From challenges to union

While roots of the Federation can be traced back to 1905, Shaikh Zayed’s relentless pursuit of his philosophy and cooperation from other 
Rulers resulted in the Union

By Dr Abdullah Al Rayes

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Published: Fri 23 Nov 2012, 2:41 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 3:29 PM

On December 2, 1971, late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, architect of the modern UAE and Father of the Nation, along with the then Rulers of the other emirates made history by establishing the Union.

It has been asserted by some scholars that the establishment of the Trucial States Council by the British Government in 1952, with the aim of bringing the Rulers of the seven emirates together, represented “the first serious attempt” to bring some sort of unity to the area, and served to lay the groundwork for the negotiations that led to the formation of the UAE in 1971.


Shaikh Zayed and Shaikh Rashid with fellow Rulers after the formation of the UAE Federation on December 2, 1971.

Historically, the desire to unite had always existed among the Rulers of the Emirates by virtue of their geographical location, common socio-economic background and political structures, and most importantly, their shared Arab-Islamic heritage.

In fact, the roots of the Federation can be traced back to 1905, when for the first time, Zayed the Great, Ruler of Abu Dhabi (1855-1909), had called a meeting of all Rulers of the Gulf Coast in Abu Dhabi in order to solve outstanding territorial disputes. The meeting was generally successful, but was not to be repeated for almost 50 years.

Although the 1938 Reform Movement in Dubai was short-lived and rudimentary, it gave proof of the will and ability of the people of the emirates to struggle for a better life. Significantly, as early as 1940, the British Political Resident had even admitted the development of “a democratic movement” in the emirate of Dubai.

The spread of education in the Gulf region and the impact of nationalist liberation movements in the Arab World were also important factors that contributed to a growing sense of political awareness among the people of the emirates and played a major part in the formation of the Federation.

Shaikh Zayed’s faith in Unity

The turning point in the history of the emirates came with the accession of Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966.

The central theme of his political philosophy was: “Union is the path to strength, the path to self-esteem and power and the path to common good. Fragmentation only results in weakness, and weak entities have no place in the world today.”

With his “unshakeable belief in Arab Unity”, Shaikh Zayed began to give serious thought to the unity of the peoples of the Gulf as “the first step on the road to overall Arab Unity”.

Confronted with the prospects of Britain’s military withdrawal from the Gulf by the end of 1971, the Ruler had a firm conviction that the Federation could be established on the basis of the emirates’ common ties and centuries-old shared history and heritage.

Prior to political unification, as early as 1966, Shaikh Zayed had seriously considered the prospects of the unification of the Gulf currency as one of the steps to foster economic cohesion, friendship and co-operation among the nine Gulf states.

A year later, he thought of constituting an entity of the Southern Gulf in which the Rulers would stand united, shoulder to shoulder. He even thought of a Gulf Federation for defence and foreign relations. But more importantly, Shaikh Zayed valued and respected the wishes and opinions of his people. He had heard not only from the Rulers, but from all people of the Trucial States that they wanted to come together and co-operate for their own improvement.

In order to realise the hopes and aspirations of the people of the area, the Rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai announced the establishment of a union between their respective emirates on February 18, 1968 at Smeih, which represented the first step towards uniting the Trucial Coast as a whole into a Federation.

Despite the heavy odds he had to contend with, Shaikh Zayed’s mind was set on the Union by 1969. He was confident in his ability to unify and evolve a viable defence system for the security and stability of the Gulf region. The developments centering on the nobler plan for a union of nine states, including Bahrain and Qatar, took three years of discussions and disagreements thereafter before breaking away from the concept.

Documentation on 
the Federation

Years 1968 to 1971 were thus spent in intense discussions and deliberations. If words on paper are an achievement in themselves, the Union had a lot to its credit. Massive documentation comprising hundreds of pages of minutes, a dozen reports of committees and at least three draft constitutions notwithstanding, the Federation appeared slow in its steps towards completion. But there was a silverlining in the cloud!

Unity achieved

With tremendous grit and determination, the Rulers of the seven emirates under the leadership of Shaikh Zayed fought against all odds and made the Federation a reality. On December 1, 1971, the Special Treaty Relations with Great Britain were terminated. On December 2 the same year, amid scenes of enthusiasm and euphoria, Shaikh Zayed and the British Political Resident Geoffrey Arthur signed the Treaty of Friendship, thereby ending Britain’s special political relationship with the individual Gulf states.

Union — an Arab initiative

The British authorities of the day recorded: “The Union came into being as a result of Arab initiative and so took root as an institution in a manner which no British-sponsored Federation could have at this stage”. It therefore provided “the best hope of future stability in the area”. The Federation of the UAE is “an Arab organisation created by Arabs for Arabs”.

‘Spirit of the Union’

The UAE success story in the post-Federation era, and its triumphant march into the 21stcentury under the present leadership have far surpassed the hopes and aspirations of its founding fathers.

The ‘Spirit of the Union’ has triumphed. Aptly described in1971 as a “unique association of states” and a pioneering achievement in the Arab World, the UAE is moving ahead from strength to strength along the path to peace, progress and prosperity.

Every year, December 2 ushers in a wave of jubilation and euphoria all over the country. The outpouring of loyalty, respect and gratitude from all sections of the populace — Emiratis and expatriates — is an inspiration and a message to the world at large about the success of the Federation.

Dr Abdullah Abdul Karim Al-Rayes is the Director-General of the National Center for Documentation and Research



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