About the UAE
The United Arab Emirates consists of seven independent city-states: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm al-Qaiwain, Fujairah, Ajman and Ra’s al-Khaimah. Four-fifths of the UAE is desert but has contrasting landscapes—from the towering red dunes of the Liwa to the rich palm-filled oases of Al Ain, from the precipitous Hajar Mountains to the more fertile stretches of its coastal plains.
Though small in size (similar to the State of Maine), the UAE has become an important player in regional and international affairs.
In 1971, the late President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan unified the small, underdeveloped states into a federation—the only one in the Arab world. With his visionary leadership, oil wealth was used to develop the UAE into one of the world’s most open and successful economies.
In 2004, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan became president and has since continued to strive towards an ambitious vision for the UAE.
Globalized and Open
In just over three decades, the nation has transformed from a tribal culture reliant on agriculture and fishing to an entrepreneurial success story with world-class infrastructure. The leadership has improved education (effectively eliminating illiteracy), advanced health care and embraced change as the UAE modernizes, consistent with its history and cultural values.
The UAE is also strengthening institutions of government to ensure a transparent legal system with full regard for the quality of life of all citizens and residents. Four members of the Federal Cabinet are women.
The UAE is a member of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Today the UAE is a strong, vibrant and modern nation that is open to the world.
The UAE’s rich history is rooted in trade and tied to Islam, which came to the region in AD 630. Its location between Europe and the Far East attracted merchants from India and China and was prized by Europeans, in particular the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British.
While Europeans sought control of the coasts, inland, the ancestors of the Bedouin made the sandy deserts of Abu Dhabi and Dubai their home. The town of Abu Dhabi became an important center.
In the 19th century, the British signed a series of agreements with the individual emirates that resulted in the area becoming known as “The Trucial States.” They 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 coast from all aggression by sea and to help in case of land attack.
The pearling industry thrived in 19th and early 20th centuries, providing income and employment to the people of the Gulf. Many inhabitants were semi-nomadic, pearling in the summer and tending date gardens in the winter. But the economic depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s, coupled with the Japanese invention of the cultured pearl, irreparably damaged the industry.
In the early 1930s the first oil company teams conducted geological surveys. In 1962, the first cargo of crude was exported from Abu Dhabi. With oil revenues growing year by year, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was chosen as Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966. He undertook a massive program of construction of schools, housing, hospitals and roads.
One of Sheikh Zayed’s early steps was to increase contributions to the Trucial States Development Fund. Abu Dhabi soon became its largest donor. In the meantime, HH Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, de facto Ruler of Dubai since 1939, developed shipping to replace pearling revenues. When Dubai’s oil exports started in 1969, Sheikh Rashid was able to use oil revenues to improve the quality of life of his people.
At the beginning of 1968, when the British announced their intention to withdraw from the Arabian Gulf, Sheikh Zayed acted rapidly to establish closer ties with the emirates. With Sheikh Rashid, Sheikh Zayed called for a federation that would include not only the seven Emirates that together made up the Trucial States, but also Qatar and Bahrain.
Agreement was reached between the rulers of six of the Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm al-Qaiwain, Fujairah and Ajman), and the Federation to be known as the United Arab Emirates was formally established on 2 December 1971. The seventh Emirate, Ra’s al-Khaimah, acceded to the new Federation the following year.
Since then, the seven Emirates have forged a distinct national identity. The UAE’s political system combines traditional and modern and enabled the country to develop a modern administrative structure while ensuring that traditions of the past are maintained, adapted and preserved.
Under the UAE system of government, the President of the Federation is elected by a body known as the Supreme Council of Rulers. The Supreme Council is the top policy-making body in the UAE, and the President and Vice President are both elected from its membership for renewable five-year terms.
The Supreme Council has both legislative and executive powers. In addition to planning and ratifying federal laws, the Supreme Council approves the President’s nominated Prime Minister and is equipped to accept his resignation, if required.
The Prime Minister is appointed by the President. He or she then appoints a Council of Ministers, or Cabinet, to oversee the development and implementation of federal policy across all portfolios of government.
