The United Arab Emirates (دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة — Dawlat al-Imārāt al-‘Arabīyah al-Muttaḥidah), sometimes simply called the Emirates (الإمارات — al-Imārāt) or the UAE, is a federal absolute monarchy — a federation of seven emirates established on December 2, 1971. It is is situated in the Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, as well as sharing maritime borders with Qatar to the west and Iran to the north. It is in a strategic location slightly south of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital transit point for world crude oil. The constituent emirates are Abu Dhabi (which serves as the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. In 2013, the UAE’s population was 9.2 million, of which 1.4 million are Emirati citizens and 7.8 million are expatriates.
Following Britain’s military departure from the Emirates in 1971, and its establishment as a new state, the UAE laid claim to islands resulting in disputes with Iran that remain unresolved. The United Arab Emirates also disputes claim on other islands against the neighboring state of Qatar. The UAE lies between 22°30′ and 26°10′ north latitude and between 51° and 56°25′ east longitude. It shares a 330-mile (530-kilometer) border with Saudi Arabia on the west, south, and southeast, and a 280-mile (450 km)) border with Oman on the southeast and northeast. The land border with Qatar in the Khawr al Udayd area is about 12 miles (19 km) in the northwest; however, it is a source of ongoing dispute. The largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, accounts for 87% of the UAE’s total area with 26,000 square miles (67,340 km²) of land. The smallest emirate, Ajman, encompasses only 100 square miles (259 km²).
The UAE coast stretches for more than 404 miles (650 km) along the southern shore of the Persian Gulf. Most of the coast consists of salt pans that extend far inland. The largest natural harbor is at Dubai, although other ports have been dredged at Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and elsewhere. Numerous islands are found in the Persian Gulf. The smaller islands, as well as many coral reefs and shifting sandbars, are a menace to navigation. Strong tides and occasional windstorms further complicate ship movements near the shore. The UAE also has a stretch of the Al Bāţinah coast of the Gulf of Oman, although the Musandam Peninsula, the very tip of Arabia by the Strait of Hormuz is an exclave of Oman separated by the UAE.
South and west of Abu Dhabi, vast, rolling sand dunes merge into the Rub al-Khali (Empty Quarter) of Saudi Arabia. The desert area of Abu Dhabi includes two important oases with adequate underground water for permanent settlements and cultivation. The extensive Liwa Oasis is in the south near the undefined border with Saudi Arabia. About 62 miles (100 km) to the northeast of Liwa is the Al-Buraimi oasis, which extends on both sides of the Abu Dhabi-Oman border. Lake Zakher is a human-made lake near the border with Oman.
Prior to withdrawing from the area in 1971, Britain delineated the internal borders among the seven emirates in order to preempt territorial disputes that might hamper formation of the federation. In general, the rulers of the emirates accepted the British intervention, but in the case of boundary disputes between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and also between Dubai and Sharjah, conflicting claims were not resolved until after the UAE became independent. The most complicated borders were in the Al-Hajar al-Gharbi Mountains, where five of the emirates contested jurisdiction over more than a dozen enclaves.
Each emirate is governed by an absolute monarch; together, they jointly form the Federal Supreme Council. One of the monarchs (traditionally always the Emir of Abu Dhabi) is selected as the President of the United Arab Emirates. Islam is the official religion of the UAE and Arabic is the official language (although English and Indian languages are widely spoken, with English being the language of business and education particularly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai).
The UAE’s oil reserves are the seventh-largest in the world while its natural gas reserves are the world’s seventeenth-largest. Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi and the first President of the UAE, oversaw the development of the Emirates and steered oil revenues into healthcare, education and infrastructure. The UAE’s economy is the most diversified in the Gulf Cooperation Council, while its most populous city of Dubai is an important global city and an international aviation hub. Nevertheless, the country remains principally reliant on its export of petroleum and natural gas.
The UAE is criticized for its human rights record, including the specific interpretations of Sharia used in its legal system. The UAE’s rising international profile has led some analysts to identify it as a regional and middle power.
It appears the land of the Emirates has been occupied for thousands of years. Stone tools recovered from Jebel Faya in the emirate of Sharjah reveal a settlement of people from Africa some 127,000 years ago and a stone tool used for butchering animals discovered at Jebel Barakah on the Arabian coast suggests an even older habitation from 130,000 years ago. There is no proof of contact with the outside world at that stage, although in time it developed with civilizations in Mesopotamia and Iran. This contact persisted and became wide-ranging, probably motivated by trade in copper from the Hajar Mountains, which commenced around 3000 BCE.
