The area's history can be traced back to 6000 B.C. The UAE as a federation did not exist then. The area and the surrounding region was referred to as Arabian Peninsula. This page provides a brief about life in the area during ancient times.
Archaeological excavations reveal that ancient civilisations flourished in the region; starting from either the Neolithic or Paleolithic Ages (6000 B.C. - 3500 B.C.) up to the end of the Iron Age (1300 B.C. - 300 B.C.).
Civilisation in the Paleolithic Age (6000 B.C. - 3500 B.C.)
In this period, there were Bedouin communities, which lived on fishing and plant collecting. This era was characterised by the emergence of pottery, evidence of which was found in Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi. The evidences could be traced back to the Ubaid period, part of the Paleolithic Age, dating back to the sixth millennium B.C.
Civilisation in the Bronze Age (3200 B.C. - 1300 B.C.)
This age is divided into three periods:
This period extends from 3200 B.C. to 2500 B.C. and was named so because of the tombs found in Jebel Hafeet near Al Ain city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
This period extends from 2500 B.C. to 2000 B.C. It was named so after the discovery of the monuments on Umm al Nar Island in Abu Dhabi in the mid-nineteen fifties.
This period extends from 2000 B.C. to 1300 B.C. and was named after one of the sites in Wadi Suq, between Al Ain and the Omani coast.
Civilisation in the Iron Age (1300 B.C. - 300 B.C.)
This age extends from 1300 B.C. to 300 B.C. The archaeological finds show the emergence of the first use of falaj irrigation systems that enabled the extraction of groundwater for continuous cultivation in the dry climate.
Arrival of Islam
Islam arrived in the UAE after the opening of Mecca. Envoys from Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) arrived in the UAE in A.D. 630 and introduced Islam. Thus, a new era began in the region during the emergence of Islam.
Amr bin al'As visited Oman and Sohar and brought the Prophet's message to the kings of Oman, while Abu Al-Ala'a Al-Hadrami visited Bahrain for the same purpose. The Gulf region willingly accepted the invitation to Islam.
After the death of Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) in A.D. 632, the area of Oman and neighbouring surrounding witnessed a war against Redda (apostasy). However, in Dibba (in Fujairah), the Islamic troops were able to defeat the apostates by A.D. 633.
The Islamic civilisation flourished in the Gulf region during the Umayyad Caliphate (A.D. 661 to 750) and Abbasid Caliphate (A.D. 750 to 1258). Sea trade prospered between the Gulf region and other areas in South East Asia and West Africa coast, and ships craftsmanship spread in the region.
Archaeological discoveries revealed some remnants of an Islamic city and coins in Jumeirah. In addition, Julfar site in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, was mentioned in trade documents between Merchants of Venice in Italy and the shores of the Arabian Gulf communities.
Islamic Bidya mosque in the emirate of Fujairah, which dates back to the 5th century AD, is the oldest mosque in the UAE and nominated to be in the World Heritage List.
The Islamic power in the Arabian Peninsula remained to be noticed until the fall of Al-Andalus (The Islamic Spain in 1492). After that, Europeans started to have ambitions in the gulf and sea routes, which lead to commercial areas in South East Asia.
The Ottomans, who ruled from A.D. 1281 to 1924, had limited control over the Arabian Peninsula.
From the 17th century, Western European powers started making advances in the Gulf region.
Sourced from 'The Coming of Islam and the Islamic Period in the UAE'.
Several European countries arrived in the Arabian Peninsula; some to explore and others to seek control of the coasts.
One of the reasons for the Arabian Peninsula continuing to get attention from the European countries was that the Europeans documented their explorations and published it.
In 1580, Venetian traveller Gasparo Balbi mentioned the Arabian Gulf in an account of his travels in the region. He described the Arabian Gulf's coast from Qatar to Ras Al Khaimah and mentioned the Portuguese fortress at Kalba. His interest in pearls had led him to Sir Bani Yas island or ‘Sirbeniast' as he mentioned in his accounts.
