The UAE’s constitution, provisionally adopted at independence in 1971 and made permanent in 1996, established a federal government that leaves much power to the emirates. The government has executive, legislative, and judicial branches, but the executive branch dominates the political system. There are no political parties and no popular elections.
Although the governmental institutions are modern in form, the essence of political power is traditional and hereditary, with the ruling family of each emirate representing its dominant tribe. Politics is largely a process of satisfying the claims to power of ruling families and their factions as well as merchants and religious leaders.
Executive and Legislative
The highest political authority in the UAE is the Supreme Federal Council (SFC), sometimes called the Supreme Council of the Union (SCU), which consists of the seven emirate rulers. This council establishes general UAE policy. It usually meets four times a year, and it elects the president to indefinitely renewable five-year terms. Each ruler has a vote, but on substantive matters the dominant emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai can exercise veto power.
The Council of Ministers, appointed by the president, is both the federal cabinet and principal source of legislative authority. The SFC ratifies laws enacted by the Council of Ministers.
The Federal National Council (FNC) is the country’s nominal legislature, but this body has only an advisory role in the government. It does, however, have a significant function as a forum for discussion of important national issues. The 40 members of the FNC represent the various emirates and are individually selected by the leaders of each emirate for two-year, indefinitely renewable terms. The larger, wealthier emirates are allotted greater numbers of seats. The constitution permits a popularly elected FNC, leaving open the possibility for a truly representative legislature in the future.
The UAE’s judiciary consists of a supreme court and lower courts that preside over the different emirates. The legal system is based on the Sharia (Islamic law), but incorporates elements of Western legal systems in such areas as commercial law. Many legal disputes are decided by local customary practices under the supervision of the ruler of each emirate.
Because of the UAE’s oil wealth, citizens pay no taxes but receive generous social welfare benefits, including free medical care. Modern hospitals and health centers are concentrated in the larger cities, although most people across the country have access to at least basic care.
The UAE joined the Arab League immediately after declaring independence in December 1971 and in the weeks following became a member of the United Nations (UN). It also belongs to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
conventional long form: United Arab Emirates
conventional short form: none
local long form: Al Imarat al Arabiyah al Muttahidah
local short form: none
former: Trucial Oman, Trucial States
federation with specified powers delegated to the UAE federal government and other powers reserved to member emirates
7 emirates (imarat, singular – imarah); Abu Zaby (Abu Dhabi), ‘Ajman, Al Fujayrah, Ash Shariqah (Sharjah), Dubayy (Dubai), Ra’s al Khaymah, Umm al Qaywayn
2 December 1971 (from UK)
Independence Day, 2 December (1971)
2 December 1971 (made permanent in 1996)
federal court system introduced in 1971; applies to all emirates except Dubayy (Dubai) and Ra’s al Khaymah, which are not fully integrated into the federal system; all emirates have secular courts to adjudicate criminal, civil, and commercial matters and Islamic courts to review family and religious disputes
chief of state: President Sheikh KHALIFA bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan (since 3 November 2004), ruler of Abu Zaby (Abu Dhabi) (since 4 November 2004) and Vice President MAKTUM bin Rashid al-Maktum (since 8 October 1990), ruler of Dubayy (Dubai)
head of government: Prime Minister MAKTUM bin Rashid al-Maktum (since 8 October 1990), ruler of Dubayy (Dubai); Deputy Prime Minister SULTAN bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan (since 20 November 1990); Deputy Prime Minister HAMDAN bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan (since 20 October 2003)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president
note: there is also a Federal Supreme Council (FSC) composed of the seven emirate rulers; the FSC is the highest constitutional authority in the UAE; establishes general policies and sanctions federal legislation; meets four times a year; Abu Zaby (Abu Dhabi) and Dubayy (Dubai) rulers have effective veto power
elections: president and vice president elected by the Federal Supreme Council (composed of rulers of the seven emirates) for five-year terms; election last held 3 November 2004 upon the death of the UAE’s Founding Father and first President ZAYID bin Sultan Al Nuhayyan (next to be held 2009); prime minister and deputy prime minister appointed by the president
election results: Sheikh KHALIFA bin Zayid Al Nuhayyan elected president by a unanimous vote of the FSC; MAKTUM bin Rashid al-Maktum unanimously reaffirmed vice president
unicameral Federal National Council (FNC) or Majlis al-Ittihad al-Watani (40 seats; members appointed by the rulers of the constituent states to serve two-year terms)
note: reviews legislation, but cannot change or veto
Union Supreme Court (judges are appointed by the president)
Political parties and leaders
Political pressure groups and leaders
International organization participation:Diplomatic representation in the US
ABEDA, AFESD, AMF, FAO, G-77, GCC, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt (signatory), ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, ISO, ITU, LAS, MIGA, NAM, OAPEC, OIC, OPCW, OPEC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
Diplomatic representation in the US
chief of mission: Ambassador Yousef bin Mani Saeed al-OTAIBA
chancery: 3522 International Court NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20008
telephone:  (202) 243-2400
FAX:  (202) 243-2432
three equal horizontal bands of green (top), white, and black with a wider vertical red band on the hoist side; the flag incorporates all four Pan-Arab colors, which in this case represent fertility (green), neutrality (white), petroleum resources (black), and unity (red); red was the traditional color incorporated into all flags of the emirates before their unification