The UAE's constitution, provisionally adopted at independence in 1971 and made permanent in 1996, established a federal government that leaves much power to the emirates. The government has executive, legislative, and judicial branches, but the executive branch dominates the political system. There are no political parties and no popular elections.
Although the governmental institutions are modern in form, the essence of political power is traditional and hereditary, with the ruling family of each emirate representing its dominant tribe. Politics is largely a process of satisfying the claims to power of ruling families and their factions as well as merchants and religious leaders.
Executive & Legislative
The highest political authority in the UAE is the Supreme Federal Council (SFC), sometimes called the Supreme Council of the Union (SCU), which consists of the seven emirate rulers. This council establishes general UAE policy. It usually meets four times a year, and it elects the president to indefinitely renewable five-year terms. Each ruler has a vote, but on substantive matters the dominant emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai can exercise veto power.
The Council of Ministers, appointed by the president, is both the federal cabinet and principal source of legislative authority. The SFC ratifies laws enacted by the Council of Ministers.
The Federal National Council (FNC) is the country's nominal legislature, but this body has only an advisory role in the government. It does, however, have a significant function as a forum for discussion of important national issues. The 40 members of the FNC represent the various emirates and are individually selected by the leaders of each emirate for two-year, indefinitely renewable terms. The larger, wealthier emirates are allotted greater numbers of seats. The constitution permits a popularly elected FNC, leaving open the possibility for a truly representative legislature in the future.
The UAE's judiciary consists of a supreme court and lower courts that preside over the different emirates. The legal system is based on the Sharia (Islamic law), but incorporates elements of Western legal systems in such areas as commercial law. Many legal disputes are decided by local customary practices under the supervision of the ruler of each emirate.
Because of the UAE's oil wealth, citizens pay no taxes but receive generous social welfare benefits, including free medical care. Modern hospitals and health centers are concentrated in the larger cities, although most people across the country have access to at least basic care.
The UAE joined the Arab League immediately after declaring independence in December 1971 and in the weeks following became a member of the United Nations (UN). It also belongs to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
See more information on the next page... (next)