Captain Claes Speelman who explored the southern coast between Khasab and Dibba on the Dutch ship Zeemeeuw (Seagull) in 1644-1645, made a drawing of Dibba bay and town.
In 1666, Dutch mariner Jacob Vogel sailing in the hooker-ship Meerkat made a trip from Bandar Abbas to Muscat. After this journey, he wrote a detailed report on his encounters and provided a chart and a map of the Bay of Muscat.
Here is a brief account of the European invasion of the Arabian Peninsula.
The Portuguese era
The Portuguese were amongst the first Europeans to arrive on the Arabian Peninsula. After Vasco de Gamma's successful circumnavigation of the Cape of Good Hope, the Portuguese arrived in the Arabian Gulf in 1498.
By 1515, they fought their way into the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman and established themselves there by force of arms. By 1560, they reached the height of their maritime power and established a semi-monopoly of the pepper and spice trade. They took over the role of intermediary for trade between the ports of the Indian Ocean from the members of the indigenous mercantile strata.
For nearly a century and a half, the Portuguese held supreme control in the gulf. The Ottomans challenged them from time to time but could not expel them.
However, the Portuguese power started collapsing throughout the 17th century. They started facing indigenous resistance and competition from other European powers, mainly the English and Dutch.
Then arose the Ya'arabi forces that ousted the Portuguese from Julfar and Dibba in 1633, retook Sohar in 1643 and recaptured Muscat in 1650.
The Dutch era
The loss of Hormuz by the Portuguese in 1622 marked the entry of the Dutch and the English to the Middle Eastern markets.
They made Bandar Abbas the centre of their commercial and political activities in the gulf. However, they became rivals after 1622 when the English East India Company moved its gulf factory to Bandar Abbas, and the Dutch refused to pay them customs duty. Before long, the Dutch trading station at Bandar Abbas became more active and successful than the English station.
In 1623, the Dutch concluded an agreement for the trade in silk with Shah Abbas I through which they earned an enormous profit. By the 17th century, the Dutch had become the dominant naval power in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf.
However, by the 1750s, Dutch power weakened because of the three-way warfare between them, the English and the French and they lost their holdings in most of the Indian Ocean.
Later, the Dutch strengthened their position on the island of Kharg by erecting a fortress and a factory and took over the various economic activities of the indigenous Arab population including pearl fishery.
These activities led to resistance by the local Arab population who revolted against the Dutch and freed the Kharg Island from them in 1766.
The British era
By 1720s, trade by the British in the gulf had grown. The British were primarily concerned with asserting their naval power to safeguard trade links to India and keeping any European competitors out.
Meanwhile, around the beginning of the 18th century, the Qawasim section of the Huwalah tribe had gained power mainly in Musandam and the northern and eastern areas of the Arabian Gulf. They had built a fleet of over 60 large vessels and a force of nearly 20,000. The British worried that the Qawasims might interfere with their desire to control the maritime trade routes between the Gulf and India. This led them to launch a series of attacks against the Qawasims. By 1820, the British defeated the Qawasims.
Formation of the Federation
The UAE is a constitutional federation. On 2 December 1971, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was declared as an independent, sovereign and federal state. The UAE comprises seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah.
This page provides a brief about the major events that took place on this land affecting the sovereignty and freedom of its people and leading them to form the country of the United Arab Emirates.
Establishment of the Trucial States
After the defeat of the Qawasims, the British signed a series of agreements from 1820 to 1853 with the sheikhs of the individual emirates. As per these agreements, the sheikhs had to ensure peace at sea and refrain from building large ships and erecting fortifications along the coast. However, regular warfare at sea between Arab tribes was prevalent.
