50 Years - The Formation of the United Arab Emirates

2 December 1971 saw the birth of the United Arab Emirates. The fifty years since has seen fantastic changes and modernisations within the country, that few would have thought possible within that time frame.

The history of those days from the first official announcement that the UAE would come into existence until the day of the Union announcement and the subsequent events provides an interesting insight into the difficulties and steps that took place to provide the framework for this new nation.

At the end of this exhibition, there are photographs and brief biographies of the seven bold Rulers who signed up to the Union, all of whom have since passed away.

Another complimentary exhibition will showcase notable events for each of the 50 years of the existence of the United Arab Emirates.

Author: UAE National Library and Archives

18 July 1971

Statement issued by the Rulers of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah announcing the establishment of the UAE

1 to 9 August 1971

Conference of six Emirates to consider all aspects of the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates and frame laws

2 September 1971

UAE Mission to the Gulf and other Arab Countries


30 September 1971

Arab Foreign Ministers express full support for the Union

24 November 1971

Union Day Provisional Programme




Union Day Provisional Program, 24 November 1971. © Images reproduced by permission of The National Archives of the UK

1 December 1971

Britain terminates treaty relationship with Abu Dhabi and all Emirates

2 December 1971

Formation of the United Arab Emirates

2 December 1971

Formation of the United Arab Emirates - in pictures

2 December 1971

Formation of the United Arab Emirates - videos

6 December 1971

First British Ambassador to the UAE presents his credentials

9 December 1971

UAE becomes the 132nd member state of the United Nations, Sheikh Zayed appoints the first Council of Ministers and a statement by the Chairman of the Supreme Council regarding the meeting

16 December 1971

The new UAE Cabinet Ministers named and the first Cabinet Meeting held in Abu Dhabi

6 February 1972

Cabinet meeting of the United Arab Emirates




A Cabinet Meeting of the UAE is held, 6 February 1972. © Images reproduced by permission of The National Archives of the UK

10 February 1972

Ras Al Khaimah joins the federation of the United Arab Emirates

13 February 1972

The first meeting of the Federal National Council in Abu Dhabi

The Rulers of the Emirates meet for the first session of the Federal National Council, Abu Dhabi, 13 February 1972. © National Archives

4 April 1972

UAE accepts the constitution of UNESCO




Acceptance by the United Arab Emirates of the Constitution of UNESCO, 4 April 1972. © Images reproduced by permission of The National Archives of the UK

22 September 1972

UAE joins IMF and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development




The United Arab Emirates becomes the 124th member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), 22 September 1972. © Images reproduced by permission of The National Archives of the UK


On 2 December 2021, the United Arab Emirates celebrates fifty years since it came into existence.  The National Archives of the UAE, in this online exhibition, remembers the Founding Fathers, the Rulers of the seven Emirates, who took the extraordinary step of agreeing to join the federation that is the UAE.

It was these bold men who took the brave step into the unknown, led by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and who, by their agreement to form a new country, created a nation that has more than stood the test of time, fifty years on.

The UAE is known internationally as one of the most modern, peaceful, tolerant and forward thinking countries on earth and has recently ventured beyond this planet and into space with its mission to Mars.  Few could have dreamed in 1971 that this would be possible within such a short space of time - the seven Rulers below, to whom much of the praise should be directed, as they laid the groundwork that has been so rapidly built upon by them and their successors.

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918 – 2004)



First President of the UAE 1971 to 2004 and Ruler of Abu Dhabi 1966 to 2004

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was born in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in 1918 to Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922-1926.  He was the youngest of Sheikh Sultan's four sons and was named after his famous grandfather, known as ‘Zayed the Great’, the Ruler of the Emirate from 1885-1909.  His character was shaped in his early youth, while living in the city of Al Ain. Its calm and vast expanses were instrumental in developing his leadership qualities.

