Order Code RS21852
October 11, 2007
The United Arab Emirates (UAE):
Issues for U.S. Policy
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a leadership transition now complete, undertook
its first major electoral process in December 2006, although with a small, hand-picked
electorate and for a body with limited powers. The UAE’s open economy and society
has won praise but has contributed to proliferation, terrorist transiting, and human
trafficking, particularly in the emirate of Dubai. Since March 2005, the United States
and UAE have been negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA), although talks are making
only slow progress. This report will be updated. See also CRS Report RL31533, The
Persian Gulf States, Post-War Issues for U.S. Policy, 2006, by Kenneth Katzman.
Governance, Human Rights, and Reform1
The UAE is a federation of seven emirates (principalities): Abu Dhabi, the capital
of the federation; Dubai, its free-trading commercial hub; and the five smaller and less
wealthy emirates of Sharjah; Ajman; Fujayrah; Umm al-Qawayn; and Ras al-Khaymah.
After Britain announced that it would no longer ensure security in the Gulf, six “Trucial
States” decided to form the UAE federation in December 1971; Ras al-Khaymah, joined
in 1972. The UAE federation has completed a major leadership transition following the
death of its key founder, Shaykh Zayid bin Sultan Al Nuhayyan, long-time ruler of Abu
Dhabi and UAE President, on November 2, 2004. His son, Crown Prince Shaykh Khalifa
bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan, now about 60 years old, was immediately named ruler of Abu
Dhabi and, keeping with tradition, was subsequently selected by all seven emirates as
UAE president. The third son of Zayid, Shaykh Mohammad bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan, is
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and heir apparent. The ruler of Dubai traditionally serves
concurrently as Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE; that position was held by
Information in this section is from the following State Department reports: Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices- 2006 (March 6, 2007); Supporting Human Rights and Democracy:
The U.S. Record 2006 (April 5, 2007); Trafficking in Persons Report for 2007 (June 12, 2007);
and International Religious Freedom report - 2007 (September 14, 2007).
Shaykh Maktum bin Rashid Al Maktum (son of and successor to UAE co-founder Shaykh
Rashid bin Sa’id Al Maktum) from October 8, 1990, until his death on January 5, 2006.
He was succeeded in all his positions by his younger brother, Mohammad bin Rashid Al
Maktum, architect of Dubai’s modernization drive. Shaykh Mohammad also retained his
position as UAE Defense Minister in the cabinet named on February 9, 2006.
Each emirate has its own leadership (Sharjah and Ras al-Khaymah have a common
ruling family, the Al Qawasim tribe); all seven leaders sit on the Federal Supreme
Council, the UAE’s highest decision-making body. It meets four times per year to
establish general policy guidelines, although the leaders of the seven emirates consult
frequently with each other. The other leaders are Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qassimi
(Sharjah); Saqr bin Muhammad Al Qassimi (Ras al-Khaymah); Humaid bin Rashid Al
Nuaimi (Ajman); Hamad bin Muhammad Al Sharqi (Fujayrah); and Rashid bin Ahmad
Al-Mu’alla (Umm al-Qawayn).
The UAE is one of the wealthiest of the Gulf states, with a gross domestic product
(GDP) per capita of about $ 22,000 per year , and it has seen almost no unrest. Islamist
movements in UAE, including those linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, are generally
non-violent and perform social and relief work. However, UAE is surrounded by several
powers that dwarf it in size and strategic capabilities, including Iran, Iraq, and Saudi
Arabia, which has a close relationship with the UAE but views itself as the leader of the
Gulf monarchies. The population of the UAE is about 3.8 million, of which only about
800,000 are citizens, reflecting the heavy reliance on foreign (mostly South Asian) labor.
The UAE has long lagged behind the other Persian Gulf states in political reform,
but the federation, and several individual emirates, are beginning to move forward. The
most significant reform, to date, was announced in November 2005, when the UAE
government decided to begin electing half of the 40-seat Federal National Council
(FNC); the other 20 seats will be appointed. Previously, members of the FNC were
appointed by all seven emirates, weighted in favor of Abu Dhabi and Dubai (eight seats
each). Sharjah and Ras al-Khaymah have six each; and the others have four seats each.
