United Arab Emirates, a country in the Middle East. It lies at the southern end of the Persian Gulf, in eastern Arabia, and consists of seven loosely united sheikhdoms, or emirates—Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Qaiwain, Ras al Khaimah, and Fujairah. Each sheikhdom bears the same name as its chief city, the residence of its sheikh. Until the end of 1971 the region was usually called the Trucial States, but was also known as the Trucial Sheikhdoms, Trucial Oman, and the Trucial Coast. (The term "trucial" stemmed from special truces, or treaties, that once existed between the sheikhdoms and Great Britain.)
Bordering the region are Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman; boundaries, however, are disputed and largely undefined. The approximate area is 30,000 square miles (77,700 km2).
Virtually all the land is desert. The coast is flat and often gravelly, with numerous islands offshore. Inland, the plain gradually gives way to low ridges and to rolling sand dunes that extend southward into the great Rub al Khali—one of the most desolate areas on earth. A tip of the Hajar mountains occupies a relatively small area in the east.
An extremely hot, dry climate prevails in the emirates. High temperatures occur throughout most of the year, often reaching 110° to 120° F. (43° to 49° C.). There is virtually no rain except in the mountains, where a meager amount falls each year. High humidity along the coast and scorching, dry winds in the interior add to the severity of the climate.
Until oil was discovered in 1958, the area was one of the most impoverished and backward in the world. Nomadic herding, date growing, coastal fishing, and trade, chiefly through Dubai, provided a bare existence. By the early 1970's petroleum production from enormous offshore and mainland reserves, primarily in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, resulted in an ever increasing income of hundreds of millions of dollars. With this revenue came a building boom, especially in the two producing sheikhdoms, of new homes, schools, office buildings, pipelines, oil storage facilities, ports, roads, and airfields. It also brought the beginning of a welfare state.
Most of the 1,622,464 people living in the emirates in 1985 were Arabs; Iranians, Pakistanis, and Indians made up the largest minority groups. Most belong to the Sunni branch of Islam and speak Arabic, but few can read or write. The great majority of the people live in coastal towns and cities, chiefly Dubai and Abu Dhabi; the rest are nomads and oasis dwellers.
The Supreme Council, consisting of the seven sheikhs, is the highest authority in the land. It selects a president, a vice-president, a premier, and a cabinet. Each sheikh has almost absolute power in his own domain. He appoints representatives to the 40-member legislature that meets in the provisional capital of Abu Dhabi.
|Facts in brief about the United Arab Emirates|
|Capital: Abu Dhabi.|
|Official language: Arabic.|
|Area: 32,278 mi2 (83,600 km2). Greatest distances—north-south, 250 mi (402 km); east-west, 350 mi (563 km). Coastline—483 mi (777 km).|
|Elevation: Highest—Jabal Yibir, 5,010 ft (1,527 m) above sea level. Lowest--Salamiyah, a salt flat slightly below sea level.|
|Population: Current estimate—4,724,000; density, 146 per mi2 (57 per km2); distribution, 77 percent urban, 23 percent rural. 2004 official government estimate—4,320,000.|
|Chief products: Agriculture—dates, melons, tomatoes. Fishing—fish, shrimp. Mining—petroleum, natural gas.|
|Flag: The flag of the United Arab Emirates, adopted in 1971, has a vertical red stripe on the left side of the flag and three horizontal stripes of green, white, and black (top to bottom).|
|Money: Basic unit—Emirati dirham. One hundred fils equal one dirham.|