In 1946, Sheikh Zayed was appointed as the representative of his brother the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in the Eastern Region.  During his twenty years as his brother's representative, Sheikh Zayed gained a reputation as a natural born leader who ruled by example.  Sheikh Zayed became not only a well-known, but also a popular and respected leader who was eager to listen to all his subjects and whose decisions were based on the consensus of the various tribes in the region.  He frequently travelled to even the remotest parts of the region in order to consult with people regarding their needs. He kept an open majlis, maintained close ties with his people and personally oversaw the implementation of reforms. He was the paragon of generosity and hospitality.

The discovery of oil in the late 1950s transformed the economic landscape of the Abu Dhabi as it ushered the beginning of its development.  In 1962, as the Emirate began exporting oil, it was immediately apparent that an innovative vision of governance was needed to address the new challenges and to optimize the utilization of oil revenues. The Al Nahyan family unanimously elected Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan as the new Ruler of the Emirate on 6 August 1966, taking over from Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.  Thus a new phase of the history of Abu Dhabi started.

As Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed carried out major reforms, such as modern education, healthcare, public housing, and general urban development.  He drew up a plan for a major development and encouraged his people to participate wholeheartedly in the process, bringing in foreign expertise as appropriate.  A few days after assuming office, the establishment of a modern formal government with its ministries and departments was announced and the new government was entrusted with the task of conducting the affairs of the state.

In 1968, when Britain formally announced its intention to withdraw its bases from East of Suez, it became imperative for the Emirates to take some steps to change the course of history in the region; especially so because the Arabian Gulf region was vulnerable to occupation by expansionist powers. Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai at that time, undertook an initiative that had a great impact on subsequent events. On 18 February 1968, they signed Al Smeh agreement, which resulted in major changes that set the stage for the discussions of the Union of the Nine that took place among the seven Emirates and their sister states Bahrain and Qatar later on. Finally, this led to the unification of the Emirates under the name the “United Arab Emirates” after both Bahrain and Qatar announced their independence.

The UAE was founded on 2 December 1971, and Sheikh Zayed was unanimously elected by the Rulers of the Emirates as the first President of the new state for five years. The Supreme Council of the Union expressed their confidence in Sheikh Zayed by re-electing him several times. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum was elected Vice-President and Prime Minister.

Sheikh Zayed’s achievements in Abu Dhabi Emirate and as President of the United Arab Emirates are legion and he continued as President until he passed away on 2 November 2004.

Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan speaking in later years about the difficulties and strengths of the Union.

Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum (1912 – 1990)



First Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE 1971 to 1990 and Ruler of Dubai 1958 to 1990

Various sources disagree on the actual date of birth of Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, but it is likely that he was born in 1912.  He grew up in Al Shindagha neighborhood of Dubai and was raised by his father, Sheikh Saeed Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, who was known for his piety, wisdom, patience and prudence.  His mother was Sheikha Hessa Bint Al Mur Bin Hureiz Al Falasi; she was popularly known as Umm Dubai “Mother of Dubai” and she enjoyed a special place in the hearts of Dubai people, as she was known to be resolute, strong-willed and ambitious. She was renowned for her generosity, philanthropy and helping the needy.  Sheikha Hessa had a clear impact on her son Sheikh Rashid’s personality.

Sheikh Rashid received his first education at Katateeb, as the area then lacked formal schools.  There he learnt the principles of Islamic jurisprudence and the Arabic language.  Upon the opening of Al Ahmadiya School in Dubai, Sheikh Rashid was one of the first students to be enrolled.  From a young age, he was mature and his thinking was ahead of his time. He was known as a diligent young man who had an inquisitive mind.  Falconry, horseback and camel riding and shooting were some of his most cherished hobbies.

Sheikh Rashid regularly attended his father’s majlis from which he benefitted as he learnt how to run the affairs of the Emirate.  In 1939, he was appointed Crown Prince of Dubai and he helped his father run the Emirate and quickly demonstrated his ability to assume responsibilities.  In that role, he was able to save Dubai from several economic crises, notably the decline of the pearl trade and the maritime blockade that Britain imposed on the Arab Gulf ports after World War II.

