Since the establishment of the Federation in 1971, the seven emirates comprising the UAE have forged a distinct national identity through consolidation of their federal status and now enjoy an enviable degree of political stability. The UAE’s political system which is a unique combination of the traditional and modern, has underpinned this political success, enabling the country to develop a modern administrative structure while at the same time ensuring that the best of the traditions of the past are maintained, adapted and preserved.
Formation Of The Federation
Following the British termination of their agreements with the Trucial States (the name by which they were formally known), the rulers of the seven emirates established a federal state officially entitled Dawlat al Imarat al Arabiyya al Muttahida (State of the United Arab Emirates).
The philosophy behind the state was explained in a statement which was released on 2 December 1971 when the new state was formally established:
The United Arab Emirates has been established as an independent state, possessing sovereignty. It is part of the greater Arab nation. Its aim is to maintain its independence, its sovereignty, its security and its stability, in defense against any attack on its entity or on the entity any of its member Emirates. It also seeks to protect the freedoms and rights of its people and to achieve trustworthy cooperation between the Emirates for the common good. Among its aims, in addition to the purposes above described, is to work for the sake of the progress of the country in all fields, for the sake of providing a better life for its citizens, to give assistance and support to Arab causes and interest, and to support the Charter of the United Nations and international morals.
Each of the component emirates of the Federation had its own existing institutions of government and to provide for the effective governing of the new state, the Rulers agreed to draw up a provisional Constitution specifying those powers which were to be allocated to new federal institutions, all others remaining the prerogative of the individual emirates.
Supreme Council Of The Federation
In a spirit of consensus and collaboration, the Rulers of the seven emirates agreed during the process of the federation that each of them would be a member of the Supreme Council, the top policy-making body in the new state. They agreed also that they would elect a President and a Vice-President from amongst their member, to serve for a five-year term of office. The Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was elected as the first President, a post to which he has been re-elected at successive five-yearly intervals, while the Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, was elected as first Vice-President, a post he continued to hold until his death in 1990, at which point his eldest son and heir, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was elected to succeed him.
The Council Of Ministers
The Council of Ministers or Cabinet, described in the Constitution as the executive authority for the Federation, includes the usual complement of ministerial portfolios and is headed by a Prime Minister chosen by the President in consultation with his colleagues on the supreme Council. The Prime Minister, currently the Vice-President, although this has not always been the case, then selects the ministers who may be drawn from any of the Federation’s component emirates although, naturally, the more populous emirates have generally provided more members of each Cabinet.
Federal National Council
The Federal National Council (FNC) has 40 members drawn from the emirates on the basis of their population, with eight for each of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, six each for Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah, and four each for Fujairah, Umm al-Qaiwain and Ajman. The selection of representative members is left to the discretion of each emirate and the members’ legislative term is deemed to be two calendar years.
The federal judiciary, whose independence is guaranteed under the Constitution, includes the Federal Supreme Court and Courts of First Instance. The Federal Supreme Court consists of five judges appointed by the Supreme Council of Rulers. The judges decide on the constitutionality of federal laws and arbitrate on intra-emirate disputes and disputes between the federal government and the emirates.
Parallel to and, on occasion interlocking with the federal institutions, each of the seven emirates also has its own local government. Although all have expanded significantly as a result of the country’s growth over the last 28 years, each Emirate differs in size and complexity, depending on a variety of factors such as population, area and degree of development.
Administration in the emirate is implemented by a number of local departments, covering topics such as public works, water and electricity, finance, customs and management. Some have a responsibility for the whole of the emirates although in certain spheres, such as water and electricity, there are also departments covering only the Eastern Region.
A Balance Approach
When the Rulers of the seven emirates met 28 years ago to agree on the forms of government for their new federal state, they chose deliberately not to simply copy from others. They chose instead to work towards a society that would offer the best of modern administration while at the same time retaining the traditional forms of government, with their inherent commitment to consensus, discussion and direct democracy, offered the best features of the past.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is evident that they made the correct choice. For despite the massive economic growth and the social dislocation caused by a population explosion, the state has enjoyed political stability. During the course of the last few decades there have been numerous attempts to create federal states, both in the Arab world and elsewhere. The UAE is the only one in the Arab world to have stood the test of time