History of the UAE
The region's history can be traced back to 6000 B.C. The UAE did not exist then. The area and the surrounding region was referred to as Arabian Peninsula. This page provides a brief about life in the area during ancient times and an account of the major events that took place on this land affecting the sovereignty and freedom of its people and leading them to form the country of the United Arab Emirates.
On this page, read about:
- Early civilisations
- Arrival of Islam
- European interest in the Arabian Peninsula
- Establishment of the Trucial States
- Foundation of the UAE
- International recognition and membership
Archaeological excavations reveal that ancient civilisations flourished in the region; starting from either the Neolithic or Palaeolithic Ages (6000 B.C. - 3500 B.C.) up to the end of the Iron Age (1300 B.C. - 300 B.C.).
Civilisation in the Palaeolithic Age (6000 B.C. - 3500 B.C.)
In this period, there were Bedouin communities which lived on fishing and plant collecting. This era was characterised by the emergence of pottery, evidence of which was found in Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi. The evidences could be traced back to the Ubaid period, part of the Palaeolithic Age, dating back to the sixth millennium B.C.
Civilisation in the Bronze Age (3200 B.C. - 1300 B.C.)
This age is divided into three periods:
This period extends from 3200 B.C. to 2500 B.C. and was named so because of the tombs found in Jebel Hafeet near Al Ain city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
This period extends from 2500 B.C. to 2000 B.C. It was named so after the discovery of the monuments on Umm al Nar Island in Abu Dhabi in the mid-nineteen fifties.
This period extends from 2000 B.C. to 1300 B.C. and was named after one of the sites in Wadi Suq, between Al Ain and the Omani coast.
Civilisation in the Iron Age (1300 B.C. - 300 B.C.)
This age extends from 1300 B.C. to 300 B.C. The archaeological finds show the emergence of the first use of falaj irrigation systems that enabled the extraction of groundwater for continuous cultivation in the dry climate.
Arrival of Islam
Islam arrived in the UAE after the opening of Mecca. Envoys from Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) arrived in the UAE in AD630 and introduced Islam. Thus, a new era began in the region during the emergence of Islam.
Amr bin al'As visited Oman and Sohar and brought the Prophet's message to the kings of Oman, while Abu Al-Ala'a Al-Hadrami visited Bahrain for the same purpose. The Gulf region willingly accepted the invitation to Islam.
After the death of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in AD 632, the area of Oman and neighbouring surrounding witnessed a war against Redda (apostasy). However, in Dibba (in Fujairah), the Islamic troops were able to defeat the apostates by AD 633.
The Islamic civilisation flourished in the Gulf region during the Umayyad Caliphate (AD661 to 750) and Abbasid Caliphate (AD 750 to 1258). Sea trade prospered between the Gulf region and other areas in South East Asia and West Africa coast, and ships craftsmanship spread in the region.
Archaeological discoveries revealed some remnants of an Islamic city and coins in Jumeirah. In addition, Julfar site in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, was mentioned in trade documents between Merchants of Venice in Italy and the shores of the Arabian Gulf communities.
Islamic Bidya mosque in the emirate of Fujairah, which dates back to the 5th century AD, is the oldest mosque in the UAE and nominated to be in the World Heritage List.
The Islamic power in the Arabian Peninsula remained to be noticed until the fall of Al-Andalus (The Islamic Spain in 1492). After that, Europeans started to have ambitions in the gulf and sea routes, which lead to commercial areas in South East Asia.
The Ottomans, who ruled from AD1281 to 1924, had limited control over the Arabian Peninsula.
From the 17th century, Western European powers, and in particular, the Portuguese made advances in the Gulf region.
European interest in the Arabian Peninsula
Several European countries arrived in the Arabian Peninsula; some to explore and others to seek control of the coasts. One of the reasons for the Arabian Peninsula continuing to get attention from the European countries was that the Europeans documented their explorations and published it.
In 1580, Venetian traveller Gasparo Balbi mentioned the Arabian Gulf in an account of his travels in the region. He described the Arabian Gulf's coast from Qatar to Ras Al Khaimah and mentioned the Portuguese fortress at Kalba. His interest in pearls had led him to Sir Bani Yas island or ‘Sirbeniast' as he mentioned in his accounts.
Captain Claes Speelman who explored the southern coast between Khasab and Dibba on the Dutch ship Zeemeeuw (Seagull) in 1644-1645, made a drawing of Dibba bay and town.
In 1666, Dutch mariner Jacob Vogel sailing in the hooker-ship Meerkat made a trip from Bandar Abbas to Muscat. After this journey, he wrote a detailed report on his encounters and provided a chart and a map of the Bay of Muscat.
Here is a brief account of the European invasion of the Arabian Peninsula.
The Portuguese era
The Portuguese were amongst the first Europeans to arrive on the Arabian Peninsula. After Vasco de Gamma's successful circumnavigation of the Cape of Good Hope, the Portuguese arrived in the Arabian Gulf in 1498.