Following his father’s death in 1958, Sheikh Rashid became Ruler of Dubai for the next 32 years and, during that time, the Emirate witnessed rapid growth in all fields.  After the passing of his father, Sheikh Rashid and his family moved to his father’s palace in Zaabeel.

As Ruler, he made sure to establish Dubai as a commercial hub, especially as oil revenues were barely sufficient to meet the Emirate’s obligations.  Aware of this fact, he took particular care to look after the markets, supported businesses and businessmen, encouraged commercial investment in the Emirate and devised a long-term plan and a futuristic vision for Dubai.  At the same time, he established government departments, such as the municipality and land, police and customs, electricity, water and other departments, to provide services to people and contribute to the development of the Emirate.

Sheikh Rashid laid the cornerstone for modern Dubai and paid particular attention to construction and commerce and oversaw the commercial production of Dubai oil that started in earnest in 1966.  Another major achievement was the broadening and deepening of Dubai creek that allowed the creek to become one of the most successful commercial and economic harbors in the region.

In October 1972, Port Rashid was inaugurated by Sheikh Rashid.  It was a huge harbor that underpinned the trading economy of the Emirate of Dubai in particular and the UAE in general.  With the opening of Port Rashid and Dubai Airport and with the creation of Emirates Airline, he masterfully increased Dubai’s resources and encouraged international shipping lines and travelers to come to Dubai making Dubai a formidable commercial center between the East and the West.

Sheikh Rashid also played a hugely significant role in the establishment of the UAE; his views coincided with those of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan on the importance of establishing a union of the seven Emirates that today make up the United Arab Emirates. In February 1968, he and Sheikh Zayed signed the famous Al Smeh Treaty establishing a union between the two Emirates and on 2 December 1971, this bilateral union was followed by the proclamation of a federation of the seven Emirates.

After a reign replete with achievements that transformed Dubai from a modest Sheikhdom into a buzzing commercial hub, Sheikh Rashid passed away on 7 October 1990.

Sheikh Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi (1927 – 1972)



Ruler of Sharjah 1965 to 1972

Sheikh Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi was born in 1927.  His mother was Sheikha Mariam Bint Ghanim Bin Salem Bin Shahwan Al Shamsi.  He succeeded his cousin Sheikh Saqr Bin Sultan Al Qasimi and became Ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah on 24 June 1965 until he passed away on 24 January 1972.

When he assumed power, the people of Sharjah did not show much appreciation and respect for him as they believed that he would be supportive of the British, who had helped him to assume power.  However, he managed to prove them wrong thanks to his political acumen and wisdom.  Firstly, he focused his attention on enhancing the economy of the Emirate.

Sharjah set off on a path of progress and development during his rule.  He sought to provide Sharjah with drinking water and paid off the Emirate’s outstanding debts.  Sheikh Khalid played a major role in the revival of the Emirate as he focused his efforts on construction, establishing a new power plant and building roads throughout the Emirate that connected Sharjah with other cities and Emirates.

For the first time, high-rise buildings were seen in Sharjah and he gave orders to build a huge port in Sharjah that was named Port Khalid after him.  Additionally, he built a new airport, which connected the Emirate with the outside world, and built a large hotel near it.

During his rule, commerce flourished and he opened the door for Arab businesses to invest in the Emirate. Moreover, Sharjah witnessed a major revival in education as he built many schools in the city and the remote villages.  One of the most important schools is Abdulla Al Salem School, to which Kuwait had contributed financially.  He also founded centers for literacy and gave orders to establish the Education Department.

The Emirate saw an advanced social renaissance as cultural clubs and theaters were established during his rule. In 1966, Al Orouba Club, which was one of the most important clubs, saw the establishment of the first theatre in Sharjah where plays highlighting citizens’ social problems were performed in an enlightened style.