In ancient times, Al Hasa (today’s Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia) was part of Al Bahreyn and adjoined Greater Oman (today’s UAE and Oman). From the second century AD, there was a movement of tribes from Al Bahreyn towards the lower Gulf, together with a migration among the Azdite Qahtani (or Yamani) and Quda’ah tribal groups from south west Arabia towards central Oman. Sassanid groups were present on the Batinah coast. In 637, Julfar (in the area of today’s Ra’s al-Khaimah) was an important port that was used as a staging post for the Islamic invasion of the Sassanian Empire. The area of the Al Ain/Buraimi Oasis was known as Tu’am and was an important trading post for camel routes between the coast and the Arabian interior.
The earliest Christian site in the UAE was first discovered in the 1990s, an extensive monastic complex on what is now known as Sir Bani Yas Island and which dates back to the 7th century. Thought to be Nestorian and built in 600 AD, the church appears to have been abandoned peacefully in 750 AD. It forms a rare physical link to a legacy of Christianity which is thought to have spread across the peninsula from 50 to 350 AD following trade routes. Certainly, by the 5th century, Oman had a bishop named John — the last bishop of Oman being Etienne, in 676 AD.
The spread of Islam to the North Eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is thought to have followed directly from a letter sent by the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, to the rulers of Oman in 630 AD, nine years after the hijrah. This led to a group of rulers travelling to Medina, converting to Islam and subsequently driving a successful uprising against the unpopular Sassanids, who dominated the Northern coasts at the time. Following the death of Prophet Muhammad, the new Islamic communities south of the Persian Gulf threatened to disintegrate, with insurrections against the Muslim leaders. The Caliph Abu Bakr sent an army from the capital Medina which completed its reconquest of the territory (the Ridda Wars) with the bloody battle of Dibba in which 10,000 lives are thought to have been lost. This assured the integrity of the Caliphate and the unification of the Arabian Peninsula under the newly emerging Rashidun Caliphate.
The harsh desert environment led to the emergence of the “versatile tribesman”, nomadic groups who subsisted due to a variety of economic activities, including animal husbandry, agriculture and hunting. The seasonal movements of these groups led not only to frequent clashes between groups but also to the establishment of seasonal and semi-seasonal settlements and centers. These formed tribal groupings whose names are still carried by modern Emiratis, including the Bani Yas and Al Bu Falah of Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Liwa and the Al Bahrayn coast, the Dhawahir, Awamir and Manasir of the interior, the Sharqiyin of the east coast and the Qawasim to the North.
By the 16th century, ports in the Persian Gulf and part of the population that today form the coastal Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, came under the direct influence of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, the Portuguese, English and Dutch colonial forces also appeared in the Persian Gulf region, with the entire northern coast remaining under Persian rule throughout. By the 17th century, the Bani Yas confederation was the dominant force in most of the area now known as Abu Dhabi. The Portuguese maintained an influence over the coastal settlements, building forts in the wake of the bloody 16th century conquests of coastal communities by Albuquerque and the Portuguese commanders who followed him — particularly on the east coast at Muscat, Sohar and Khor Fakkan.
The southern coast of the Persian Gulf was known to the British as the “Pirate Coast”, as boats of the Al Qawasim (Al Qasimi) federation based in the area harassed British-flagged shipping from the 17th century into the 19th. British expeditions to protect the Indian trade from raiders at Ras al-Khaimah led to campaigns against that headquarters and other harbors along the coast in 1809 and subsequently 1819. The following year, Britain and a number of local rulers signed a treaty to combat piracy along the Persian Gulf coast, giving rise to the term Trucial States, which came to define the status of the coastal emirates. Further treaties were signed in 1843 and 1853.
Primarily in reaction to the ambitions of other European countries, namely France and Russia, the British and the Trucial Sheikhdoms established closer bonds in an 1892 treaty, similar to treaties entered into by the British with other Persian Gulf principalities. The sheikhs agreed not to dispose of any territory except to the British and not to enter into relationships with any foreign government other than the British without their consent. In return, the British promised to protect the Trucial Coast from all aggression by sea and to help in case of land attack. This treaty, the Exclusive Agreement, was signed by the Rulers of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain between March 6 and 8, 1892. It was subsequently ratified by the Viceroy of India and the British Government in London.
British maritime policing meant that pearling fleets could operate in relative security. However, the British prohibition of the slave trade meant an important source of income was lost to some sheikhs and merchants. The charge of piracy is disputed by modern Emirati historians, including the current Ruler of Sharjah in his 1986 book The Myth of Arab Piracy in the Gulf.
