History of United Arab Emirates

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Dubai Financial Crisis

The consequences of the Global crisis hit Dubai extremely hard. Its real estate market payed a high price with the values of properties dropping 50% from the peak of 2008. Dubai World, the biggest state-owned company, almost went into bankruptcy. It announced to the financial community that it was having trouble making debt payments on $59 billion US, money borrowed to pay for all the projects around the globe. Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest of the Emirates, gives Dubai a $10bn handout. $4.1bn to bail out Dubai World.


First UAE election to vote for the Federal National Council

In December 2006 an historical moment for the United Arab Emirates. 6689 citizens have been selected to vote for the half of the 450 members of the Federal National Council. In the following elections the number of voters will increase. 2011 Election 129274 voters, 2015 Election 224279 voters.


Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum died

The prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, died at the age of 63 suffering a heart attack while he was in Gold Coast - Queensland, Australia.


Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan died

UAE's first president and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died at the age of 86 and was buried in the courtyard of the new Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. He was elected first President of the UAE in 1971, a post that he maintained until his death. His determination to find a way to unite the Emirates into a federation is one of his stronger political characteristics.


Burj Al Arab opening in Dubai

The most iconic building of Dubai opened on December 1999. The hotel Burj al Arab with its shape of a billowing spinnaker sail of a J-class yacht, will be linked to the urban landscape of Dubai. The dream of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of a luxury hotel that would put Dubai on the world map became a reality in the end of December 1999.


Ras al-Khaimah joined United Arab Emirates

A year after the birth of the United Arab Emirates , the sheikhdom of Ras al-Khaimah joined the Union. When Iran annexed the Tunbs Islands in 1972, the rulers of Ras al-Khaimah opted for a safer place in geopolitical terms.


The formation of the United Arab Emirates

Meetings to discuss a Union between the Trucial Coast, Qatar and Bahrain were unfruitful due to disagreements on political details such as the location of the capital, the drafting of the constitution, the distribution of ministries, and later some territorial disputes between Qatar and Bahrain over the Hawar Islands. With the British-Trucial Sheikhdoms treaty expired on December 1 1971, the Trucial States became fully independent. On December 2nd 1971, at the Dubai Guesthouse (now known as Union House), the emirates agreed to enter into a union to be called the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Zayed was elected President of the new state, a post to which he has been re-elected to successive five year terms until his death in 2004, while the Ruler of Dubai, the late Sheikh Rashid bin Said Al Maktoum, was elected Vice President, a post he held until his death in 1990.


British withdrew from East of Suez

In 1968 the British announced the plans to withdraw from East of Suez. For the seven sheikhs it was time to come together and they agreed to form a federation. In England politicians were announcing the decision to end the treaty relationships with the seven Trucial Sheikhdoms, Qatar and Bahrain. Prime Minister Harold Wilson in January ‘68 was the first one to declare the new strategy followed by Prime Minister Edward Heath in March 1971. The ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, tried to persuade the British to maintain the protection by offering to pay the costs of maintaining the British Armed Forces. The British Labour government refused categorically the offer.


Oil business enters the scene

The oil industry in the United Arab Emirates has an official start after the Second World War. The first oil well was drilled in 1950 on the coast at Ras Sadr, north-east of Abu Dhabi. It was a consortium of foreign companies (BP-Amoco, Total, Shell, Exxon, Mobil and Partex) which drilled the well. The conglomerate signed a concession agreement with Abu Dhabi in 1939 and later became the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company. In February 1999 a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the well-site in Ras Sadr. Work continued both onshore and offshore but it was not until the late 1950s that the first commercial discoveries were made, first offshore, at Umm Shaif and then onshore, at Bab, both in Abu Dhabi. Oil exports from Abu Dhabi began in 1962. The ship "Esso Dublin" loaded first cargo of crude oil, a milestone in the economic history of the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi wasn't the only Emirate with oil reserves. Successful explorations took place in Dubai, in the mid-1960s, and then in Sharjah, first offshore then onshore, while Ras al-Khaimah found oil offshore in the early 1980s. No commercial finds have been made in the other three emirates.

Category - InformationOPEC United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates' page on the OPEC's website (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries)
Category - InformationUnited Arab Emirates oil industry
Detailed report about the situation of the oil industry in UAE


Years of famine and difficulties

With the crash of the pearl industries and the wind of war in Europe which were in the mind of the British who could have helped the sheikhs, the Emirates experienced a severe famine. Desperate people ate leaves or the omnipresent dhub, a spiny lizard. Plagues of locusts became a grace; the insect fried became a staple for the destitute people. Many starved to death especially in the northern sheikhdoms.


