|Since the seventh century
this group of small sheikhdoms on the coastline of the Persian
Gulf was a backwater of the Islamic civilization. It
was then under the Ottoman control until the arrival of European
colonists in the 1820s. It was brought under British suzerainty
after attacks on British-owned shipping by pirates operating in
the Gulf region. In 1853 the Arab rulers signed a treaty with the
British in under which they accepted British military protection
and in exchange promised to refrain from piracy.
the 1950s, the British sought to bring together the seven distinct
regimes of the Trucial States into one administrative bloc. Two
key factors set the future of the territory: the 1968 decision
by the British to withdraw the military forces from the Gulf; and
the discovery of oil that gave a rapid boost to the economy of the
region. The UAE became an independent state on 2 December 1971.
FOr several years internal politics are prone to instability due
to the uncertain nature of the federation and boundary disputes.
The Sharjah emirate has been the subject of a couple of coup
attempts. The ruling families in the two largest emirates, Dubai
(the al-Makhtoums) and Abu Dhabi (whose ruler, Sheikh Zayed
bin Sultan al-Nahayan, is the current president of the UAE) have
managed to maintain stability in the federation.
The UAE has taken an active role in Middle East politics, both as
a founding member of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC)
and as mediator in disputes including those between Israel and the
Palestinians, Morocco and Algeria, Iran and Iraq, and Oman and Yemen.
It was one of the first Gulf states to establish diplomatic relations
with China and the countries of the former USSR.
In August 1990, along with other members of the Gulf Co-operation
Council, the UAE gave its backing to the US-led anti-Iraqi coalition.
Following the war, the UAE bolstered its national security by participating
in various GCC defence initiatives, as well as signing bilateral
agreements with the USA and the UK. The political situation in the
Gulf has been sensitive ever since. The US policy of ‘dual
containment’ (of Iran and Iraq) has created some difficulties
for the essentially pro-Western UAE regime throughout the 1990s.
The UAE has a long standing territorial dispute with Iran over the
ownership of three small Gulf islands – Greater and Lesser
Tunbs, and Abu Musa. The islands are in a key position close to
Gulf shipping lanes and large oil and gas fields. Though this dispute
has yet to be resolved, several other lesser conflicts with other
Gulf states (principally Qatar) have been settled.