Politics of the United Arab Emirates: Wikis


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United Arab Emirates

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Politics of the United Arab Emirates takes place in a framework of a federal, presidential, elected monarchy. The UAE is a federation of seven absolute monarchies: the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Qaiwain. The ruler of Abu Dhabi is President of the United Arab Emirates, the head of state, and the ruler of Dubai is the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, the head of government.


Executive branch

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan 3 November 2004
Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum 5 January 2006

Administratively, the UAE is a federation of seven emirates, each with its own ruler. The pace of local government reform in each emirate 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 as each Emirate already had its own existing institutions of government prior to the country’s official foundation. The constitution of the United Arab Emirates separates powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Additionally, legislative and executive powers are divided into federal and emirate jurisdictions.[1]

The constitution of the United Arab Emirates established the positions of president (chief of state) and vice president and elected by the rulers of each of the emirates from within (the seven rulers comprise the Federal Supreme Council, which also has an elected chairman and a vice chairman each serving five-year terms); a Council of Ministers (cabinet), led by a prime minister (head of government); a supreme council of rulers; and a 40-member National Assembly (known as the Federal National Council), a consultative body whose members are partially appointed by the emirate rulers and partially elected; and an independent judiciary which includes the Federal Supreme Court. Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was president of the UAE from its foundation until his death on 2 November 2004. His eldest son, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is the current president.

Under federal authority, responsibilities include foreign affairs, security and defence, nationality and immigration issues, education, public health, currency, postal, telephone and other communications services, air traffic control, licensing of aircraft, labour relations, banking, delimitation of territorial waters and extradition of criminals. Issues excluded from Articles 120 and 121 of the Constitution are to be under the jurisdiction of respective Emirates and are reaffirmed by Article 116 which states that: ‘the Emirates shall exercise all powers not assigned to the federation by this Constitution’. This is further reiterated by Article 122, which stated that ‘the Emirates shall have jurisdiction in all matters not assigned to the exclusive jurisdiction of the federation, in accordance with the provision of the preceding two Articles’.[2]

Federal Supreme Council

The Federal Supreme Council consists of the individual rulers of the seven emirates. The President and Vice-President are elected by the Supreme Council every five years. Although unofficial, the Presidency is de facto hereditary to the Al Nahyan clan of Abu Dhabi and the Premiership is hereditary to the Al-Maktoom clan of Dubai. Article 150 of the UAE constitution defines the powers of the Council’s authority in formulation of general policy; legislation on all matters of state; ratification of federal laws and decrees, including those relating to budget and fiscal matters; ratification of international treaties and agreements; and appointment of the prime minister and Supreme Court judges.[3] Decisions are made by majority vote unless relating to substantive issues which require a two-thirds majority vote (five out of seven rulers), which must include Abu Dhabi and Dubai.[4] The Supreme Council also elects the Council of Ministers, while an appointed 40-member Federal National Council, drawn from all the emirates, reviews proposed laws.


Federal Supreme Council Members / UAE Rulers

Council of Ministers / Cabinet

The Council of Ministers / Cabinet consists of 22 members and is headed by a prime minister (chosen by the President with consultation. It is the executive authority for the federation.[5]

  • Prime Minister: Vice-President HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (also Minister of Defense)
  • Deputy Prime Minister: HH Lt Gen. Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan (also Minister of Interior)
  • Deputy Prime Minister: HH Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan (also Minister of Presidency Affairs)
  • Minister of Finance: HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs: HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan
  • Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research: HE Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan
  • Minister of Public Works: HE Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan
  • Minister of Foreign Trade: HE Sheikha Lubna Khalid Al Qasimi
  • Minister of Cabinet Affairs: HE Mohammed Abdullah Al Gergawi
  • Minister of Energy: HE Mohammed bin Dhaen Al Hamli
  • Minister of Economy: HE Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri
  • Minister of Social Affairs: HE Maryam Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi
  • Minister of Education: HE Humaid Mohammed Obaid Al Qatami
  • Minister of Health: HE Dr. Hanif Hasan Ali
  • Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development: HE Abdulrahman Mohammed Al Oweis
  • Minister of Justice: HE Dr. Hadef Jawa'an Al Dhaheri
  • Minister of Environment and Water: HE Dr. Rashid Ahmed bin Fahd
  • Minister of Labour: HE Saqr Ighbash Saeed Ighbash
  • Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs: HE Dr. Anwar Mohammed Qarqash (also Minister of State for Foreign Affairs)
  • Minister of State for Financial Affairs: HE Obaid Humaid Al Tayer
  • Minister of State: HE Dr. Maitha Salem Al Shamsi
  • Minister of State: HE Reem Ibraheem Al Hashemi

Local Politics

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 UAE's major oil producer, is president of the UAE. The ruler of Dubai, which is the UAE's commercial center and a significant oil producer, is vice president and prime minister.

Since achieving independence in 1971, the UAE 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 UAE Government's development as a federal system is that a significant percentage of each emirate's revenues should be devoted to the UAE central budget.[6]

Although complexity of local government differs depending on size and development of each emirate, most such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman have their own Executive Councils chaired by respective rulers and possessing various departments reflective of federal ministries. Various autonomous agencies also exist such as an Environment Agency, Tourism Authority, Authority for Culture and Heritage, and Health Authority. Some emirates such as Abu Dhabi may also be divided into two municipalities (the Western and Eastern Regions) and its main cities of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain are also administered by own municipalities with a municipal council. Abu Dhabi, as well as Sharjah also have their own National Consultative Councils with similar local duties and role as the Federal National Council.[7]

It has long been regional tradition for rulers to hold open discussions with their people, be they common, merchants or the elite. Often, this forum is held by the emirate rulers as well as senior family members. This open majlis, or consultation, is held periodically; however, a ruler may also appoint an emir, or wali, to whom concerns may be directed by the general population when necessary. This individual is often considered a leading tribal figure whose trust is placed by his tribe as well as the ruler.