Oil exploration and Britain privilege

After the discovery of oil in Bahrain, foreign companies turned their eyes to the Emirates and several oil concessions were signed. Local rulers decided to sign oil exploration contracts only with Britain. The outbreak of the Second World War freeze the operation of exhaustive exploration.


Truces States foreign affairs policy

The rulers of the sheikhdoms give Britain total control of their foreign affairs in exchange of protection.


The Maktoum family enter the scene

1833 is an important year for Dubai and the United Arab Emirates in general. Sheikh Tahnun, a popular leader of the Bani Yas, was killed by his brother Khalyfa in the oasis of al-Liwa. This episode and the repression that followed the homicide, led approximately a thousand people of the Al Bu Falasah tribe (belonging to the Bani Yas) to move north in what is now Dubai. Leading this group of people were two important men: Maktoum bin Buti and his uncle Obaid bin Said.  They almost instantly took over the small village of Dubai. They declared Dubai a new sheikhdom independent from Abu Dhabi and its al-Nahyan rulers (the al-Nahyan family belong to the Al Bu Falah branch of the Bani Yas tribe). The British recognized the new regime.  In 1836 Obaid bin Said died. The Maktoum family linked its name to the one of Dubai and started a dynasty which ruled with an incredible level of stability until today.


The birth of Trucial States

After devastating Ras al-Khaimah, the British demanded to local ruler (sheikhs) to stop any campaign against British ships. The ruler of Sharjah was the first to sign in 1820. Soon the other six sheikhs followed the example of the Sharjah leader. The seven sheikhdoms which now form the United Arab Emirates fell under British dominance with the name of Trucial States. A name that will remain until independence in 1971.

1800 approximate

Pearl business rise and fall

The pearl industry of the Gulf began a long time ago, around 7000 years, with pearls having been found among ornaments in graves of the period. Up to the beginning of the Twentieth Century it was a crucial part of the UAE's economy. By 1800s buyers from Bombay were sailing into Dubai, Sharjah and Bahrain to attend pearling ships and buy the best exemplars. By the early 1900s 95% of the Gulf economy were depending on the pearls business with more than 1200 boats involved in the trade. Following the discovery in Japan in the 1920s of techniques for producing cultured pearls, the whole industry collapsed. This was followed by the world economic depression in 1929 which put the end to this old business. Today no pearling is undertaken except as part of programmes to preserve the national heritage. The Natural pearls of the Gulf are still highly appreciated for jewellery, with stocks being held by some of the old merchant families, several of which have transformed themselves into large new trading corporations.

1800 approximate

Pirate Coast

Pirates, some of them in cooperation with the Qawasim, attacked British merchant vessels. The Qawasim were blamed for almost all the attacks even though they were responsible for few of them. They suffered an intense British retaliation. British attacked Ras al-Khaimah in 1809 causing the local population to disappear to the mountains, only to resurface in 1816. The British bombarded the city from ashore and, in 1819, a fleet of 12 warships (including the HMS Liverpool) assaulted Ras al-Khaimah and set it to ruin.

Category - NewsRas al-Khaimah's sacking still reverberates
An article from TheNational.ae that connects the events of 1809 with modern Ras al-Khaimah

1650 approximate
1800 approximate

Bani Yas and Qawasim fighting for territory

Two local powers emerged in what is now United Arab Emirates during this period. Bani Yas were the largest tribal confederation and dominated in what is now Abu Dhabi (main settlement the oasis of al-Liwa and al-Ain), originally came from Najd in the central part of the Arabian peninsula. Their territory extended deep into the harsh desert and for hundreds kilometers along the coast up to Qatar. Qawasim was a powerful tribe which dominated along the Gulf coast from Sharjah to the  Musandam peninsula. Their ships controlled the lower Gulf and challenged the Oman's mercantile preeminence. Their power extended on the other side of the sea and included coastal towns of modern day Iran.

Category - InformationA Beginner’s Guide to Tribes in the UAE
An easy to read article about the tribes in Unite Arab Emirates
Category - InformationThe Tribal Society of the UAE and its Traditional Economy
19 pages PDF with precious information about the Tribal Society of the United Arab Emirates

1620 approximate
1820 approximate

The British conquest

During the Portuguese dominance, the British were granted protection in Persian-held ports especially in the city of Jask. This was due to the diplomatic efforts of the English ambassador (Sir Robert Sherley) to the court of Shah Abbas, king of the Safavids. Once the Portuguese were expelled from the area the British had to deal with pirates, Wahhabi warriors and compete for trading with Arab traders, the Qawasim.

