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How the UAE was born

What were the key events that led to the formation of the UAE?

UAE National Day
Image Credit: Atiq-Ur-Rehman/Gulf News
44th UAE National Day is on December 2.

December 2 is UAE National Day. It marks the anniversary of the unification of the seven emirates – or Trucial States as they were – in 1971.

But how did the UAE come to be? Guides looks at the important milestones that led to the formation of the United Arab Emirates.

British relationship

The Trucial States – which were a collection of independent Shaikdoms – formed a close bond with the British Government by signing a treaty in 1892. While the Trucial States were not officially absorbed into the British Empire, they became a British Protectorate. This meant the British would defend them from all aggressions, be it land or sea. In return, the Trucial States weren’t allowed to sell any land to another country without Britain’s permission. It offered security for both parties.

Pre-oil era

Pearling was the well-documented trade of the Trucial States up to the 1920s, with a large percentage of the population relying on it for their livelihoods. The industry began to decline after the First World War, and wasn’t helped further by the Great Depression in 1929. Industrial methods of manufacturing pearls by such countries as Japan eventually saw the industry die out completely.

After the Second World War, with the pearling industry dead, the Trucial States went through a time of hardship, but it wasn’t long before things started to look up.


Shaikh Zayed

The late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, first President of the UAE


Discovery of oil

Despite oil companies starting the search for oil before the outbreak of the Second World War, it wasn’t until 1958 when the first oil well was discovered. The location was Umm Shaif, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, as well as onshore in the desert area of Murban soon after.

Oil exports began in 1962, and both Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum of Dubai quickly set about improving the lives of their people by building schools, houses, and hospitals.

Independence and the beginning of union

Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, and in the same year Britain concluded that it could no longer afford to protect the Trucial States. Then-British Prime Minister Harold Wilson of the Labour Party confirmed on January 24, 1968 that Britain would be withdrawing its defences. Despite efforts to keep British forces in the area, Shaikh Zayed knew that the best and safest way forward was to form a union with neighbouring Trucial States.

The original-look UAE

Originally, the UAE was to be made up of nine emirates, which included Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman, Bahrain, and Qatar. However, due to complications and island disputes, Bahrain and Qatar decided to go it alone, leaving six of the seven remaining emirates to forge an alliance.

December 2, 1971, birth of a nation

The British protectorate treaty expired on December 1, 1971. The following day, December 2, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, and Fujairah joined with Abu Dhabi and Dubai and signed the Act of Union to create the United Arab Emirates.

Ras Al Khaimah joined the UAE  in February 1972.

The UAE was born.

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