The Perpetual Treaty of Maritime Peace signed in 1853, obligated the sheikhs (again) to a complete cessation of hostilities at sea and a perfect maritime truce forever. The British involvement was limited to maritime security, as they did not wish to become involved in the internal affairs of the emirates. This series of agreements led to the area being called as the ‘Trucial States' or ‘Trucial Coast’.
Continued British supremacy
The British continued their reign over the Trucial States. In 1892, they entered into Exclusive Agreements with the Trucial States by virtue of which the Trucial States could neither dispose any of their territories except to the United Kingdom nor enter into relationships with any foreign government without the consent of the United Kingdom. In return, the British would defend the emirates from foreign aggression by land or sea.
The British reign continued for the next 75 years or so during which their interest in the area grew from merely a connection to India. Their policy of not interfering in the affairs of the emirates changed. Amongst other reasons for these, was the prospect of discovering oil.
Out of fear of interference of other foreign powers, the British ensured control over the granting of oil concessions and that no banking concessions would be granted to foreigners. This resulted in the Trucial States needing to determine their inter-emirate boundaries. As a result, in the 1950s, the British became involved in marking off the boundaries to ensure the security needs of the oil companies that were exploring in the interior of the Trucial States.
In early 1968, the British declared their intention to withdraw from the Gulf by the end of 1971. This decision is attributed to several economic reasons revolving around the decline of British sterling pound, pressure to lessen the spending on defence due to criticism by Labour party, inability to maintain British servicemen offshore, inability to invest in social services home and in infrastructure in the UAE.
On 30 November 1971, the British left the Trucial States bringing an end to the era of British supremacy in the area. It is noteworthy that the Trucial States were the first Arab territory into which Britain extended her authority in 1820 and the last area in which she relinquished it in 1971.
Foundation of the UAE
Soon after assuming power on 6 August 1966, as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, H. H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan underscored the importance of a united country and remarked, “In harmony, in some sort of federation, we could follow the example of other developing countries.”
In the beginning of 1968, the British announced their intention to withdraw from the Arabian Gulf. H. H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the then Ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi acted rapidly to establish closer ties with the emirates.
The Union Accord of 1968 (the initial federation)
Sheikh Zayed, along with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the then Ruler of Dubai met on 18 February 1968, at Al Samha in today’s Abu Dhabi near the south-western boundary of Dubai.
They agreed to merge their respective emirates into a union which others would be invited to join. The agreement was that the two emirates would jointly conduct foreign affairs, build common defence, security and social services and adopt a common immigration policy. However, each emirate would retain responsibility for judicial and other internal affairs.
This agreement came to be known as the Union Accord and is considered as the first step towards uniting the Trucial Coast as a whole.
The Federation of the Arab Emirates
In order to strengthen the federation further, Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid invited the Rulers of the other five emirates that formed the Trucial States, as well as Bahrain and Qatar to join the negotiations for the formation of a union.
From 25 to 27 February 1968, the Rulers of these nine states convened a constitutional conference in Dubai and formed an agreement of 11 points, which was the basis for efforts to establish the ‘Federation of the Arab Emirates’.
The agreement stipulated that the purpose of the federation was:
- to cement ties between the members in all fields
- to coordinate plans for their development and prosperity
- to reinforce the respect of each one of them for the independence and sovereignty of the others
- to unify their foreign policies and representation, and its higher policy in international, political, defence, economic, cultural and other matters
It further laid down that the Supreme Council would be responsible for issuing the necessary federal laws and that it would be the supreme authority in deciding on issues of reference, and shall take its decisions by a unanimous vote.
However, a series of events later, in August 1971, Bahrain declared its independence and Qatar followed in September the same year.
The UAE takes shape
On 18 July 1971, the Rulers of six of the seven emirates that made up the Trucial States, (except Ras Al Khaimah), decided to form a union.
This meeting made the following historical declaration:
“The Supreme Council felicitates the people of the United Arab Emirates, as well as the Arab people, and our friends around the world, and declares the United Arab Emirates as an independent sovereign state being a part of the Arab World.”