Sheikh Khalid also sought to organize local administration by establishing the Police Force and the Department of Labor and the Social Affairs in 1968.  He also ordered the establishment of a sports club, called the Arabian Gulf Club in 1969.  He created Sharjah’s Justice Department ensuring that Sharjah possessed an integrated judicial system consisting of courts and judges for the first time.

Sheikh Khalid was also heavily involved in the negotiations concerning the Union of the Seven Emirates where the Emirate of Sharjah took a favorable stance toward the concept of a union.  In this respect, Sheikh Khalid said, “The federation is a good step, but it is not all what we are after. We seek to achieve a comprehensive and complete unity where all minor entities form a strong unified entity. As much as we welcome the union and seek to establish it, we seek to accomplish a complete unity on the Trucial Coast within the frame of the union and to accomplish a comprehensive Arab unity that extends from our Arabian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean.”

Sheikh Khalid was a signatory to the UAE’s provisional constitution and announced the accession of Sharjah to the federation of the United Arab Emirates on 2 December 1971.

Sheikh Khalid passed away on 24 January 1972 whereupon his brother, H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, succeeded him.

Sheikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi (Late 1800s – 1981)



Ruler of Ajman 1928 to 1981

Sheikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi was born in the late 1800s in the Emirate of Ajman that had signed the General Treaty of Peace with Britain in 1820.  Sheikh Rashid was the only child of his father, who raised him and taught him the traditions and customs of the Arabs.  At his father’s majlis, he heard the news of the tribes and the Emirate, the desert stories and trade adventures.  He learned the Holy Quran and the teachings of Islam and Sunnah at the hands of religious teachers.

Life was hard and the political scene was changing in the Emirate of Ajman.  Faced with skirmishes breaking out at times followed by reconciliations at other times, these events helped him to navigate smoothly through whatever lay ahead.

Sheikh Rashid assumed power in the Emirate of Ajman in 1928.  During his rule, the Emirate enjoyed security and stability, and began its journey towards development despite its scarce resources.  Moreover, Ajman entered the modern age and he was the first Ruler in the Emirates to issue passports.  He was known for his keen interest in reforms and his staunch defense of the true religion.  He was kind to everyone inside and outside the Emirates and he supported Arab and Islamic causes.

In a statement that reflected his attitude towards Arab issues that called for a swift response, he said, “He who condones injustice, chickens out or dithers when faced with death is by no means an Arab”.  He collaborated with the Arab League and approved its allocated economic development projects to revive the Emirates on the Arab Gulf Coast.  Sheikh Rashid was a strong believer in Islamic culture and, as a result, he established the Islamic Scientific Institute that teaches basic Sharia and other civil disciplines.

Sheikh Rashid established departments to provide various services to the public, founding first the Municipality Department, which was tasked with serving citizens, building roads and markets and supervising urban and development projects in Ajman. He also focused his attention on formal education, believing that education was the pillar of progress.  Formal schools for boys and girls were built everywhere in the Emirate. In addition, he built hospitals and offered free treatment to citizens. He supplied every household with drinking water and electricity.  In 1967, he established the Police Department to maintain law and order and provided social services to his compatriots.

Sheikh Rashid played an effective role in proclaiming the UAE federation.  He worked with Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his fellow Rulers of the Emirates to lay the foundations for the Union.  He sought to build a strong unified state and stated, “Our absolute loyalty to our homeland and to our ancestors’ heritage made it incumbent on us to take this unionist stand and to recognize our historical responsibility to continue the march of the Union.”

Sheikh Rashid passed away on 6 September 1981 after a long battle with an illness.  On that day, Ajman and the UAE lost a great leader who led a life marked by struggle, persistence and success.  He left his unmistakable mark by his incessant efforts to develop his Emirate and his people.  All people expressed their sorrow and delegations from the Arab and Islamic countries came to extend their condolences for the UAE’s loss.  His son, H.H. Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, succeeded him and followed in his father’s footsteps to continue the development of Ajman.