By 1515, they fought their way into the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman and established themselves there by force of arms. By 1560, they reached the height of their maritime power and established a semi-monopoly of the pepper and spice trade. They took over the role of intermediary for trade between the ports of the Indian Ocean from the members of the indigenous mercantile strata.
For nearly a century and a half, the Portuguese held supreme control in the gulf. The Ottomans challenged them from time to time but could not expel them.
However, the Portuguese power started collapsing throughout the 17th century. They started facing indigenous resistance and competition from other European powers, mainly the English and Dutch.
Then arose the Ya'arabi forces that ousted the Portuguese from Julfar and Dibba in 1633, retook Sohar in 1643 and recaptured Muscat in 1650.
Read more about the Portuguese era in the UAE.
The Dutch era
The loss of Hormuz by the Portuguese in 1622 marked the entry of the Dutch and the English to the Middle Eastern markets.
They made Bandar Abbas the centre of their commercial and political activities in the gulf. However, they became rivals after 1622 when the English East India Company moved its gulf factory to Bandar Abbas, and the Dutch refused to pay them customs duty. Before long, the Dutch trading station at Bandar Abbas became more active and successful than the English station.
In 1623, the Dutch concluded an agreement for the trade in silk with Shah Abbas I through which they earned an enormous profit. By the 17th century, the Dutch had become the dominant naval power in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf.
However, by the 1750s, Dutch power weakened because of the three-way warfare between them, the English and the French and they lost their holdings in most of the Indian Ocean.
Later, the Dutch strengthened their position on the island of Kharg by erecting a fortress and a factory and took over the various economic activities of the indigenous Arab population including pearl fishery. These activities led to resistance by the local Arab population who revolted against the Dutch and freed the Kharg island from them in 1766.
Read more about the Dutch era in the UAE.
The British era
By 1720s, trade by the British in the gulf had grown. The British were primarily concerned with asserting their naval power to safeguard trade links to India and keeping any European competitors out.
Meanwhile, around the beginning of the 19th century, the Qawasim section of the Huwalah tribe had gained power mainly in Musandam and the northern and eastern areas of the Arabian Gulf. They had built up a fleet of over 60 large vessels and had the capacity to depute a force of nearly 20,000 to sea. The British got concerned about their maritime passage to India. This led them to launch a series of attacks against the Qawasims. By 1820, the British defeated the Qawasims.
Read more about the British era in the UAE.
Establishment of the Trucial States
After the defeat of the Qawasims, the British signed a series of agreements with the sheikhs of the individual emirates. As per these agreements, the sheikhs could not dispose any of their territories except to the United Kingdom and could not enter into relationships with any foreign government without the consent of the United Kingdom.
In return, the British promised to protect the coast from all aggression by sea and to help in case of land attack. These agreements preserved the maritime truce. These agreements led to the area to be known as the ‘Trucial States'.
Foundation of the UAE
At the beginning of 1968, the British announced their intention to withdraw from the Arabian Gulf.
H. H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the then Ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi acted rapidly to establish closer ties with the emirates. With H. H. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the then Ruler of the emirate of Dubai, Sheikh Zayed called for a federation that would include not only the seven emirates that made up the Trucial States, but also Qatar and Bahrain.
Six emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ajman agreed to become part of the federation that was to be called the United Arab Emirates.
The UAE was formally established on 2 December 1971. The seventh emirate, Ras Al Khaimah, acceded to the new federation on 10 February 1972.
Important meetings that led to the federation
- The meeting held between Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid in February 1968 – this was the first meeting to discuss the formation of the federation
- The meeting of the rulers of all the emirates that took place between 25 and 27 February 1968 in Dubai - in this meeting, the six emirates agreed on forming the federation of the United Arab Emirates
- The meeting of the rulers of the emirates in December 1971 - in response to the will and wishes of the people of the emirates, this meeting made the following historical declaration:
The Supreme Council felicitates the people of the United Arab Emirates, as well as the Arab people, and our friends around the world, and declares the United Arab Emirates as an independent sovereign state being a part of the Arab World.
As a result, the UAE today, enjoys full sovereignty and independence. It has its own flag, logo and national anthem. All UAE citizens carry the unified nationality of the United Arab Emirates, which is recognised internationally.
International recognition and membership
Since its formation, the UAE established genuine memberships and positioned itself regionally and internationally.
- On 2 December 1971, the UAE joined the Arab League and was the 18th member then.
- On 9 December 1971, the United Nations Security Council admitted the UAE's membership.
- In 1981, the UAE co-founded the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) along with Kingdom of Bahrain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, State of Kuwait, State of Qatar and Sultanate of Oman.
Sourced from the websites of:
- Zayed University
- UAE Interact
- The UAE Embassy in the United States of America
- National Archives
First picture compiled from pictures taken from the VisitAbuDhabi.ae.