History of the United Arab Emirates

Sinimar  /  Blog  /  History of the United Arab Emirates
Published: 20.10.2021

The earliest known human settlement in the UAE dates back to the Neolithic period, 5500 BCE. At this early stage, there is evidence of interaction with the outside world, particularly the civilization in northern Persia. These contacts continued to develop into all areas of commerce.In the first century BCE, caravan traffic began between Syria and cities in southern Iraq. For sea travel, Oman (perhaps the presentUmm al-Qaiwain) was an important port with connections to India. These routes were an alternative to the Red Sea route used by the Romans.


The arrival of envoys of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 630 brought about the conversion of the region to Islam. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, one of the UAE's major battles at Dibba ended with the defeat of the non-Muslims and the victory of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.In 637, Julfar (now Ra al-Khaimah) was used as the starting point for the conquest of Iran. Julfar was for many centuries a rich port and a centre of the pearl trade. Sailing ships set sail from it on voyages throughout the Indian Ocean.

Portuguese domination of the UAE

Portugal expanded into the Indian Ocean in the early 16th century following the route of Vasco da Gama and gained dominance over Persia on the Gulf Coast through technological superiority. Portugal controlled the region for 150 years in which it conquered the inhabitants of the entire Arabian Peninsula. Vasco da Gama enlisted the help of Ahmad Ibn Majid, a navigator and cartographer from Julfar, to find a route to the spices of Asia.

British domination of Oman's influence in the UAE

During the 16th century, some of the population of the United Arab Emirates came under the direct influence of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, the UAE region was also known by the British as the Pirate Coast, as pirates based in the area raided the transport ships of European and Arab traders. Hence, the British decided to patrol the area from the 17th century to the 19th century. The British expedition in 1819 was to bring protection to trade with India, particularly in the area around Ras al Khaimah, but also around other ports in what is now the UAE. The next year, a peace treaty was signed which was respected by all the sheikhs on the coast. Battles at sea continued intermittently until 1835. In 1853, a treaty was signed with the British, under which the Sheikhs (hereafter referred to as the "Treaty Sheikhs") agreed to a permanent maritime truce. This was under the auspices of the United Kingdom, and any disputes between the Sheikhs were settled under British law.

Primarily in response to the ambitions of other European countries, the United Kingdom and the Covenanting Sheikhs made similar treaties with other Gulf rulers in 1892. The sheikhs agreed not to enter into any agreements or enter into relations without the knowledge and consent of Britain. In return, the British promised to protect the Covenant Sheikhs at sea and also to help in the event of an attack on the country. The British suppression of piracy meant that the pearl fleets could sail in relative safety. On the negative side, however, the British ban on the slave trade meant a significant loss of a source of income for the sheikhs.

The beginning of the oil era in the UAE

In the early 1960s, the first oil company teams conducted preliminary exploration. The first cargo of oil was exported from Abu Dhabi in 1962. Thanks to rising oil revenues, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan embarked on a massive program of building schools, housing, hospitals and roads. Thanks to Dubai's oil exports since 1969, the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, launched a major development programme to improve the quality of life of his people.

Sheikh Zayed and the Union

In the early 1960s, oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi. This event led to rapid unification and the demand of the sheikhs to establish the UAE. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan AlNahyan became the ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966. The British felt the loss of oil investments and oil contracts in America. Earlier, the British had set up an authority to assist in the establishment of the United Arab Emirates. The sheikhs of the UAE then decided to form a council to coordinate affairs between the two. Qatar and Bahrain were also part of the original agreements. After the expiration of the Covenant Sheikhates' treaty with the United Kingdom in 1971, both Bahrain and Qatar decided to become independent states. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai decided to form a union between their two emirates and separately draft a constitution. They then offered the rulers of the other 5 emirates the opportunity to join. The constitution was signed on December 2, 1971 and on the same day the other four emirates agreed to join the union called the United Arab Emirates. Ras Al Khaimah-joined later, in early 1972.

After the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States, the UAE was identified as a major financial center for Al Qaeda due to the money transfers by the hijackers (two of the 9/11 hijackers, Marwan al-Shehhi and Fayez Ahmed Bannihammad, who crashed United flight 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center were UAE citizens). The UAE government immediately cooperated with the U.S., froze accounts linked to the terror suspects, and focused heavily on anti-money laundering efforts. The UAE supported U.S. and coalition of states military operations involved in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan (2001) and Saddam Hussein in Iraq (2003), as well as operations in support of the Global War on Terror for the Horn of Africa region at Al Dhafra Air Base located outside Abu Dhabi. The air base also supported Allied operations in the Persian Gulf War during 1991. Military defence agreements were signed with the US in 1994 and with France in 1995.

The UAE's first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died on 2 November 2004. His eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, succeeded as ruler of AbuDhabi. In accordance with the UAE constitution, the Supreme Council of Rulers elected Khalifa as president. Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan Khalifa, Crown Prince of AbuDhabi was then elected as the new President of the UAE. Sheikh Maktoum bin RashidAl Maktoum, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai, died in January 2006. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, became the new ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE.