United Arab Emirates: Government, Language & Religion

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The United Arab Emirates has quickly risen to be one of the most important economic centers of the Middle East. In this lesson, we'll see what life is like in this nation. Updated: 02/23/2022

The United Arab Emirates

Half a century ago, nobody paid much attention to Britain's West Asian colony. Perched on the Persian Gulf, this Arabic society was a land of fishermen and little else. However, that little colony established its independence in 1971 and began exploiting its vast oil reserves and strategic position along one of the world's most important maritime trading routes. As a result, it exploded into one of the richest and most influential nations of the region. Today we call this nation the United Arab Emirates. They call themselves Al Imarat al Arabiyah al Muttahida.

The United Arab Emirates is located along the Persian Gulf

The United Arab Emirates is now one of the most important economic centers in West Asia (the Middle East). Its capital city of Abu Dhabi is a global center for technology and trade. Its largest city, Dubai, is as well, and is also home to the world's tallest skyscraper. The United Arab Emirates is taking an increasingly important role in the world, so maybe it's time we got to know it a bit better.


Let's start with the government. Like the United States of America, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) gave itself a descriptive national name. An emirate (or 'imarat') is a traditional area of jurisdiction/sovereignty in Arab cultures. In essence, an emirate is like a kingdom, ruled by a prince known as the emir.

The seven emirates of the UAE

So, the UAE is basically a federation of kingdoms. We can think of the USA as a collection of states, each with their own government and organized by a single, federal government. The UAE is similar, but each emirate is still its own kingdom with a higher degree of authority than American states have in the USA.

There are seven emirates that make up the UAE: Abu Dhabi, 'Ajmna, Al Fujuayrah, Ash Shariqah, Dubai, Ra's al Khaymah, and Umm al Qaywayn. Each has its own emir, who together form the seven members of the Federal Supreme Council, which has the highest constitutional authority in the nation.

Most of the actual governance in the UAE, however, is overseen by one of the three branches of the federal government. The executive branch consists of a president and a prime minister. The president is elected by the Federal Supreme Council, although this position has practically become a hereditary one, passed from the emir of Abu Dhabi to his son. The prime minister is also appointed by the Federal Supreme Council. Traditionally, the emir of Dubai is selected as the nation's prime minister. It's worth noting that the UAE has banned political parties, so that does not play a role in their system.

The legislative branch of the UAE is a unicameral body known as the Federal National Council. This is basically the UAE equivalent of Congress. The Federal National Council has 40 members in it, who make the laws for the nation. 20 members are appointed by the emirs, and the remaining 20 are indirectly elected by the citizens via an electoral college.

Finally, the UAE also has a Federal Supreme Court at the head of its judicial branch. Judges are appointed by the president, but must be approved by the Federal Supreme Council.

That's what the government of the UAE looks like. Citizens do have a degree of participation in their government through indirect elections and other means, but it's worth noting that not everyone can be a citizen. Being born in the UAE is not enough to automatically make you a citizen; this is a hereditary title, passed from father to children. So, if your father is a citizen of the UAE then you are too. If not, you may apply for citizenship at the age of 18.

Flag of the UAE

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