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Abu Dhabi
Ras Al Khaimah
Umm Al Quwain
Administratively, the U.A.E. is a loose federation of seven emirates, each with its own ruler. The United Arab Emirates consists of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah. Four-fifths of the UAE is desert but has contrasting landscapes—from the towering red dunes of the Liwa to the rich palm-filled Oasis of Al Ain, from the precipitous Hajjar Mountains to the more fertile stretches of its coastal plains. Though small in size (similar to the size of Scotland), the UAE has become an important player in regional and international affairs. In 1971, the late President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan unified the small, underdeveloped states into a federation—the only one in the Arab world. With his visionary leadership, oil wealth was used to develop the UAE into one of the world's most open and successful economies. The pace at which local government in each emirate evolves from traditional to modern is set primarily by the ruler. Under the provisional constitution of 1971, each emirate reserves considerable powers, including control over mineral rights (notably oil) and revenues. In this milieu, federal powers have developed slowly. The constitution established the positions of President (Chief of State) and Vice President, each serving 5-year terms; a Council of Ministers, led by a Prime Minister (head of government); a Supreme Council of Rulers; and a 40-member National Assembly (Federal National Council), a consultative body whose members are appointed by the emirate rulers.

The UAE's decentralized federal political system generates consensus-based decision-making through the co-existence of traditional and modern forms of government. The UAE's seven emirates must agree on the passage and implementation of new laws. Informal mechanisms such as the UAE leaders' open majlises that allow nationals to voice opinions and seek redress have historically provided a degree of government responsiveness to its citizens.

The relative political and financial influence of each emirate is reflected in the allocation of positions in the federal government. The ruler of Abu Dhabi, whose emirate is the U.A.E.'s major oil producer, has always been the president of the U.A.E. The ruler of Dubai, which is the U.A.E.'s commercial center, has always been the vice president.

Since achieving independence in 1971, the U.A.E. has worked to strengthen its federal institutions. Nonetheless, each emirate still retains substantial autonomy, and progress toward greater federal integration has slowed in recent years. A basic concept in the U.A.E. Government's development as a federal system is that a significant percentage of each emirate's revenues should be devoted to the U.A.E. central budget.

The U.A.E. has no political parties. There is talk of steps toward democratic government, but nothing concrete has emerged. The rulers hold power on the basis of their dynastic position and their legitimacy in a system of tribal consensus. Rapid modernization, enormous strides in education, and the influx of a large foreign population have changed the face of the society but have not fundamentally altered this traditional political system.

In December 2006, the U.A.E. held its first-ever limited elections to select half the members of the FNC. Ballots were cast by electors selected by the ruler of each emirate. One woman was elected to the FNC and additional women were appointed to be council members. In September 2011, the U.A.E. held its second FNC elections, this time expanding the electoral pool from under 7,000 in 2006 to nearly 130,000 voters. Again, one woman was elected; an additional six were later appointed.

Supreme Council of Rulers

The Supreme Council Rulers (SCR) consists of the rulers of the seven emirates; it elects from among its members a president and a vice president, who serve for a term of five years. The president appoints the prime minister and Council of Ministers. Article 150 of the provisional constitution defines the powers of the SCR as formulation of general policy; legislation on all matters of state; ratification of federal laws and decrees, including those relating to the annual budget and fiscal matters; ratification of international treaties and agreements; and assent to the appointment of the prime minister and Supreme Court of the Union judges. The council may also relieve the prime minister of his post at the recommendation of the president.

The rulers make decisions by a simple majority vote, except on substantive issues. Substantive issues require a two-thirds majority (five of seven rulers), including the votes of both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The SCR carries out its work through a secretariat and whatever ad hoc committees it chooses to appoint.

The president serves as chairman of the SCR, head of state, and commander of the Union Defense Force (UDF). The president convenes the SCR and appoints the prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers, the cabinet ministers, and other senior civil and military officials. He has the power to proclaim martial law and to carry out a variety of functions usually associated with the chief executive.

Federal National Council

Under the provisional constitution, the Federal National Council (FNC) is the principal legislative authority, but its actual role in the governmental process is limited to consultation. Its forty members are appointed for two-year terms by the respective emirate rulers, in accordance with a constitutionally fixed quota that allots proportionately more members to the wealthiest and most populous emirates. Thus, Abu Dhabi and Dubai each appoint eight members to the FNC; Ras al Khaymah and Sharjah each appoint six members; and Ajman, Al Fujayrah, and Umm al Qaywayn each appoint four members. Members of the FNC must be citizens of the emirates they represent, twenty-one years of age or older, and literate. They may not hold any other public office.

The FNC meets in regular session for a minimum of six months, beginning in November. The UAE president may call a special session if necessary. The president opens the regular session with a speech on the state of the union. The FNC can reply to the state of the union address in the form of "observations and wishes," but the reply has no legal effect. The FNC also makes recommendations on legislative matters to the Council of Ministers, the president, and the SCR. The FNC can discuss any government bills drafted by the Council of Ministers; it can agree with, amend, or reject such bills, but it cannot veto them.

The laws of the UAE are divided into two main categories: union laws and decrees. A bill drafted by the Council of Ministers for nonbinding deliberation by the FNC and then submitted to the president for his assent and the SCR for ratification becomes a union law when promulgated by the president. Decrees are issued jointly by the president and the Council of Ministers between sessions of the SCR; a decree must be confirmed by the SCR to remain valid.

On December 1, 2005, President Khalifa announced that at a future unspecified date half the members of the Federal National Council would be elected by a council formed by the emirates; the remaining half would be appointed.

Local Government

Each of the seven emirates has its own government, which functions in tandem with the federal government. The largest and most populous emirate, Abu Dhabi, has its own central governing body, the Executive Council, chaired by the crown prince; the Eastern and Western Regions and the island of Das are headed by a ruler's representative. Municipalities administer the main cities, each of which has a municipal council. The National Consultative Council functions like the Federal National Council. Local departments carry out various administrative functions. A similar system of municipalities and departments exists in the other emirates.

Judicial and Legal System

The UAE has a federal judiciary encompassing all the emirates except Dubai and Ras al Khaymah, each of which has its own court system that is not subject to the Federal Supreme Court. The court structure has three main branches: civil, criminal, and sharia courts. In civil matters, the lowest courts are the courts of first instance, which hear all claims ranging from commercial matters to maritime disputes.

Each emirate has a Federal Appeal Court. The highest court of appeal is the Court of Cassation, also known as the Federal Supreme Court; it is located in Abu Dhabi and consists of five judges appointed by the Supreme Council of Rulers. This court is empowered to adjudicate disputes between courts, determine the constitutionality of local and federal laws, and investigate misconduct by high government officials. Each emirate administers sharia courts, which have jurisdiction over criminal and family law matters between Muslims, including family disputes over divorce, inheritance, child custody, child abuse, and guardianship of minors. The court may, at the federal level, hear appeals of certain criminal cases, e.g., rape, robbery, and driving under the influence of alcohol, which were originally tried in lower courts.

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Page last modified: 12-11-2015 19:22:53 ZULU