United Arab Emirates


Area: 83,600 sq. km. (32,300 sq. mi.); about the size of Maine. Cities (2016 est.): Capital–Abu Dhabi (pop. 1,145,000); Dubai (pop. 2,788,929). Terrain: Largely desert with some agricultural areas. Climate: Hot, humid, low annual rainfall.


Nationality: Noun and adjective–UAE, Emirati. Population: 9.2 million, of which, 1.4 (10%) locals and 7.8 million (90%) expatriates. Annual growth rate: 2.47%. Ethnic groups: Arab, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, Filipino (11.32% of residents are UAE citizens). Religions: Muslim (76%), Hindu, Christian. Languages: Arabic (official), English, Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu, Persian. Education: UAE’s UNDP HDI (Human Development Indicator) ranking is 42. Estimated net primary school enrolment ratio (2001/2) is 92%. Adult literacy rate (% age 15 and over HDI (2016)) is 93.8% for the overall population. Adult literacy rate (% ages 15 and above) male is 93.6% and female 97.0%. Health: Infant mortality rate (2002) is 5.9/1,000 live births. Life expectancy at birth (2016) is 77.1 years with male life expectancy at birth at 76.5 years (2016) and females at 78.7 years (2016). The crude death rate is 2 per 1000 population (Unicef, 2003). The under-five year mortality rate (2016) is 6.8 per 1000 live births. 91.2% of the population is internet users.


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 (2016): $13.6 billion.


Foreign direct investment flows into the UAE stood at $8,986 million in 2016. Current GDP (2016): $348.7 billion. In 2003, GDP growth rate was 12.5% and per capita GDP was $19,751. GDP break-up by sector (2015): Oil and gas (2.9%); wholesale and retail trade, car repairs (13.2%); information and communication (4.8%); mining (3.2%); professional, scientific, and technical activities (3.1%); transportation and storage (2.1%); agriculture (3.1%); manufacturing (5.2%); construction (4.5%); finance and insurance (50.6%); and real estate (13.4%). In 2016, government budget was -3.9% of GDP, with a $3.7 billion deficit. Trade balance was 25.2% of GDP. Exports stood at $324 billion, of which oil and gas constituted 53% of total exports. Other exports included chemicals, base metals, textiles and foodstuff. The top five countries to which the UAE sends its exports are Iran (3.0%), India (2.9%), Saudi Arabia (1.5%), Oman (1.4%), and Switzerland (1.2%). Major markets for non-oil exports included Japan (20%), UK (6.4%), China (6.1%), Germany (3.5%) and India (2.8%). Imports stood at $217 billion and included food, construction materials, vehicles and parts and clothing. . The most recent imports are led by broadcasting equipment (6.55%), followed by gold(5.89%). Major suppliers included China ($37.1B), India ($30B), the United States ($17.4B), Germany ($15.8B) and the United Kingdom ($10.4B). With a score of 66, UAE ranks 24th internationally on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.


Only 11.32% of the total population of 9.2 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 13,500 students in 2012. A network of technical-vocational colleges opened in 1989. The government expenditure on education stood at Dhs5.38 billion in 2003.


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. The current president of the UAE is President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.


Supreme Council President, Ruler of Abu Dhabi– Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Vice President and Prime Minister, Ruler of Dubai– Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
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
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs–Hamdan bin Zayed al Nahyan
Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces: Lt. General . Staff Hamad Mohammad Thani Al Romaithi
Ambassador to the United Nations– Lana Nusseibeh


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. DEFENSE 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 currently has about 4,000 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 2,500 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. The UAE military provides humanitarian assistance to Iraq.


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 2003, the UAE produced about 3.06 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 $8.8 billion USD) 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 and would like to increase strength and interoperability of the GCC defense forces.

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.

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