the growth of Islamic
fundamentalism, and the Iran-Iraq War threatened the stability of the UAE in the
1980s. In 1990, Iraq accused the UAE and Kuwait of overproduction of oil. The
UAE participated with international coalition forces against Iraq during the
Persian Gulf War (1991). Since the Gulf War the UAE has expanded its
international contacts and diplomatic relations. A dispute erupted with Saudi
Arabia in 1999 over relations with Iran, a traditional enemy; while Saudi Arabia
appeared willing to seek improved ties, the emirates still regarded Iran as a
foe. Sheikh Zaid ibn Sultan al-Nahayan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, was president of
the UAE from the founding of the federation until his death in 2004, when his
son and heir, Sheikh Khalifa ibn Zaid Al Nahayan, was elected to succeeded him.
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