In three rounds of voting during December 2006, a 6,690-person “electorate” (100 persons
for each FNC seat each emirate has, with each elector appointed by emirate leaderships)
chose among 438 candidates for the 20 FNC elected seats. There were 65 female
candidates, but only one was elected. Because of the relatively controlled process, the
elected members are not assertively challenging established UAE leaders on major issues.
Another eight women were appointed to the remaining 20 seats, filling out the postelection FNC. Plans are to expand the size of the FNC and then to broaden its powers,
according to the Minister of State for FNC Affairs Anwar Gargash, who was appointed
in early 2006 to manage the new FNC reforms. Currently, the FNC can review, but not
enact or veto, federal legislation, and it can question, but not impeach, federal cabinet
ministers. Its sessions are open to the public. In addition to the FNC, each emirate has
its own consultative councils.
Despite the reforms, citizens still do not have the right to form political parties .
Freedom of assembly is forbidden by law, but in practice small demonstrations on
working conditions and some other issues have been tolerated; in 2006 foreign laborers
on a major Dubai tower project conducted a strike protesting poor working conditions and
non-payment of wages. However, UAE citizens are able to express their concerns directly
to the leadership through traditional consultative mechanisms, such as the open majlis
(council) held by many UAE leaders.
Progress on women’s political rights has been more rapid. Since the November
2004 death of Shaykh Zayid, two women have been appointed to the cabinet: Shayha
Lubna al-Qassimi, Minister of Economy and Planning, and Mariam al-Roumi, Minister
of Social Affairs. In Sharjah emirate, seven women serve on its 40-seat consultative
council, up from five previously. About 10% of the diplomatic corps is now female ,
compared to none serving prior to 2001. Other major cabinet choices signal commitment
to accelerating reform, including the appointment of the reform-minded Shaykh Abdullah
bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan as Foreign Minister. His former post of Information Minister was
abolished in 2006 in favor of allowing full media independence.
On other areas, the UAE record is less positive. The referenced State Department
reports point out numerous restrictions such as on free assembly, freedom of speech, and
workers’ rights, and flogging penalties imposed by some courts. On religious freedom,
non-Muslims in UAE are free to practice their religion; there are 24 Christian churches
built on land donated by the ruling families of the various emirates, but there are no
Jewish synagogues or Buddhist temples. The Shiite Muslim minority (about 15% of the
population) is free to worship and maintain its own mosques, but Shiite mosques receive
no government funds and there are no Shiites in top federal positions.
The Bush Administration says it is promoting democracy, rule of law, and civil
society in the Persian Gulf region. However, the 2006 democracy promotion report does
not contain a section on the UAE, apparently reflecting official UAE reluctance to support
U.S. efforts to promote reform there. Some programs to promote student and women’s
political participation, entrepreneurship, legal reform, civil society, independent media,
and international trade law compliance, are funded by the State Department’s Middle East
Partnership Initiative (MEPI).
Other social problems might be a result of the relatively open economy of the UAE,
particularly in Dubai. The Trafficking in Persons report for 2007 again placed the UAE
on “Tier 2/Watch List ” (up from Tier 3 in 2005) because it does not comply with the
minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to
do so. The UAE is considered a “destination country” for women trafficked from Asia
and the former Soviet Union. However, in December 2006, Shaykh Khalifa issued a
comprehensive law prohibiting trafficking in persons. The UAE also has made progress
in curbing trafficking of young boys as camel jockeys: it has repatriated at least 1,050
children out of a suspected 5,000 trafficked for camel racing, provided $3 million for their
care and repatriation, and it has begun using robot jockeys at camel races.
Cooperation Against Terrorism and Proliferation
The UAE was one of only three countries (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were the
others) to have recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. During Taliban
rule (1996-2001), the UAE allowed Ariana Afghan airlines to operate service to UAE,
and Al Qaeda activists might have spent time there.2 Two of the hijackers in the
September 11, 2001 attacks were UAE nationals, and the hijackers reportedly used UAEbased financial networks in the plot.
