The United Arab Emirates is a small (about the size of Maine) but prosperous federation of seven independent emirates, or states.
Located on the Arabian Peninsula, and bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman, the mostly Muslim nation has maintained friendly ties with Western nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom partly out of necessity.
The United Arab Emirates' birth began when a group of tribally organized Arabian Peninsula sheikdoms signed a peace treaty with the United Kingdom in 1853. These "Trucial Sheikdoms" included: Abu Dhabi, Dubayy (Dubai), 'Ajman, Ash-Shariqah (Sharjah), Umm al-Qaywayn , Ra's al-Khaymah, Bahrain, and Qatar.
When the United Kingdom announced its withdrawal from the treaty in 1968, the trucial sheikdoms sought to unite. But all nine emirates could not come to agreements on terms.
Bahrain and Qatar formed their own independent countries in September 1971, three months before the treaty's Dec. 1 expiration date. The others — except Ra's al-Khaymah — formed the United Arab Emirates on Dec. 2, 1971. (Ra's al-Khaymah joined the United Arab Emirates in early 1972.)
Such rocky starts created many doubts that the United Arab Emirates would survive as an independent nation. Rivalry among its states, disputes with neighboring countries regarding borders as well as contentions with Iran over three islands in the Persian Gulf had threatened to implode the tiny federation.
Benefited From Oil
The United Arab Emirates has survived and prospered through these difficulties, largely because its president, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nuhayyan, has used the oil wealth of his emirate, Abu Dhabi, to the benefit of all the nation as well as to promote its security in the international arena.
Under Zayed, president since the United Arab Emirates' independence, the country has been a force of moderation in the Middle East. It was one of the few Arab nations to side with the United States and other Western nations during the 1991 Persian Gulf War that evicted Iraq from Kuwait.
It withdrew its recognition of the Taliban's rule of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington.
In October 2001, the U.S. launched a military push against the Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan. During this time, the United Arab Emirates' provided relief assistance to the civilian population of Afghanistan and Afghan refugees.
United Arab Emirates' constitution, provisionally adopted at independence in 1971 and made permanent only in 1996, established a federal government that leaves much power to the emirates. There are no political parties and no popular elections.
Although the governmental institutions are modern in form, the essence of political power is traditional and hereditary, with the ruling family of each emirate representing its dominant tribe.
The United Arab Emirates has one of the highest per-capita incomes of Gulf nation states. Some 33 percent of its $41.5 billion gross domestic product is based on oil and gas exports, which at current levels of production is estimated to last some 100 years.
More than half of the country's population of nearly 2.4 million people is composed of foreign nationals working in the nation's petroleum production industry.