In 1869, the Qubaisat tribe settled at Khawr al Udayd and tried to enlist the support of the Ottomans, whose flag was occasionally seen flying there. Khawr al Udayd was claimed by Abu Dhabi at that time, a claim supported by the British. In 1906, the British Political Resident, Percy Cox, confirmed in writing to the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan (‘Zayed the Great’) that Khawr al Udayd belonged to his sheikhdom.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the pearling industry thrived, providing both income and employment to the people of the Persian Gulf. The First World War had a severe impact on the industry, but it was the economic depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, coupled with the invention of the cultured pearl, that wiped out the trade. The remnants of the trade eventually faded away shortly after the Second World War, when the newly independent Government of India imposed heavy taxation on pearls imported from the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The decline of pearling resulted in extreme economic hardship in the Trucial States.
The British set up a development office that helped in some small developments in the emirates. The seven sheikhs of the emirates then decided to form a council to coordinate matters between them and took over the development office. In 1952, they formed the Trucial States Council, and appointed Adi Bitar, Dubai’s Sheikh Rashid’s legal advisor, as Secretary General and Legal Advisor to the Council. The council was terminated once the United Arab Emirates was formed. The tribal nature of society and the lack of definition of borders between emirates frequently led to disputes, settled either through mediation or, more rarely, force. The Trucial Oman Scouts was a small military force used by the British to keep the peace.
In 1955, the United Kingdom sided with Abu Dhabi in the latter’s dispute with Oman over the Buraimi Oasis, another territory to the south. A 1974 agreement between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia would have settled the Abu Dhabi-Saudi border dispute but this has not been ratified. The UAE’s border with Oman was ratified in 2008.
In 1922, the British government secured undertakings from the Trucial rulers not to sign concessions with foreign companies. Aware of the potential for the development of natural resources such as oil, following finds in Persia (from 1908) and Mesopotamia (from 1927), a British-led oil company, the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), showed an interest in the region. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC, later to become British Petroleum, or BP) had a 23.75% share in IPC. From 1935, onshore concessions to explore for oil were agreed with local rulers, with APOC signing the first one on behalf of Petroleum Concessions Ltd (PCL), an associate company of IPC.
APOC was prevented from developing the region alone because of the restrictions of the Red Line Agreement, which required it to operate through IPC. A number of options between PCL and the Trucial rulers were signed, providing useful revenue for communities experiencing poverty following the collapse of the pearl trade. However, the wealth of oil which the rulers could see from the revenues accruing to surrounding countries such as Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia remained elusive. The first bore holes in Abu Dhabi were drilled by IPC’s operating company, Petroleum Development (Trucial Coast) Ltd (PDTC) at Ras Sadr in 1950, with a 13,000-foot-deep (4,000-meter) bore hole taking a year to drill and turning out dry, at the tremendous cost at the time of £1 million.
In 1953, a subsidiary of BP, D’Arcy Exploration Ltd, obtained an offshore concession from the ruler of Abu Dhabi. BP joined with Compagnie Française des Pétroles (later Total) to form operating companies, Abu Dhabi Marine Areas Ltd (ADMA) and Dubai Marine Areas Ltd (DUMA). A number of undersea oil surveys were carried out, including one led by the famous marine explorer, Jacques Cousteau. In 1958, a floating platform rig was towed from Hamburg, Germany, and positioned over the Umm Shaif pearl bed, in Abu Dhabi waters, where drilling began. In March, it struck oil in the Upper Thamama, a rock formation that would provide many valuable oil finds. This was the first commercial discovery of the Trucial Coast, leading to the first exports of oil in 1962. ADMA made further offshore discoveries at Zakum and elsewhere, and other companies made commercial finds such as the Fateh oilfield off Dubai and the Mubarak field off Sharjah (shared with Iran).
PDTC had continued its onshore exploration activities, drilling five more bore holes that were also dry, but on October 27, 1960, the company discovered oil in commercial quantities at the Murban No. 3 well on the coast near Tarif. In 1962, PDTC became the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company. As oil revenues increased, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, undertook a massive construction program, building schools, housing, hospitals and roads. When Dubai’s oil exports commenced in 1969, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, was able to invest the revenues from the limited reserves found to spark the diversification drive that would create the modern global city of Dubai.
By 1966, it had become clear the British government could no longer afford to administer and protect what is now the United Arab Emirates. British MPs debated the preparedness of the Royal Navy to defend the sheikhdoms. Secretary of State for Defense Denis Healey reported that the British Armed Forces were seriously overstretched and in some respects dangerously under-equipped to defend the sheikhdoms.