Sheikh Ahmad Bin Rashid Al Mu’alla (1908 – 1981)



Ruler of Umm Al Quwain 1929 to 1981

Sheikh Ahmad Bin Rashid Al Mu’alla, was born in Umm Al Quwain in 1908. He descends from a powerful family with a remarkable history in the region named Al Mu’alla (also known as Al Ali). His father, Sheikh Rashid Bin Ahmad Al Mu’alla, was keen on raising him with strong Islamic values. Therefore, he learned the Holy Quran and Islamic tenets, and was known for his fairness and wisdom. He assumed power in Umm Al Quwain in 1929 at the age of 18. He had his seat of government in Umm Al Quwain Fort, from which he looked after his people’s affairs and met their different needs throughout the Emirate. He was known for his calm, sincerity, integrity and leniency. He acted as a mediator and managed to resolve many tribal conflicts and was known for his calmness, sincerity, integrity and leniency. Thus, his rule was characterized by stability, as he was able to resolve internal problems in Umm Al Quwain. Moreover, he managed to cultivate good relations with his neighbors, the Rulers of neighboring areas and helped them solve their problems.

In 1968 and before the establishment of the Union, he founded the Municipality Department in the Emirate of Umm Al Quwain, and for its management he appointed his son, Sheikh Rashid Bin Ahmad, the then-Crown Prince and his first assistant to manage the Emirate's affairs. The municipality looked after the citizens’ affairs and built public housing and roads and followed up development projects in Umm Al Quwain, especially those in areas surrounding Umm Al Quwain Corniche. He ordered the establishment of the breakwater to protect the city from the tides and the deepening of the inlet to the sea creek. He also ordered the building of public parks, the lighting and tree planting of streets. Furthermore, he established the Police Department to maintain security and public order in the Emirate, and he took care of education and healthcare by building schools and hospitals everywhere in the Emirate. Sheikh Ahmad Bin Rashid Al Mu’alla played a proactive role during the establishment of the federation of the UAE and participated in the negotiation meetings leading to establishment of the Union. On 2 December 1971, his son Sheikh Rashid Bin Ahmad signed the UAE Constitution as the Deputy Ruler and Crown Prince. Sheikh Ahmad Bin Rashid died on 21 February 1981. After a rule that lasted 50 years, he left his mark as a just and wise leader. He was succeeded by his son Sheikh Rashid Bin Ahmad Al Mu’alla, who continued developing the Emirate until he passed away in 2009, and he was succeeded by the current Ruler, H.H. Sheikh Saud Bin Rashid Al Mu’alla.

Sheikh Saqr Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi (1920 – 2010)



Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah 1948 to 2010

Sheikh Saqr Bin Mohammad was born in the city of Ras Al Khaimah in 1920 and was raised by his father Sheikh Mohammad Bin Salem Al Qasimi. His father taught him about the glorious past of the Qawasem and was impressed by their heroic history. He was also taught by a lady Mutawa (a religious instructor) named Fatima, and he learned verses of Quran and hadith at a very early age. Additionally, he learnt reading and writing and his upbringing was of an Arab and Islamic nature. He was interested in teaching his children the values and tenets of Islam. He was famous for his intelligence, composure and adherence to the true Arab customs and traditions. He was immensely proud of his ancestors who built the largest Arab maritime force in the region, and was well known for his loyalty to the Arab nation and for his support for the causes of peace and goodwill.