1600 approximate
1700 approximate

Major powers fight for control over the region

French, Dutch, Ottoman Empire, Safavids and British fighting over the area of the Arabian Peninsula. The Portuguese during this time lose their dominion as exemplified in the log book of a Dutch vessel known as the Meerkat - "Gorfacan is a place on a small bay which has about 200 small houses all built from date branches, near the beach. It had on the Northern side a triangular Portuguese fortress, of which the desolate ruin can still be seen. On the Southern coast of the bay in a corner there is another fortress on a hill but there is no garrison nor artillery on it, and it is also in ruins. This place has a beautiful valley with a multitude of date palms and some fig trees and there also grow melons, watermelons and myrrh. Under the trees there are several wells which are used for irrigation. It is good and fresh water". The Portuguese started to suffer from the joint efforts of the East India Company and the Safavids profuse to expel them from the region. They lost their base on Bahrain in 1602, Bandar Abbas (Iran) 1615, Julfar in 1620. The Portuguese finally lost their hold on Muscat in 1650, and so ended the Portuguese adventure in southeastern Arabia.


Italian explorer Gasparo Balbi visit "Dibei"

On its way to Burma, Gasparo Balbi (explorer, merchant and jeweller from Venice) stop in Dibei (modern day Dubai) and described it as a vibrant port oriented with at its core the pearl industry.

1500 approximate
1600 approximate

Portuguese arrive on the Arabian peninsula

Portuguese were the first Europeans to land on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula. After Bartholomew Dias’ successful expedition to India, followed by the ones of Joao Peres de Covilhao and Vasco da Gama, the control of the coast of this part of the world became increasingly important. Soon, the Portuguese took control of the coast of Arabia. They pillaged and burned to the ground the port of Khor Fakkan before subjugate Hormuz. If a town did not surrender its harbour, ships and forts, the Portuguese's retaliation could be ferocious as in the case of Khor Fakkan. They later built fortresses on the east coast of the present day Emirates at Dibba, Khor Fakkan, Bidya and Kalba, and on the Gulf coast at Julfar.

Category - InformationThe Portuguese on the Persian Gulf and on the Arabian Peninsula - Colonial Voyage web site
Broad information about the Portuguese presence on the Arabian Peninsula


Trading and pearls the soul of the area

Not much information is available after the downfall of the Abbasid caliphate (which succed the Umayyad in 750). It is clear, though, that the coastal area was dotted with ports with ships (dhows) traveling as far as China. Pearls were leaving from the Emirates harbours, silk and porcelain were coming back from the far East.    


Umayyad Caliphate first great Islamic dynasty

The Umayyad consolidated the presence of Islam and expanded trade and commerce both locally and internationally. A mosque and a caravanserai discovered in Jumeirah (residential area of Dubai) suggest that the area of the United Arab Emirates was an important staging post on the commercial route that linked present day Oman to Iraq. 


City of Julfar and the spread of Islam in Persia

The city of Julfar in what is now the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah was founded by Armenians coming from Persia and escaping the Mongol invasion. In 637 from this area they were leaving to head the expedition that lead to the conquest of Persia and the consequent spread of the Islam religion over the ancient Persia. 


The arrival of the Islam

After the death of the prophet Mohammed, the Caliph Abu Bakr rages a series of military campaigns against Arabian tribes (Ridda wars or Wars of Apostasy). A massive battle took place in Dibba, northern tip of the eastern Arabian peninsula, in which the non-Muslim has been defetead and Islam spread over the area. 


The Sasanian Empire rule over the region

The Sasanian Empire from what is now Iran rule over the coastal area of the Arabic Peninsula. 

Category - InformationThe Sasanian in United Arab Emirates
Traces of the Sasanian Empire on the territory of United Arab Emirates

2000 BC
500 BC

Trading connections recorded

Evidence shows that the region was an important source of Copper. Trading activities thrive with connections that extended as far as Ur the famous Mesopotamian city.

2700 BC
2000 BC

Bronze Age and Umm an-Nar culture

In what is now United Arab Emirates, during the Bronze Age, a culture called Umm an-Nar (from the name of the island off the coast of Abu Dhabi) was thriving. Several circular tombs have been excavated. Tomb A, Hili North is one of the best studied. Others archoelogical sites of this era are: Shimalal-SufouhMowaihat, the large settlement of Tell Abraq