United Arab Emirates Government and Politics

State and politics

United Arab Emirates Country Flag

The United Arab Emirates Federation was proclaimed on December 1, 1971 and since 1972 consists of seven emirates. A provisional constitution from 1971 has since been renewed every five years, most recently in 1996, when the interim character was abolished and Abu Dhabi formally became the capital of the United Arab Emirates. According to the United Arab Emirates Constitution, the highest political federal body is the Supreme Council, consisting of the rulers of the seven emirates. Every five years, the Supreme Council selects from among its members a president (since 2004 the Emir of Abu Dhabi, Khalifa ibn Zayid Al Nahayan “shaykh Khalifa”) and a Vice President (since 1971 the Emir of Dubai). The President appoints a Prime Minister (since 1990 the Emir of Dubai) and a Federal Council of Ministers. The Federal National Council is an advisory assembly of 40 delegates, where half of the members are elected in electoral colleges appointed by the state power. Political parties or political elections in the Western sense do not exist in the United Arab Emirates.

The Provisional Constitution has allowed flexibility in the core issue of the degree of political centralization within the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi has demanded a strengthening of federal power here, but has been countered mainly by Dubai. In 1976, however, the emirate’s various military associations were transformed into a federal army with the President of the United Arab Emirates as commander-in-chief.

On foreign policy, the United Arab Emirates has expressed its support for Arab unity and for the Palestinian cause. In the war between neighboring Iraq and Iran, the United Arab Emirates from 1980 provided support to Iraq. However, this seems to have ceased from about 1984, after which the United Arab Emirates, with its extensive relations with Iran, sought to take a neutral position between the two warring neighbors. However, a still unresolved issue with Iran is the control over three islands in the Persian Gulf, Abu Musa and the Great and Little Tun Islands, which were occupied by Iran in 1970. An important consequence of the Iraq-Iran war was the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981, with the United Arab Emirates as founding member.

The GCC has evolved into a free trade area that has gradually transitioned to a customs union. Despite the positive cooperation, border issues vis-角-vis both Saudi Arabia and Oman are a recurring problem, although the border issue with Oman was formally resolved in 2002. It can be noted that all GCC countries provide strong support for the United Arab Emirates’s demand to regain full control over the disputed islands. In 2012, the United Arab Emirates recalled its ambassador from Iran, because the Iranian president had visited Abu Musa. For security reasons, the United Arab Emirates has built an oil pipeline that passes past the Strait of Hormuz and culminates in the Gulf of Oman. It opened in 2012.

In 1982, the United Arab Emirates also signed a bilateral defense treaty with Saudi Arabia. Iraq’s occupation of August 2, 1990 by Kuwait was condemned by the United Arab Emirates, and in the January-February 1991 war, the United Arab Emirates participated on the part of the United Nations Alliance. After the Kuwait War, the United Arab Emirates entered into an agreement on defense cooperation with the United States; similar agreements were signed in 1995 with France and 1996 with the UK.

A regime change occurred in 2004, when Sheikh Zayed in Abu Dhabi died and his eldest son, Crown Prince Khalifa, took over the throne and then was elected President of the United Arab Emirates by the Supreme Council. The new president reorganized the government and appointed several younger ministers, including a woman. Similar rejuvenation took place in the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

The United Arab Emirates looks with some suspicion at the increased influence of the Muslim Brotherhood since the Arab Spring began. At the beginning of 2013, a trial was initiated against almost a hundred people in the United Arab Emirates. They were accused of trying to overthrow the regime and of having close links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the unrest began in Bahrain during the Arab Spring, control over Twitter and blogs have been strengthened in the United Arab Emirates.

The United Arab Emirates, like many other Arab states, are not positive about Westerners’ attempts to accelerate the democratization of the country.


The legal order in the United Arab Emirates is largely based on Islamic law. Each emirate has its own legal system, which, however, must not conflict with federal law. There is a federal judiciary, but some emirates have also retained their own courts. The death penalty is punished for some serious crimes.

Human Rights

The situation for human rights in the United Arab Emirates deteriorated in 2012. Authorities detained and deported arbitrarily human rights activists, and at the same time harassed and threatened their lawyers. In September 2012, Human Rights Watch reported major abuses to immigrant workers in the capital Abu Dhabi, and there are also details of immigrant maids who are routinely subject to physical, sexual and emotional abuse by employers.

Freedom of expression is guaranteed under the Constitution, but there are restrictions in the form of self-censorship in politically sensitive issues such as the security of the nation, the ruling families, Islam and relations with neighboring countries. Reporters Without Borders places the United Arab Emirates in place 120 in the Press Freedom Index 2015, which is a marked deterioration from 2010 (87).

Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, in 2012, the authorities detained 61 human rights defenders and civil society activists without prosecution. Political parties are not allowed.

In July 2012, the emirate joined the UN Convention against Torture, but during the process, torture was reported at state security facilities. Disaster punishment can be punished for, among other things, adultery, prostitution, sex before marriage and drug and alcohol abuse under the Emirate’s sharia laws. The death penalty is punished but is rarely enforced. The age of the offense in the United Arab Emirates is 12 years.

Women make up about 70 percent of the country’s university students, while men continue to dominate the labor market. According to the constitution, no difference is made to the rights of men and women, but at the same time the constitution is contrary to and limited by traditional values and religious legislation (Sharia). A man can prevent his wife, underage children and unmarried daughters from leaving the country through their right to hold their passports, and there are reports that the police have refrained from protecting women who have been subjected to domestic violence and instead encouraged them to return home. By law, domestic violence is permitted.

Homosexuality is prohibited by law and the scale of penalties includes fines, deportation, imprisonment and the death penalty.

United Arab Emirates Head of Government

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