The earliest known human habitation in the UAE dated from the Neolithic period, 5500 BC. At this early stage, there is proof of interaction with the outside world, particularly with civilizations to the north in Persia.
Several places along the coast had important links with places like India during early history. The arrival of envoys from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in 630AD heralded the conversion of the region to Islam. After Prophet Muhammad’s death, one of the major battles of the Ridda Wars was fought at Dibba, resulting in the defeat of the non-Muslims and the triumph of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula. In 637, Julfar (today Ra’s al-Khaimah) was used as a staging post for the conquest of Iran. Over many centuries, Julfar became a wealthy port and pearling center from which dhows traveled throughout the Indian Ocean. Portuguese expansion into the Indian Ocean in the early sixteenth century following Vasco da Gama’s route of exploration saw them battle the Safavid Persia up the coast of the Persian Gulf. The Portuguese controlled the area for 150 years, in which they conquered the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula. Vasco da Gama was helped by Ahmad Ibn Majid, a navigator, and cartographer from Julfar, to find the route of spices from Asia.
During the 16th century, portions of the nation came under the direct influence of the Ottoman Empire. Thereafter the region was known to the British as the “Pirate Coast”, as raiders based there harassed the shipping industry despite both European and Arab navies patrolling the area from the 17th century into the 19th century. Primarily in reaction to the ambitions of other European countries, the United Kingdom and the Trucial Sheikhdoms established closer bonds in an 1892 treaty, similar to treaties entered into by the UK with other Persian Gulf principalities. The sheikhs agreed not to dispose of any territory except to the United Kingdom and not to enter into relationships with any foreign government other than the United Kingdom without its consent. In return, the British promised to protect the Trucial Coast from all aggression by sea and to help in case of land attack.
At the beginning of the 1960s, the first oil company teams carried out preliminary surveys and the first cargo of crude was exported from Abu Dhabi in 1962. As oil revenues increased, Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, undertook a massive construction program, building schools, housing, hospitals, and roads. When Dubai’s oil exports commenced in 1969, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the de facto ruler of Dubai, was also able to use oil revenues to improve the quality of life of his people. In 1955, the United Kingdom sided with Abu Dhabi in the latter’s dispute with Oman over the Buraimi Oasis, another territory to the south. A 1974 agreement between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia would have settled the Abu Dhabi-Saudi border dispute; however, the agreement has yet to be ratified by the UAE government and is not recognized by the Saudi government. The border with Oman also remains officially unsettled, but the two governments agreed to delineate the border in May 1999.
When the British-Trucial Sheikhdoms treaty expired on December 1, 1971, they became fully independent. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai decided to form a union between their two emirates independently, prepare a constitution, then call the rulers of the other five emirates to a meeting and offer them the opportunity to join. It was also agreed between the two that the constitution be written by December 2, 1971. On that date, at the Dubai Guesthouse Palace, four other emirates agreed to enter into a union called the United Arab Emirates. Ras al-Khaimah joined later, in early 1972. Since the 1980s, Dubai and later many other places included another major source of income along with oil, namely tourism.
- TravellersPoint on the United Arab Emirates.