In addition to the Supreme Council and the Council of Ministers, a 40-member parliament known as the Federal National Council (FNC) also examines proposed new legislation and provides advice to the UAE Cabinet, as required. The FNC is empowered to call and question Ministers in regard to their own performance, providing an additional degree of accountability to the system. Groundbreaking developments to open up decisionmaking were made in December 2006, with the first indirect election of FNC members. Previously, all FNC members were appointed by the Rulers of each Emirate.
The introduction of indirect elections represents the beginning of a process to modernize the UAE’s system of government. Under these reforms, individual Rulers select an electoral college whose members total 100 times the number of FNC members held by that Emirate. The members of each college then elect half of the FNC members, while the other half continue to be appointed by each Ruler.
The process resulted in an FNC in which one-fifth of its members are women.
Future initiatives are expected to expand the size of the FNC and strengthen the interaction between it and the Council of Ministers, to further improve the efficiency, accountability and participatory nature of government in the UAE. In November 2008, the terms for FNC members were extended from two to four years, which is more consistent with other parliaments in the world. In addition, the government will report to the FNC about proposed international treaties and agreements, and those agreements will be discussed by the FNC before their ratification.
Historically, the political environment of the UAE has been characterized by great affection for the country’s leadership and institutions of government. This is largely in response to the rapid growth and development the UAE has experienced under their guidance in recent decades.
Women in the UAE
The Constitution of the UAE guarantees equal rights for both men and women. Under the Constitution, women enjoy the same legal status, claim to titles, access to education and the right to practice professions as men. They are also guaranteed the same access to employment, health and family welfare facilities. The rights of women to inherit property are also guaranteed and ensured.
Education and Literacy
- The literacy rate of women in the UAE was 90 percent in 2007.
- The number of UAE national women enrolled in higher education is actually 24 percent more than the number of UAE national men enrolled in higher education and reflects a staggering statistic: 77 percent of UAE females continue on to higher education from high school.
- Three of every five students in the public higher education system are women.
- The UAE has begun training women as muftis, or Sunni Muslim scholars who interpret Islamic law.
Women in Government and Business
Women graduates in the UAE can now be found working in government, engineering, science, health care, media, computer technology, law, commerce and the oil industry.
- Four UAE cabinet ministers are women—including Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister for International Cooperation and Development who was on Forbesmagazine’s 2007 list of the 100 most powerful women in the world.
- Women form two-thirds of government sector workers. In October 2008, the first female judge was sworn in. Women make up 20 percent of the diplomatic corps.
- Nine women hold seats within the Federal National Council, accounting for 20 percent of the membership. The FNC is a consultative parliamentary body.
- In 2003, for the first time, the Abu Dhabi police trained 32 women to work with the special security forces. The UAE has four women fighter pilots, the first to serve in UAE military forces.
- Women finance one-third of the transactions in the financial and banking sector.
Employers in the UAE are prohibited from firing or threatening to fire a female employee on the basis of pregnancy, delivery or parenting. Maternity leave in the public sector is two to six months. While on maternity leave, a woman is entitled during the first two months to full pay, the third and fourth months to half salary and the last two months to no pay. A woman may take one paid hour break from work per day for 18 months to nurse her baby.
In 2004, the UAE became a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The UAE regularly participates in and hosts international and GCC conferences on women’s issues.
The 2007 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) status report on Millennium Development Goals recognized the positive outcome of the UAE’s target-oriented policies in a number of areas, including women’s empowerment. It particularly noted that the state legislations in the UAE do not discriminate on the basis of gender with respect to education, employment or the quality of services provided.
According to the findings of the report, educational indicators show that women’s achievements in education have reached its targeted levels, and in some cases, exceeded that of men because of a strong desire among women to become financially independent and professionally successful.
In the UNDP’s Gender-Related Development Index for 2009, the UAE ranks 35th among 182 countries. And the country holds 25th place in the world for gender empowerment.
The UAE released a report in the fall of 2008, Women in the United Arab Emirates: A Portrait of Progress, which outlines both the developments and challenges associated with the status of women in the Emirates. The report notes that “Having made significant progress, the UAE does not intend to stagnate with regards to its women’s empowerment policies but rather to continue and develop… The UAE intends to establish a new benchmark for gender empowerment in the region.”