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United Arab Emirates: Key dates since its creation 50 years ago

Published on November 30, 2021

As the United Arab Emirates marks the 50th anniversary of its creation on December 2, we take a look back at key dates in its history.

– 1971: Creation –

The UAE was created on December 2, 1971, when six emirates (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah and Umm al-Qaiwain) came together following the departure of British troops from the region. The seventh, Ras al-Khaimah, joined two months later.

Known in the 19th century as the Trucial States, named after a maritime truce, the seven emirates had been a British protectorate since 1892.

Having ruled Abu Dhabi — the biggest and richest of the seven emirates — since 1966, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan becomes president of the federation.

– 1987: First big crisis –

On June 17, 1987, the governor of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan Ben Mohamed Al-Qassimi, is ousted by his brother, Sheikh Abdel Aziz, who takes power in the emirate after blaming him for economic mismanagement.

A week later, the ruler is restored after mediation by the UAE’s Federal Supreme Council.

– 1991: Military pacts –

In 1991, Abu Dhabi’s air force takes part in the US-led coalition against Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait the previous year.

In 1994, the UAE and the US sign a military cooperation agreement, after similar American deals with Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar.

All four Arab states were founding members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the regional organisation established in 1981 that also includes Saudi Arabia and Oman.

In 1995, the UAE and France conclude a defence deal on intelligence cooperation that also allows Abu Dhabi to call on French military support.

– 2004: Sheikh Khalifa in charge –

In 2004, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan becomes president of the UAE after the death of his father Sheikh Zayed.

– 2006: First vote –

Parliamentary elections held for the first time in the UAE in 2006 to elect half of the 40 members of Federal National Council (FNC).

Women take part both as candidates and voters.

The FNC, formed in 1972, is an advisory body that makes proposals to the government but cannot block laws ratified by the Federal Supreme Council.

– 2009: Financial crisis –

The UAE’s real estate sector in Dubai collapses in the 2009 financial crisis, rocking international markets.

Sheikh Khalifa steps in to help Dubai’s massive debt crisis.

The next year, Dubai inaugurates the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, the world’s tallest building and names it after Sheikh Khalifa, ruler of neighbouring Abu Dhabi.

– 2011: Arab Spring –

The wave of popular protest that shook the Arab world in 2011 never reaches the UAE.

The government clamps down on any dissent and puts dozens of Islamists linked to the Muslim Brotherhood on trial.

– 2017: Break with Qatar –

In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt sever ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting Islamists, getting too close to Iran and Turkey, and of causing unrest in the region — all of which Doha denies.

Diplomatic relations are fully restored in 2021, but the UAE in particular remains wary of Qatar due to its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood.

– 2020: Relations with Israel –

The UAE and Bahrain sign normalisation deals with Israel in 2020, making them the first Arab countries to recognise the Jewish state since Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

For decades the UAE had sought to diversify its economy from oil, and it signs a series of agreements with Israel ranging from tourism and aviation to financial services.

– 2021: Syria rapprochement –

On November 9, the US criticises the Emirates after their diplomatic chief Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan meets Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

The UAE reopened its embassy in Syria in 2018, seven years after cutting ties in protest at the Assad regime’s brutal suppression of protests.