A brief history of the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is a relatively new country, being formed from a group of tribally organised Arabian Sheikdoms in 1972. Before the formation of the UAE the region had been inhabited for thousands of years by the nomadic Bedouin tribes that wandered the deserts and fished the seas.

The Bedouin moved from the desert to the ocean and oasis. At the ocean they would dive for pearls and fish was their staple diet. Once the time came to move on they would then venture into the desert in search of grazing for their camels and cattle. At the Oasis they would cultivate crops, farming vegetables and dates and forming small settlements.

This way of life continued for generations without much change. This all changed however in 630CE when the envoys of Muhammad arrived in the region, bringing the religion of Islam with them. After the prophets death the region was the site of one of the major battles of the Ridda Wars that resulted in the defeat of the non-Muslims and brought Islam to the whole of Arabia. Ras al-Khaimah was used as a staging post for the Muslim invasion of the declining Persian Empire.

Throughout the centuries of the Muslim conquests the area remained prosperous and peaceful and remained a trading hub with ships sailing the Indian Ocean and trade caravans supplying the ever expanding Arab territories.

The Portuguese arrived in 1498 when Vasco de Gamma circumnavigated the Cape of Good Hope. The following years saw the Portuguese battle the Ottoman Empire in the Persian Gulf for control of the regions lucrative trade routes. Parts of the region were captured by the intrepid Portuguese and they ruled the area for 150 years. During this period the Ottoman Empire influenced parts of the coastline and thereafter the region was known as the pirate coast by European sailors. Arab pirates frequently harassed trade vessels and despite the efforts of both the European powers and the Omani navy the region remained lawless until the 19th century.

In 1892 the British made a deal with ruling sheiks. The sheikhs agreed to not give away any territory except to the British Empire and not to enter relationships with any foreign power other than the Empire without its consent. In exchange the British promised to defend the region from all aggression by sea and help in case of land attack.

During the nineteenth and twentieth century’s the region saw success from the pearling industry that had appeared to take advantage of the relatively calm seas. The industry brought jobs and wealth to the people. The First World War had a huge impact on the industry but it wasn’t until the Great depression that the industry was destroyed.

In the 1960’s survey teams carried out tests in the desert and discovered a huge supply of oil under the sands. The first oil companies moved in and the first batch of crude oil was exported from Abu Dhabi in 1962. As oil revenues brought prosperity and vast wealth to the region the ruler of Abu Dhabi undertook a massive construction programme in a bid to improve the lives of his subjects. Dubai shortly followed suite when it too began to prosper from its oil wealth.

Shortly after the discovery of oil the sheikdoms called for unification under the banner of the United Arab Emirates. The British were losing their influence in the region losing out to the USA for oil contracts. Independence was granted to the new UAE in 1968 and reaffirmed in 1971. Bahrain decided to go its own way, as did Qatar. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai decided to form a union between their sheikdoms and the other smaller sheikdoms of the region. The final United Arab Emirates officially came into being in early 1972.

Since its creation the UAE has a staunch ally of the United States and the West. In 2001 and the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the UAE immediately froze all accounts tied to suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists.

Today, the UAE is a major international tourist and business centre as well as one of the most modern, stable and safe countries in the world.

It has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world at nearly $25,000 USD.  The UAE has approximately 10% of the world’s total known oil reserves, 90% in Abu Dhabi and about 10% in Dubai.  While the Abu Dhabi reserves are expected to last another 100 years, at present rates of production Dubai’s reserves will last only another ten years.

The UAE has attracted many expats to the region and provides employment for many UK nationals in international business or those looking for a quiet hot place to retire.