A provisional Constitution was adopted and Abu Dhabi was approved as the provisional capital. Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi was elected as the first President of the United Arab Emirates, while Sheikh Rashid of Dubai was elected Vice-President; both to serve a five-year term from 2 December 1971 - the date of the UAE’s formal union.
The national assembly, which was given the name of Federal National Council, was to comprise 34 members; eight each from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, six from Sharjah and four each from the three smaller emirates of Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah.
Six places were to be allocated to Ras Al Khaimah, if it decides to join the federation.
The Supreme Council of Rulers were to take decisions by a majority vote, but both Abu Dhabi and Dubai had to be part of the majority.
The armed and security forces of the UAE Government
After the formation of the Federation, the new UAE Government unified the armed forces in the mid-1970s by virtue of Article 138 of the Constitution which provides for a unified training and command for the UAE army, navy and air force. It further provided that the appointment and discharge of the Commander in Chief of these forces and the Chief of the General Staff shall be by a Federal decree and that the Federation may have Federal Security Forces.
Complete federation with seven emirates
The late H. H. Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the then Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah had many concerns with regard to joining the federation. One of them was about getting the emirate’s islands of Greater and Lesser Tunbs which Iran had seized. However, he received assurances that the new Federal Government would continue to claim it.
Finally, Ras Al Khaimah joined the federation on 10 February 1972. And, the federation was complete with the inclusion of all of the seven emirates that formed the Trucial States. This newly founded federal state became officially known as Dawlat Al Imarat Al Arabiyya Al Muttahida or the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Today, the UAE enjoys full sovereignty and independence. The UAE has its own flag, coat of arms and national anthem. All UAE citizens carry the unified nationality of the United Arab Emirates, which is recognised internationally.
There were many factors that were instrumental in the establishment of this federation, which went on to become one of the most stable countries in recent history and is leading in the fields of economy, social stability and security. Some of these factors are:
- Common language
- Common religion
- Similar customs and traditions
- Complementing topography
- Similar resources
- Shared interests and aspirations
Why the UAE Federation was established?
The UAE Constitution maintains that the welfare of the UAE as a whole is a top priority. It highlights the goals of the Federation as follows:
- maintain the UAE’s independence and sovereignty
- protect security and stability for the Federation and member states
- defend any aggression upon its existence or the existence of its member states
- protect the rights and freedom of the people of the Federation
- achieve close cooperation between the emirates for the common benefit of the Federation
- promote the prosperity and progress of the Federation
- provide better life for all citizens
- respect the independence and sovereignty of the other emirates in their internal affairs within the framework of this Constitution
International recognition of the UAE
Since its formation, the UAE established genuine memberships and positioned itself regionally and internationally:
- On 2 December 1971, the UAE joined the Arab League and was the eighteenth member then
- On 9 December 1971, the United Nations Security Council admitted the UAE’s membership
- In 1981, the UAE co-founded the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) along with Kingdom of Bahrain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, State of Kuwait, State of Qatar and Sultanate of Oman
- In 1972, it became a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation
- UAE YearBook 2013
- The Formation of the Union - National Library and Archives
- The Historical Background and Constitutional Basis to the Federation
- The Beginning of the Post-Imperial Era for the Trucial States from World War I to the 1960s
Pictures sourced from:
- Pictures for the Paleolithic Age sourced from UAE Interact.com, Discover Mleiha and Umm Al Quwain websites
- Picture of the Hafit period from Emarat Al Youm
- Picture of the Wadi Suq era from The National
- Picture for the Iron Ages from Ruler’s Representative court – Al Ain Region
- Pictures for Arrival of Islam from State Audit Institution and Emarat Al Youm
- Pictures for the Portuguese era from UAEInteract and UAEPedia
- Picture of the British era from UAEPedia
- Pictures for the foundation of the UAE from Al Bayan and Emarat Al Youm.