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United Arab Emirates



Atlas United Arab Emirates

Country (long form)
United Arab Emirates
Capital
Abu Dhabi
Total Area
32,000.15 sq mi
82,880.00 sq km
Population
2,369,153 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
3,696,962
Languages
Arabic (official), Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu
Literacy
79.2% total, 78.9% male, 79.8% female (1995 est.)
Religions
Muslim 96% (Shi'a 16%), Christian, Hindu, and other 4%
Life Expectancy
71.64 male, 76.61 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
federation with specified powers delegated to the UAE federal government and other powers reserved to member emirates
Currency
1 Emirian dirham (Dh) = 100 fils
GDP (per capita)
$17,700 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
services 60%, industry 32%, agriculture 8% (1996 est.)
Industry
petroleum, fishing, petrochemicals, construction materials, some boat building, handicrafts, pearling
Agriculture
dates, vegetables, watermelons; poultry, eggs, dairy products; fish
Arable Land
0%
Exports
crude oil 45%, natural gas, re-exports, dried fish, dates
Imports
machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, food
Natural Resources
petroleum, natural gas
Current Environmental Issues
lack of natural freshwater resources being overcome by desalination plants; desertification; beach pollution from oil spills
Telephones (main lines in use)
915,223 (1998)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
1 million (1999)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
1 (1999)

History
The earliest significant settlements in the UAE date from the Bronze Age. In the 3rd century BC, a culture known as Umm an-Nar's arose near the site of modern Abu Dhabi and its influence extended well into the interior and along the coast of what is now Oman. The Greeks were the next major cultural influence and ruins showing strong Hellenistic features have been found at Meleiha, about 50km (30mi) from Sharjah, and at Al-Dour, in the emirate of Umm al-Qaiwan. During the Middle Ages, much of the region was part of the kingdom of Hormuz, which controlled the entrance to, and most of the trade in, the Gulf.

The Portuguese arrived in 1498 and by 1515 had occupied Julfar near Ras al-Khaimah, building a customs house that taxed the Gulf's flourishing trade with India and the Far East. The Portuguese stuck around until 1633 and were followed by the Brits, who began exercising their naval power in the Gulf in the mid-18th century. The British came into conflict with the Qawasim tribal confederation, a seafaring clan whose influence extended to the Persian side of the Gulf. The British dubbed the area the Pirate Coast and launched raids against the Qawasim. In 1820, a British fleet systematically destroyed or captured every Qawasim ship it could find, imposed a General Treaty of Peace on nine Arab sheikhdoms in the area and installed a garrison in the region. As life quietened down, Europeans took to calling the area the Trucial Coast, a name it retained until 1971.

Throughout this period, the main power among the Bedouin tribes of the interior was the Bani Yas tribal confederation, made up of the ancestors of the ruling families of modern Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Bani Yas were originally based in Liwa, an oasis on the edge of the Empty Quarter, but moved to Abu Dhabi in 1793. They engaged in the traditional Bedouin activities of camel herding, small-scale agriculture, tribal raiding and extracting protection money from caravans passing through their territory. After the British outlawed slavery along the coast, the Bani Yas took over the slave trade and Buraimi became eastern Arabia's main slave market - a position it held right up until the 1950s.

The British were not particularly interested in what the Bedouin got up to; they were focussed on securing their line of communication to India and keeping European competitors, such as France and Russia, out of the region. They formally established a protectorate over the Trucial Coast in 1892 but let the area remain a backwater of fisherpeople, pearl divers and Bedouin until the early 20th century. For most of this colonial period, Sharjah was the most populous and powerful of the emirates but it lost influence to Abu Dhabi as the 19th century drew to a close; Abu Dhabi was later overshadowed by Dubai.

The prospect of oil eventually changed the Brits' laissez-faire approach. Before oil concessions could be granted, boundaries between the various sheikhdoms had to be determined. Since none of the local rulers could agree, it was left to the Brits to demarcate the borders of the seven emirates that would eventually make up the UAE. The first oil concessions were granted in 1939 but oil wasn't found for another 14 years. Exports from Abu Dhabi began in 1962, eventually turning the poorest of the emirates into the richest. Meanwhile, Dubai concentrated its energies on cementing its reputation as the region's busiest trading post. It was already a successful entrepôt in 1966, when it was found to have oil of its own. The other sheikhs were not so lucky and began to turn to Abu Dhabi for subsidies.

Britain's announcement in 1968 that it intended to leave the Gulf in 1971 came as a shock to most of the ruling sheikhs. The Brits original plan was to form a single state consisting of Bahrain, Qatar and the Trucial Coast, but this collapsed almost immediately. Negotiations eventually led to the independence of Bahrain and Qatar and the formation of a new federation - the United Arab Emirates - in 1971. At the time many outsiders dismissed the UAE as a loosely assembled, artificial and largely British creation. While there was some truth to this, it was also true that the emirs of the smaller and poorer sheikhdoms knew their territories had no hope of surviving as independent states. Despite the doomsayers, the UAE became a major international business centre and one of the most stable and untroubled countries in the Arab world.

Not that political life in the UAE has been devoid of controversy. Border disputes among the emirates continued throughout the 1970s, and the degree to which integration among the seven sheikhdoms should be pursued has been a subject of constant debate. The UAE contributed troops to the anti-Iraq coalition in 1990-91, and foreign soldiers were stationed there during the months before the liberation of Kuwait. The result was a strengthening of the countries already strong ties with the West, though this has not stopped the UAE - Dubai in particular - from maintaining good relations with Iran. In early 1998, the UAE had to cope with plummeting oil prices. The price of the black sticky stuff fell 35% in the first three months of the year, affecting the UAE's government revenues, 70% of which come from oil.

In a fairy-tale solution to rivalry between the sheikhdoms, the crown prince of Dubai married the daughter of Abu Dhabi's sovereign (and president of the UAE) in 1999, bringing the two emirates together publicly and privately. The federation has resolved to shape its future using undeniably modern methods, however: a stock market and other economic reforms are in the works, and 2000 marked the fifth anniversary of the Dubai Shopping Festival, where shoppers from all over the world can peruse souks and squares of stuff on sale.