US DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Official Name: United Arab Emirates
Nationality: Noun and adjective--UAE, Emirian, or Emiri. Population
(1990 est.): 1.8 million. Annual growth rate: 2.8%. Ethnic groups:
Arab, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, Filipino (15-20% of residents are UAE
citizens). Religions: Muslim (90%), Hindu, Christian. Languages:
Arabic (official), English, Hindi, Urdu, Persian. Education: Years
compulsory--ages 6-12. Literacy (UAE citizens)--about 60%. Life
expectancy: About 63 yrs. Work force (1990) 650,000 (90% foreign):
Agriculture--6%. Industry and commerce--65%. Services--16%.
Area: 82,880 sq. km. (30,000 sq. mi.); about the size of Maine. Cities
(1990 est.): Capital--Abu Dhabi (pop. over 500,000); Dubai (pop. over
400,000). Terrain: Largely desert with some agricultural areas.
Climate: Hot, humid, low annual rainfall.
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 (1990): $4.3 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 (1990): $34 billion. Annual growth rate (23%). Per capita GDP
(1990): $21,335. Inflation rate (1990 est.): 10%.
Natural resource: Oil.
Agriculture (1.5% of 1990 GDP): Products--vegetables, dates, dairy
Petroleum: (46% of 1990 GDP.)
Other industry: (7.5% of 1990 GDP).
Services: (45% of 1990 GDP): Trade, government, real estate.
Trade (1990 est.): Exports--$21 billion: petroleum, gas, and petroleum
products. Major markets--EC, Japan, US (4%). Imports--$12 billion:
machinery, consumer goods, food. Major suppliers--Western Europe,
Japan, US (8%).
Official exchange rate: US$1=3.67 dirhams.
Foreign economic aid (1973 through 1989): In excess of $15 billion.
Membership in 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, Non-Aligned Movement.
Only 15-20% of the total population of 1.8 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 Shia
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 10,000
students in 1990. A network of technical-vocational colleges opened in
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
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 UK 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 apparently is not
recognized by the Saudi Government. The border with Oman also remains
In 1968, the UK 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
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. In
October 1986, the provisional constitution was extended for another 5
years and probably will be extended for another 5 years in December
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. His current 5-year term ends in December 1991, but it
seems likely he will be elected to another 5-year term.
Principal Government Officials
President, Ruler of Abu Dhabi--Shaikh Zayyed bin Sultan Al Nahayyan
Vice President and Prime Minister, Ruler of Dubai--Shaikh Maktoum 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--Sheikh Abdallah bin Zayyed bin Saqr al
Ambassador to the United Nations--Mohammad bin Husayn al-Sha'ali
The UAE maintains an embassy in the United States at 600 New Hampshire
Avenue NW, Suite 740, Washington, DC 20037 (tel. 202-338-6500). The UAE
Mission to the UN is located at 747 3d 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
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 60,000
troops, are headquartered in Abu Dhabi and are primarily responsible for
the defense of six of the seven emirates. Dubai's central military
command (12,000 troops) has primary responsibility for Dubai's defense.
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 1,800 personnel. Equipment includes French
Mirage 3s and 5s and newly purchased Mirage 2000s, British Hawk
aircraft, and French helicopters. The newly revitalized air defense has
a Hawk missile program for which the US is providing training. The UAE
has taken delivery of two of five Triad I-Hawk batteries. The UAE navy
is small--about 1,000 personnel--and maintains 12 well-equipped coastal
The UAE contributes a few hundred troops to the Gulf Cooperation
Council's "Peninsula Shield" force, headquartered in Saudi Arabia.
These forces participated in the recent Gulf war.
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 over 100 billion barrels in 1990, with gas reserves
estimated at over 200 trillion cubic feet; at present production rates,
these supplies would last well over 100 years.
In 1990, the UAE produced about 2 million barrels of oil per day--of
which Abu Dhabi produced approximately 80%--with Dubai, and Sharjah to a
much lesser extent, producing the rest. The UAE's oil production rose
significantly in the latter half of 1990 after the outbreak of the Gulf
war. The UAE is embarking on a major expansion of production capacity
during the next 5 years.
In 1990, GDP increased substantially as a result of soaring oil
revenues, but many companies in the non-oil sector were hit hard by a
general slowdown in business during the period leading up to the Gulf
war. The oil sector remains the chief determinant of growth in the UAE
economy by virtue of its major contribution to the GDP. The preliminary
estimate of 1990 GDP is $34 billion, up 23% from 1989.
The US has sizable trade with the UAE. In 1990, the US share of the
UAE's imports was estimated at 8%. About 4% of the UAE's exports,
mainly oil, went to the US. The UAE's major trade partners are Japan,
the EEC, and the US.
The increase in the favorable overall balance of trade in 1990--from
$5.4 billion in 1989 to $9.5 billion in 1990--was due to boosts in the
value of oil and gas exports. The country's imports rose by about 16%
from $10 billion in 1989 to $12 billion in 1990, while exports were up
by 36% from $15.5 billion in 1989 to $21 billion in 1990. However, the
UAE's balance of payments was actually negative for the first time,
registering a 300 million loss. This was due to the significant cash
outflows from the UAE's military contributions to the liberation of
Kuwait, aid to countries affected by the Gulf crisis, and huge capital
transfers by individuals and companies during 1990 because of the
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 $60 billion in overseas
The depreciation of the dollar caused a considerable increase in the
cost of imports from Europe and Asia, especially in the latter half of
1990. There is now a trend toward reducing the country's huge
expatriate population, which represents about 90% of the total UAE work
force of 650,000. From now on, imports of new labor will depend on the
specific requirements of a new project.
Over 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 Emiris 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 post-Gulf war period should see
increased efforts to accelerate economic integration by the UAE and
other GCC countries.
The UAE joined the United Nations and the Arab League and has
established diplomatic relations with more than 60 countries, including
the US, Japan, the Soviet Union, 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, Syria, Egypt, the US, and other
Western allies for its security. The UAE believes that the Arab League
needs to be restructured to become a viable institution.
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 US-UAE relations are
increasing dramatically as a result of the US-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 US Officials
Ambassador--Edward S. Walker, Jr.
Deputy Chief of Mission--Brian J. Mohler
Political Officer--Juliana Seymour Peck
Economic Officer--William T. Fleming, Jr.
Consular Officer--Charles E. Robertson
Public Affairs Officer--Sami G. Hajjar
Commercial Officer--B. Paul Sogna
Mailing Address--PO Box 4009, Abu Dhabi; tel: 336691, USIS: 336567,
Commercial Office: 345545; fax: 318441, Chancery: 213771, US Labor
Office: 391604, Commercial Office: 331374.
Consul General in Dubai--Joseph Le Barron; PO Box 9343; tel: (04)
371115; fax: 379043, Commercial Office: 375121).
Customs: A visa is required for entry. Business or visitor visas can be
arranged with only a few days' notice through local sponsors or major
hotels. Hotels levy a varying surcharge for this service. No
immunizations are required. Health requirements change; check latest
Health: No unusual precautions in food and drink are necessary. Water
is potable. For travel to some areas, malaria suppressant is advisable.
Many Western-trained doctors practice in the
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