On January 24, 1968, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced the government’s decision, reaffirmed in March 1971 by Prime Minister Edward Heath to end the treaty relationships with the seven Trucial Sheikhdoms, that had been, together with Bahrain and Qatar, under British protection. Days after the announcement, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, fearing vulnerability, tried to persuade the British to honour the protection treaties by offering to pay the full costs of keeping the British Armed Forces in the Emirates. The British Labour government rejected the offer. After Labour MP Goronwy Roberts informed Sheikh Zayed of the news of British withdrawal, the nine Persian Gulf sheikhdoms attempted to form a union of Arab emirates, but by mid-1971 they were still unable to agree on terms of union even though the British treaty relationship was to expire in December of that year.
Fears of vulnerability were realized the day before independence. An Iranian destroyer group broke formation from an exercise in the lower Gulf, sailing to the Tunb islands. The islands were taken by force, civilians and Arab defenders alike allowed to flee. A British warship stood idle during the course of the invasion. A destroyer group approached the island Abu Musa as well. Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed Al Qasimi recognized his forces would not be able to challenge the invading Iranian naval forces. The island was quickly leased to Iran for $3 million a year. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia laid claim to swathes of Abu Dhabi.
Bahrain became independent in August, and Qatar in September 1971. When the British-Trucial Sheikhdoms treaty expired on December 1, 1971, they became fully independent. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai decided to form a union between their two emirates independently, prepare a constitution, then call the rulers of the other five emirates to a meeting and offer them the opportunity to join. It was also agreed between the two that the constitution be written by December 2, 1971. On that date, at the Dubai Guesthouse Palace, four other emirates agreed to enter into a union called the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain and Qatar declined their invitations to join the union. Ras al-Khaimah joined later, in early 1972.
In February 1972, the Federal National Council (FNC) was created; it was a 40-member consultative body appointed by the seven rulers. The UAE joined the Arab League in 1971. It was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council in May 1981, with Abu Dhabi hosting the first summit. UAE forces joined the allies against Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The UAE supported military operations from the US and other coalition nations engaged in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan (2001) and Saddam Hussein in Iraq (2003) as well as operations supporting the Global War on Terror for the Horn of Africa at Al Dhafra Air Base located outside of Abu Dhabi. The air base also supported Allied operations during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and Operation Northern Watch. The country had already signed a military defense agreement with the U.S. in 1994 and one with France in 1995. In January 2008, France and the UAE signed a deal allowing France to set up a permanent military base in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The UAE joined international military operations in Libya in March 2011.
On November 2, 2004, the UAE’s first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died. His eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, succeeded as Emir of Abu Dhabi. In accordance with the constitution, the UAE’s Supreme Council of Rulers elected Khalifa as president. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan succeeded Khalifa as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. In January 2006, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, died, and the crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum assumed both roles.
The first ever national elections were held in the UAE on December 16, 2006. A small number of hand-picked voters chose half of the members of the Federal National Council, an advisory body. UAE has largely escaped the Arab Spring, which other countries have had; however, more than 100 Emirati activists were jailed and tortured because they sought reforms. Furthermore, some people have had their nationality revoked. A member of the ruling family in Ras al-Khaimah was put under house arrest in April 2012 after calling for political openness. Mindful of the protests in nearby Bahrain, in November 2012 the UAE outlawed online mockery of its own government or attempts to organize public protests through social media.
Each of the seven individual emirates continued to use their own stamps until after the adoption of a common currency and postal administration on August 1, 1972. Please see the entries for these emirates on this blog for more information about their early postal and stamp-issuing histories. The first stamps released by the United Arab Emirates appeared on January 1, 1973.
Today’s stamp comes from a striking definitive series first released by the UAE in 2007 featuring a stylized falcon against differing background colors. Seven sheet stamps and seven booklet stamps were issued on January 31, 2007 (Scott #859-865G). On December 2, 2008, a single stamp of this design was released inscribed PRIORITY (Scott #937). The type was redrawn for further release on April 2, 2009, with the denominations indicated by the abbreviation AED rather than “Dh.” or “Dhs.” as found on the earlier issues (Scott #959-965). Additional varieties were released in 2011 and 2013. My 2013 copy of the Scott catalogue doesn’t contain today’s stamp, released on December 29, 2011, but apparently it holds number 1076 in the French-language Michel stamp catalogue. Printed by lithography and perforated 13½ x 13, the 5-dirham stamp has a light blue background. I received my copy on a letter sent from Sharjah in 2005. In fact, the only other UAE stamps currently in my collection arrived on an envelope mailed to me a year later from Abu Dhabi.