The Federal National Council (al-Majlis al-Watani al-Ittihadi) is the UAE’s parliamentary body and consists of 40 members, representing the Emirates, half appointed by the rulers of the constituent states and the other half elected to serve two-year terms, with only advisory tasks. Members are required to be citizens of the emirate they represent, a minimum twenty-one years of age, and literate.[8] The council carries out the country’s main consultative duties and has both a legislative and supervisory role provided by the Constitution. It has the authority to examine and amend any proposed federal legislation but it cannot veto any proposed bills. It can also question any ministers on ministry performance.

The United Arab Emirates does not have political parties. Members are drawn from each emirate based on population and presided over by a speaker who is elected from among the Council’s members. It is the main consultative body in the UAE and has both a legislative and supervisory role accorded by the Constitution. Since the Council’s inception, the following have been selected to chair:

  • Thani bin Abdulla
  • Taryam bin Omran Taryam
  • Hilal bin Ahmed bin Lootah
  • Al Haj bin Abdullah Al Muhairbi
  • Mohammed Khalifa Al Habtoor (elected 1997)
  • Saeed Mohammed Al Kindi (elected 2003)
  • Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair (elected 2006)

After the succession of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid as ruler of Dubai and election as PM /Vice President of the UAE, the Emirates took their first steps towards indirect elections for the country’s parliament on National Day, December 2, 2005 upon the official announcement by HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The new reforms provided for each ruler to select an Electoral College for his respective emirate based on population and comprised the following: Abu Dhabi & Dubai – 8; Sharjah & Ra’s al Khaimah – 6; Fujairah, Ajman, & Umm al Qaiwain: 4. These colleges were designated the responsibility to elect one half of the Federal National Council’s members for their own emirate. The other half would be appointed by the Emirate’s ruler. A National Electoral Committee was created and the UAE’s first election occurred during mid-December 2006.[9]

e • d  Summary of the 16, 18 and 20 December 2006 UAE Federal National Council election results
Members Seats
Elected 20
Appointed by the rulers of the constituent emirates 20
Total 40

Among the 20 members chosen by the Electoral College, one woman won. Eight female members were appointed by the rulers of the 7 emirates. Each emirate had at least one female appointed, with the exception of Umm al-Qaiwain. Three of the females appointed were from Dubai.[10] The total amounted to 22.5% of the Council representing women’s significant expansion and participation in the UAE’s government.

The objective is for FNC members to be wholly-elected. However, in a country with a long monarchical tradition, reform is considered effective when gradual. Further consideration is being given to formulating a local electoral process.

Federal Judiciary

The Federal Judiciary is a constitutionally completely independent body (under Article 94) and includes the Federal Supreme Court and Courts of First Instance. Supreme Council of Rulers appoints the five judges headed by a president to the Supreme Court. The judges are responsible for deciding if federal laws are constitutional, mediating between inter-emirate disputes.[11] It also possesses the authority to try cases involving cabinet and senior federal officials. Although secular law is applied, the basis of legislation is Sharia (Islamic Law) and involves three of the four schools including (mainly) Maliki, but also the Hanbali and Shafi'i schools. [12]

Political Reform

In early 2007, the United Arab Emirates launched the 'UAE Government Strategy' for the years ahead, which covered twenty-one topics in six different sectors including social development, economic development, public sector development, justice and safety, infrastructure and rural areas development. The initiative is meant to reevaluate and advance these sectors towards top global standards by facilitating better continuous cooperation between federal and local governments with increased efficiency, training, Emiratisaion, ministry empowerment, upgrading of services, improving civil service and legislation review.

Subsequently, Abu Dhabi announced implementation of its own policy to modernize public administration practices and government performance in 2007-2008. Plans for reevaluation were laid out in areas including economy, energy, tourism, health, education, labour, civil services, culture and heritage, good control, urban planning, transport, environment, health and safety, municipal affairs, police and emergency services, electronic government, women and legislative reform. Abu Dhabi hopes advancements towards exceptional global standards in these areas will improve the quality of services for its residents as well as attract future investment towards further modernizing the Emirate.[13]

International organization affiliation



  1. ^ Library of Congress http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/aetoc.html
  2. ^ UAE Constitution text: Helplinelaw.com Accessed February 24, 2009 http://www.helplinelaw.com/law/uae/constitution/constitution05.php
  3. ^ United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2008; Trident Press Ltd. London; Government section
  4. ^ Library of Congress http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/aetoc.html
  5. ^ http://www.uaecabinet.ae/English/TheCabinet/Pages/CabinetMembers.aspx
  6. ^ National Media Council, “United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2008,” Trident Press Ltd. London, (Government section)
  7. ^ National Media Council, “United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2008,” Trident Press Ltd. London, (Government section)
  8. ^ Library of Congress http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/aetoc.html
  9. ^ First UAE election
  10. ^ http://www.almajles.gov.ae/
  11. ^ National Media Council, “United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2008,” Trident Press Ltd. London, (Government section)
  12. ^ Library of Congress, Accessed February 24, 2008: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/aetoc.html
  13. ^ National Media Council, “United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2008,” Trident Press Ltd. London, (Government section)

External links

United Arab Emirates Government at the Open Directory Project


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