Since then, the UAE has publicly acknowledged assisting in the 2002 arrest of senior
Al Qaeda operative in the Gulf, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.3 The State Department
“Country Reports on Terrorism: 2006, released April 30, 2007,” credits UAE with
denouncing terror attacks, improving border security, prescribing guidance for Friday
prayer leaders, investigating suspect financial transactions, and strengthening its
bureaucracy and legal framework to combat terrorism. In December 2004, the United
States and Dubai signed a Container Security Initiative Statement of Principles, aimed at
screening U.S.-bound containerized cargo transiting Dubai ports. Under the agreement,
five U.S. Customs officers are co-located with the Dubai Customs Intelligence Unit at
Port Rashid in Dubai.
Possibly on the strength of UAE-U.S. cooperation, an inter-agency “Committee on
Foreign Investment in the United States” approved the takeover by the Dubai-owned
“Dubai Ports World” company of a British firm that manages port facilities in New York,
New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami, and Philadelphia. Bi-partisan opposition
to the deal, concerned that the takeover might weaken U.S. port security, was expressed
in a March 9, 2006, vote in the House Appropriations Committee (62-2) on a provision
to block the deal (in a FY2006 supplemental funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, P.L.
109-234). The opposition caused the company to announce it would divest assets
involved in U.S. port operations . That divestiture occurred in late 2006 (to AIG Global
Investments). In September 2007, the Dubai stock exchange (Borse Dubai) announced
it plans to take a 20% stake in the Nasdaq stock market, although the announcement
appeared to generate less opposition than did the earlier ports deal.
Recent U.S. Aid to UAE
NADR (Non-Proliferation, AntiTerrorism, De-Mining, and Related) Anti-Terrorism Programs (ATA)
NADR- Counter-Terrorism Financing
NADR-Export Control and Related
Border Security Assistance
International Military Education and
International Narcotics and Law
CRS conversations with executive branch officials, 1997-2000.
“U.S. Embassy to Reopen on Saturday After UAE Threat.” Reuters, March 26, 2004.
The UAE record on stopping proliferation may be of concern. In connection with
revelations of illicit sales of nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea by
Pakistan’s nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan, Dubai was named as a key transfer point for
Khan’s shipments of nuclear components. Two Dubai-based companies were apparently
involved in trans-shipping such components: SMB Computers and Gulf Technical
Industries.4 On April 7, 2004, the Administration sanctioned a UAE firm, Elmstone
Service and Trading FZE, for allegedly selling weapons of mass destruction-related
technology to Iran, under the Iran-Syria Non-Proliferation Act (P.L. 106-178). Because
of these cases, in February 2007 the Administration threatened to include UAE in a new
designation of “countries of concern for diversion” of WMD-capable exports — with
unspecified penalties. In connection with the FNC approval of a law strengthening export
controls (April 2007), the Administration did not so designate the UAE. In September
2007, the UAE used the new law to shut down 40 foreign and UAE firms allegedly
involved in illegal dual use exports to Iran and other countries.
Defense and Foreign Policy Cooperation
Following the 1991 Gulf war to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait, the UAE, whose
armed forces number about 61,000, determined that it wanted a closer relationship with
the United States, in part to deter and balance out Iranian naval power. UAE fears
escalated in April 1992, when Iran asserted complete control of the largely uninhabited
Persian Gulf island of Abu Musa, which it and the UAE shared under a 1971 bilateral
agreement. (In 1971, Iran, then ruled by the U.S.-backed Shah, seized two other islands,
Greater and Lesser Tunb, from the emirate of Ras al-Khaymah, as well as part of Abu
Musa from the emirate of Sharjah.) The UAE wants to refer the dispute to the
International Court of Justice (ICJ), but Iran insists on resolving the issue bilaterally. The
United States is concerned about Iran’s military control over the islands and supports
UAE proposals, but the United States takes no position on sovereignty of the islands. The
UAE, particularly Abu Dhabi, has long feared that the large Iranian-origin community in
Dubai emirate could pose a “fifth column” threat to UAE stability. Illustrating the UAE’s
attempts to avoid antagonizing Iran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was
permitted to hold a rally for Iranian expatriates in Dubai when he made the first high level
visit to UAE since UAE independence in 1971.