The falcon is the national bird of the United Arab Emirates and is a symbol of force and courage, recognizing the importance of falconry in Arab tradition and culture. The falcon species has always been regarded as a very uncommon and shy bird, and it is very rarely met with by amateur birdwatchers. In modern falconry, the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), the Harris’s hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus), and the peregrine falcon (Falco perigrinus) are some of the more commonly used birds of prey.
The practice of hunting with a conditioned falconry bird is also called “hawking” or “gamehawking”, although the words “hawking” and “hawker” have become used so much to refer to petty traveling traders, that the terms “falconer” and “falconry” now apply to most use of trained birds of prey to catch game. Many contemporary practitioners still use these words in their original meaning, however. In early English falconry literature, the word “falcon” referred to a female falcon only, while the word “hawk” or “hawke” referred to a female hawk. A male hawk or falcon was referred to as a “tiercel” (sometimes spelled “tercel”) as it was roughly one third less than the female in size.
Evidence suggests that the art of falconry may have begun in Mesopotamia, with the earliest accounts dating to approximately 2,000 BC. There are also some raptor representations in the northern Altai, western Mongolia. The falcon was a symbolic bird of ancient Mongol tribes. There is some disagreement about whether such early accounts document the practice of falconry (from The Epic of Gilgamesh and others) or are misinterpreted depictions of humans with birds of prey. During the Turkic period of Central Asia (7th century AD), concrete figures of falconers on horseback were inscribed on the rocks in Kyrgyz.
Falconry was probably introduced to Europe around AD 400, when the Huns and Alans invaded from the East. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1194–1250) is generally acknowledged as the most significant wellspring of traditional falconry knowledge. He is believed to have obtained firsthand knowledge of Arabic falconry during wars in the region between June 1228 and June 1229. He obtained a copy of Moamyn’s manual on falconry and had it translated into Latin by Theodore of Antioch. Frederick II himself made corrections to the translation in 1241 resulting in De Scientia Venandi per Aves.
King Frederick II is most recognized for his falconry treatise, De arte venandi cum avibus (“The Art of Hunting with Birds”). Written toward the end of his life, it is widely accepted as the first comprehensive book of falconry, but also notable in its contributions to ornithology and zoology. De arte venandi cum avibus incorporated a diversity of scholarly traditions from east to west, and is one of the earliest challenges to Aristotle’s explanations of nature.
Historically, falconry was a popular sport and status symbol among the nobles of medieval Europe, the Middle East, and Mongolian Empire. Many historical illustrations left in Rashid al Din’s “Compendium chronicles” book described falconry of the middle centuries with Mongol images. Falconry was largely restricted to the noble classes due to the prerequisite commitment of time, money, and space.
In art and in other aspects of culture such as literature, falconry remained a status symbol long after it was no longer popularly practiced. The historical significance of falconry within lower social classes may be underrepresented in the archaeological record, due to a lack of surviving evidence, especially from nonliterate nomadic and non-agrarian societies. Within nomadic societies like the Bedouin, falconry was not practiced for recreation by noblemen. Instead, falcons were trapped and hunted on small game during the winter months in order to supplement a very limited diet.
In the UK and parts of Europe, falconry probably reached its zenith in the 17th century, but soon faded, particularly in the late 18th and 19th centuries, as firearms became the tool of choice for hunting. Falconry in the UK had a resurgence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries during which time a number of falconry books were published. This revival led to the introduction of falconry in North America in the early 20th century. Colonel R. Luff Meredith is recognized as the father of North American falconry.
Throughout the 20th century, modern veterinary practices and the advent of radio telemetry (transmitters attached to free-flying birds) increased the average lifespan of falconry birds and allowed falconers to pursue quarry and styles of flight that had previously resulted in the loss of their hawk or falcon.
Falconry is currently practiced in many countries around the world. The falconer’s traditional choice of bird is the northern goshawk and peregrine falcon. In contemporary falconry in both North America and the UK they remain popular, although the Harris hawk and red-tailed hawk are likely more widely used. The northern goshawk and the golden eagle are more commonly used in Eastern Europe than elsewhere.
In the Middle East, the saker falcon is the most traditional species flown against the houbara bustard, sandgrouse, stone-curlew, other birds and hares. Peregrines and other captively bred imported falcons are also commonplace. Falconry remains an important part of the Arab heritage and culture. The UAE reportedly spends over 27 million dollars annually towards the protection and conservation of wild falcons, and has set up several state-of-the-art falcon hospitals in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the largest falcon hospital in the whole world. There are two breeding farms in the Emirates, as well as those in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Every year, falcon beauty contests and demonstrations take place at the ADIHEX exhibition in Abu Dhabi.