He assumed power on 17 July 1948 after the abdication of his uncle, Sheikh Sultan Bin Salem Al Qasimi. Since that date, he worked hard towards unity among the tribes of his region and managed to bring them together. He sought to develop his Emirate economically, socially and culturally. He was close to his citizens and shared with them their daily life, their gatherings and celebrations. He was keen on developing his Emirate, especially as far as education and literacy are concerned, because he believed in the role of education in building men and women, as well as the society and in shaping the cultural awareness of nations. Thus, he promoted education, built modern schools, and made education compulsory for girls and boys alike. He offered material and moral incentives to students and their parents. He established the Department of Education to follow up scholarship programs in the Emirate. The Late Sheikh Saqr was also interested in providing comprehensive healthcare to Ras Al Khaimah citizens. Hence, he opened the Kuwaiti Hospital. In fact, during his reign three modern hospitals were opened. 

He was involved in establishing the Union together with his fellow Rulers of the other Emirates and on 10 February 1972, Ras Al Khaimah joined the United Arab Emirates. Consequently, a unified and strong political entity has come into existence, a state that is able to face up to the region’s challenges and forge a strong bond amongst all the Emiratis.

Sheikh Saqr declared on that day, “As we are building a union in this part of our great Arab World, it would only be a brick in the edifice of the Arab Nation that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Gulf.”

Development and construction projects in Ras Al Khaimah started with the laying the formation of a proper government administration and building the organizational, financial and administrative institutions, in addition to governmental departments and agencies that oversaw the implementation of those development projects. The urban and economic renaissance continued under directives and supervision.

In 1976, Ras Al Khaimah Airport was inaugurated and in 1977, Saqr Port was opened. Ras Al Khaimah witnessed great achievements in a few years during his reign and saw quantum leaps towards progress and prosperity. Modern plans based on contemporary principles were devised to establish several vital facilities in the Emirate. During his reign, the Emirate attracted many successful industries that helped achieve further progress including the cement, pharmaceutical, ceramics and steel industries.

Sheikh passed away on 27 October 2010. He was the last of the Founding Fathers of the UAE to pass away. His son, H.H. Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, succeeded him and continues his father’s legacy.

Sheikh Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Sharqi (1908 – 1974)



Ruler of Fujairah 1938 to 1974

Sheikh Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Sharqi’s father is one of the famous courageous and strong leaders in the region. His maternal grandfather is Mohammad Bin Yarub Bin Ahmad Bin Sultan who was a well-known Yarubi leader. 

He assumed power of the Emirate of Fujairah in 1938 following the death of his brother, Sheikh Saif Bin Hamad Bin Abdulla Al Sharqi. He was known for his generosity and kindness towards his people.

During his rule, he exerted all efforts to develop his Emirate and was instrumental in its major administrative revival. He established the Municipality Council, the Court and opened the first formal school, Al Sabahiya School, in Fujairah. He opened Fujairah’s first medical clinic and first hospital in 1967.

He had a particular interest in agriculture and allocated plots of land to citizens. He promoted and supported the fishing trade. He established the transport network and a series of internal roads to facilitate movement between the cities and villages of Fujairah.

During his rule, the Emirate enjoyed independence and sovereignty, and witnessed major development. Sheikh Mohammad appointed his son, H.H. Sheikh Hamad Bin Mohammad Al Sharqi, as Crown Prince and Chairman of Police and Public Security to assist him in running Fujairah’s affairs. He knew that real wealth is the educated and trained citizens who are capable of handling the responsibility of planning and implementing development projects. In 1969, the Fujairah Gazette was issued and the Sharia Court was established.

Sheikh Mohammad welcomed the concept of the Union and played a significant role together with his fellow Rulers of the other Emirates in proclaiming the federation state. He participated in its establishment on 2 December 1971. He signed the UAE constitution and embarked on the huge construction journey that the UAE witnessed in general and Fujairah in particular in all fields.

After a life journey of great efforts and giving, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Hamad Al Sharqi passed away in a hospital in London on 17 September 1974. The UAE was shocked by his death and his funeral was led by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the Rulers of the other Emirates, together with the Ministers and large numbers of members of the public. Sheikh Mohammad left behind a legacy of countless achievements and his son, H.H. Sheikh Hamad Bin Mohammad Al Sharqi, succeeded him, thus ensuring that the Emirate continued its development.