The framework for U.S.-UAE defense cooperation is a July 25, 1994, bilateral
defense pact, the text of which is classified . During the years of U.S. “containment” of
Iraq (1991-2003), the UAE allowed U.S. equipment pre-positioning and U.S. warship
visits at its large Jebel Ali port, capable of handling aircraft carriers . The UAE allowed
the United States to upgrade airfields in the UAE that were used for U.S. combat support
flights, during OIF.5 About 1,800 U.S. forces, mostly Air Force, are in UAE, up from 800
before Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF); they use Al Dhafra air base ( KC-10, U-2 flights,
other aircraft) and naval facilities at Fujairah to support U.S. operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan, even though UAE says that the U.S. invasion of Iraq caused Shiite Islamists
to take power there. The UAE has provided facilities for Germany to train Iraqi police.
UAE pledged $215 million for Iraq reconstruction but has remitted virtually no funds as
Milhollin, Gary and Kelly Motz. “Nukes ‘R’ US.” New York Times op.ed. March 4, 2004.
Jaffe, Greg. “U.S. Rushes to Upgrade Base for Attack Aircraft.” Wall Street Journal, March
of September 2007, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Planning. It has an embassy in
Baghdad, and one of its diplomats was kidnaped in May 2006.
On the Arab-Israeli dispute, in 1994 the UAE joined with the other Gulf monarchies
in announcing an end to enforcement of most aspects of the Arab League boycott of Israel
— the ban on companies doing business with Israel and on companies that deal with
companies that do business with Israel. However, the UAE formally maintains the
primary boycott, and it did not agree to host an Israeli trade liaison office, although UAE
companies reportedly do business with Israeli firms. The UAE did not host multi-lateral
Arab-Israeli working groups on regional issues when those talks took place during 19941998. In 2007, the UAE has joined a “quartet” of Arab states (the others are Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan) to assist U.S. diplomacy on Israeli-Palestinian issues.
U.S. Arms Sales. The UAE views arms purchases from the United States as
enhancing the U.S. commitment to UAE security. In March 2000, the UAE purchased
80 U.S. F-16 aircraft, equipped with the Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile
(AMRAAM) and the HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile), a deal exceeding $8
billion. Congress did not try to block the agreement, but some Members questioned the
AMRAAM sale as a first introduction of that weapon into the Gulf. Among recent sales,
on July 28, 2006, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress
of a sale to UAE of 26 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters with a possible value of $808
million. A sale of high Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, valued at about $750 million,
was notified on September 21, 2006. A sale to UAE reportedly under consideration in
connection with the U.S.-led “Gulf Security Dialogue,” intended to help the Gulf states
contain Iran, is of the E-2D Hawkeye 2000, an early warning aircraft,6 and possibly also
anti-ballistic missile systems such as the Patriot (PAC-3). UAE is too wealthy to receive
U.S. military aid, but the IMET requested for FY2008 is to enable UAE to receive
discount pricing to send its military officers to U.S. courses.
The UAE, a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), has developed a free
market economy. Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone, begun in 1994, has become the fifth
largest such zone in the world, attracting over 900 international companies. On
November 15, 2004, the Administration notified Congress it had begun negotiating a free
trade agreement (FTA) with the UAE. Several rounds of talks have been held, although
progress has been halting, mainly because UAE feels it does not need the pact to keep its
economy vibrant and it is not willing to make some reforms, such as labor reform. The
Dubai Ports World controversy further slowed the talks. Despite diversification, the
UAE’s federal budget continues to rely on oil exports, which account for one third of
GDP. Abu Dhabi has 80% of the federation’s proven oil reserves of about 100 billion
barrels, enough for over 100 years of exports at the current production rate of 2.2 million
barrels per day (mbd). Of that amount, about 2.1 mbd are exported, but negligible
amounts go to the United States. The UAE does not have ample supplies of natural gas,
and it has entered into a deal with neighboring gas exporter Qatar to construct pipeline
that will bring Qatari gas to UAE (Dolphin project).
Stockman, Farah. “U.S. Looks to Sell Arms in Gulf to Try to Contain Iran.” Boston Globe,
March 21, 2007.