United Arab Emirates country profile

  • Published
Map of United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven states that has grown from a quiet backwater to one of the Middle East's most important economic centres.

Although traditionally conservative and authoritarian in government, the UAE is one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf, with other cultures and beliefs generally tolerated.

In 2020 it became the first Gulf state to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Relations with neighbouring Iran have been tense because of an ongoing territorial dispute over Gulf islands. The UAE was one of only three countries to recognise Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

Before oil was discovered in the 1950s the UAE's economy was dependent on fishing and a declining pearl industry. But since oil exports began in 1962, the country's society and economy have been transformed.

The UAE has diversified and has become a regional trading and tourism hub. UAE firms have invested heavily abroad.


  • Capital: Abu Dhabi
  • Area: 83,600 sq km
  • Population: 9.2 million
  • Language: Arabic
  • Life expectancy: 78 years (men) 81 years (women)


President: Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Image source, Getty Images

Abu Dhabi's Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan became president on the death of his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed in May 2022, although he had been the de-facto leader since Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke in January 2014. He is expected to continue the Emirates' broadly pro-Western foreign policy.

Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Quwain - the seven emirates that make up the UAE - maintain a large degree of independence.

The UAE is governed by a Supreme Council of Rulers made up of the seven emirs, who appoint the prime minister and the cabinet.


Image source, Getty Images

The UAE is a regional and international centre for TV and media. Dubai Media City and twofour54, Abu Dhabi's media zone, were set up to attract key international players.

There is strong regulatory and political control of media content and even foreign publications are censored before distribution.

The UAE has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the Arab world. But it is extensively filtered; targeted content includes opposition politics and religion.


Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Dubai is home to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa

Some key dates in the UAE's history:

c. 2300-550BC - Region of Magan, encompassing present day UAE and Oman is a source of copper and diorite for Sumerian and other Mesopotamian civilisations.

c. 550-330BC - Region is part of the Achaemenid Empire.

c. 224-630AD - Part of the Sasanian Empire.

630s - Spread of Islam in region.

637 - Julfar, in the area of present-day Ras Al Khaimah, is key staging post in the Islamic invasion of the Sasanian Empire. Arabian Peninsula is unified under the newly emerging Rashidun Caliphate.

632-661 - Rashidun Caliphate unifies the Arabian Peninsula.

16th Century onwards - Portuguese maintain a series of forts along the coast of Oman and UAE.

1809/1819 - Britain sends expeditions to the region to deal with what it terms as piracy, to protect its trade routes to India.

1820 - Britain and a number of local rulers sign a maritime truce, giving rise to the term Trucial States, which comes to define the status of the coastal emirates. Further treaties are signed in 1843 and 1853.

1892 - Trucial States become a British protectorate.

19th Century - Pearling industry becomes key to the economies of the region.

1920s/30s - Pearling trade declines due to global economic depression and invention of the cultured pearl.

1935 onwards - Onshore exploration for oil takes place.

1958 - First commercial discoveries of oil are made, off Abu Dhabi, with oil exports starting in 1962.

1968 - Britain announces it will withdraw its military forces from "East of Suez" and end its treaty with the seven trucial sheikhdoms by 1971.

1971 - After independence from Britain, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujayrah, Sharjah, and Umm al Quwain come together as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Sheikh Zayed Bin-Sultan Al Nuhayyan presides over the federation.

1971 - UAE joins the Arab League and UN.

1972 - Ras al-Khaymah joins the federation.

1981 - UAE becomes a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

2006 - First-ever national elections. A small number of hand-picked voters choose half of the members of the Federal National Council - an advisory body.

2015 - UAE takes part in Saudi-led air strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen.

2020 - UAE establishes diplomatic relations with Israel and signs the Abraham Accords - a series of joint agreements initially between Israel, UAE and Bahrain.

2021 - UAE becomes the fifth country in the world and the first Arab country to reach Mars when its Hope spacecraft goes into orbit around the planet.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A screen showing the launch of the "Hope" Mars probe at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.