The rich history of the United Arab Emirates is rooted in trade. Located at the crossroads of Europe and the Far East, merchants from India and China would travel through to bring silks, spices and goods most prized by Europeans, particularly the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British.
It was during this era that the Bedouin made the sandy deserts of Abu Dhabi and Dubai their home. The town of Abu Dhabi became a vital centre.
Portuguese expansion into the Indian Ocean in the early 16th century, following Vasco da Gama's route of exploration resulted in the sacking of many coastal towns by the Portuguese. Thereafter, European and Omani navies patrolled regional waters from the 17th to 19th centuries
In the 19th century, the British signed a series of agreements with individual Emirates that resulted in the establishment of an area under the ruling of sheikhdoms that would later come together to form the United Arab Emirates: The Trucial States.
For centuries, pirates who used the states’ shores as refuge scoured the seas and plagued the shores of the Arabian Peninsula.
The Emirates agreed not to cede any territory except to the United Kingdom and to refrain from engaging with any foreign government other than the United Kingdom without prior consent from the British. In return, the British promised to protect the coast from all maritime aggression and to provide assistance in the event of an attack by land.
The pearling industry thrived in the 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. However, the economic depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s coupled with the Japanese invention of the cultured pearl irreparably damaged the pearling industry.
In the early 1930s, teams from oil companies conducted the first geological surveys in the UAE. Almost thirty short years later, in 1962, Abu Dhabi shipped out its first crude oil cargo, marking the beginning of a journey to unprecedented growth. HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was chosen as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966. Under the late Sheikh Zayed, the steady oil revenues resulted allowed for sustained growth and infrastructural development including the construction of schools, housing, hospitals and roads throughout Abu Dhabi, and other Emirates.
In 1968, the British announced their withdrawal from the Arabian Gulf. Sheikh Zayed took the lead to establish closer ties among the Emirates. Together with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Zayed called for a federation that would the Trucial States.
The Rulers of the six Trucial States, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah, decided to form the United Arab Emirates in a meeting held in Dubai on July 18, 1971. The foundation of an independent, sovereign state was formally proclaimed on December 2, 1971. A few months later, February 10, 1972, Ras Al Khaimah eventually joined the federation.
The Rulers of the seven Emirates formed a Supreme Council, to act as the supreme authority in the newborn state. They chose the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan as a President-elect for a five-year term, re-electing him for the same over the following year, and until his demise on November 2, 2004. The late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum was the Ruler of Dubai at the time.
The newborn state had a provisional constitution stating that the interests of the federation are the primary objective. The constitution also detailed the UAE’s political and constitutional system, and the authorities associated with federal agencies. In 1996, the Federal Supreme Council approved the amendment of the constitution to become permanent. Accordingly, Abu Dhabi became the capital of the federal state.
The United Arab Emirates joined the Arab League on December 2, 1971 and the United Nations on December 9, 1971. The country became a member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (now the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) in 1972 and took part in the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981.