The United Arab Emirates turns 45 on December 2nd
By Arfa Shahid and Leila Hatoum
In early February 1968, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late rulers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively, agreed to establish a union between their emirates.
The idea had been debated long before 1968, and they used their pact to create a larger union with five neighboring Trucial Sheikhdoms: Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. This was when the region was still under the British mandate.
Though all seven emirates signed the initial agreement on July 18, 1971, only six emirates, formerly known as the Trucial States: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain, joined together on December 2, 1971 to form the United Arab Emirates.
The seventh state, Ras Al Khaimah, joined the union on February 10, 1972.
In 1968, the British announced their intention to leave the Gulf, unable to afford to govern the Trucial States because of the British Labour Party government’s balance of payment crisis.
The British thus withdrew their military forces and in doing so, paved the way for the Trucial States to form a union, culminating in the formation of the United Arab Emirates.
During his December 2, 2012 speech commemorating the country’s anniversary, UAE’s VP, PM and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum told the story of how Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid joined hands together away from the eyes of the British occupation of their land, to seek a union.
Both founding fathers tricked the British mandate into thinking that Dubai and Abu Dhabi were quarreling and that each emirate needed arms to defend itself from the other, when in fact they were fortifying themselves as one.
In his memoirs, Sharjah’s Ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, speaks of his fight against the occupation since he was a child, barely 10 years of age.
One instance was when he rallied his friends to burn landed British fighter jets.
The British complained to his father, who, instead of scolding the young royal, congratulated him.
In the 1930’s, the UAE’s pearling industry, which relied on divers to extract natural pearls, was devastated with the emergence of the Japanese cultured pearls, creating significant hardship for the local population.
However, all of that changed when oil was discovered in the 1960s.
But what was once a desert inhabited by nomadic tribes relying on fishing, hunting and pearl diving, has now become one of the strongest economies and a powerful global player in just 45 years.
The UAE currently sits on the seventh largest oil reserves in the world and is the second largest economy in the Arab Gulf region.
The country has employed its hydrocarbon revenues to create a business oasis and a tourism hub in the Middle East.
Though oil revenues were utilized to build high-tech cities and impressive first class infrastructure, the country has gradually been diversifying its economy away from oil revenues over the past three decades.
Today, for example, the emirate of Dubai barely relies on the petrodollar, while the UAE’s GDP is 30 percent reliant on hydrocarbon revenues, the lowest percentage among its Arab Gulf counterparts.
And the country boasts record achievements from the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifah), to man-made islands shaped as palm trees and the world’s map.
On November 9, Dubai inaugurated a man-dug canal that drags the Gulf’s waters all the way to its downtown district.