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Politics of the United Arab Emirates

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Title: Politics of the United Arab Emirates  
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Subject: Human rights in the United Arab Emirates, Foreign relations of the United Arab Emirates, United Arab Emirates parliamentary election, 2011, Federal National Council, President of the United Arab Emirates
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Politics of the United Arab Emirates

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the United Arab Emirates
See also

Life in the UAE
Human rights

Politics of the United Arab Emirates takes place in a framework of a federal, presidential, absolute monarchy. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven constituent monarchies: the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Qaiwain. According to convention, the ruler of Abu Dhabi is President of the United Arab Emirates, the head of state, and the ruler of Dubai is the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, the head of government.


The UAE's judicial system is derived from the civil law system and Sharia law. The court system consists of civil courts and Sharia courts. According to Human Rights Watch, UAE's civil and criminal courts apply elements of Sharia law, codified into its criminal code and family law, in a way which discriminates against women.[1]

Judicial corporal punishment is a legal form of punishment in UAE due to the Sharia courts. Flogging is used in UAE as a punishment for criminal offences such as adultery, premarital sex and prostitution.[2] In most emirates, floggings of Muslims are frequent with sentences ranging from 80 to 200 lashes.[3][4] Between 2007 and 2013, many people were sentenced to 100 lashes.[5][6][7][8][9][10][2][11] Moreover in 2010 and 2012, several Muslims were sentenced to 80 lashes for alcohol consumption.[12][13] Under UAE law, premarital sex is punishable by 100 lashes.[14]

Stoning is a legal form of judicial punishment in UAE. In 2006, an expatriate was sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery.[15] Between 2009 and 2013, several people were sentenced to death by stoning.[8][16][17] In May 2014, an Asian housemaid was sentenced to death by stoning in Abu Dhabi.[18][19][20]

Sharia law dictates the personal status law, which regulate matters such as marriage, divorce and child custody. The Sharia-based personal status law is applied to Muslims and sometimes non-Muslims.[21] Non-Muslim expatriates are liable to Sharia rulings on marriage, divorce and child custody.[21] Sharia courts have exclusive jurisdiction to hear family disputes, including matters involving divorce, inheritances, child custody, child abuse and guardianship of minors. Sharia courts may also hear appeals of certain criminal cases including rape, robbery, driving under the influence of alcohol and related crimes.[22]

Apostasy is a crime punishable by death in the UAE. UAE incorporates hudud crimes of Sharia into its Penal Code - apostasy being one of them.[23] Article 1 and Article 66 of UAE's Penal Code requires hudud crimes to be punished with the death penalty,[23][24] therefore apostasy is punishable by death in the UAE.

Emirati women must receive permission from male guardian to remarry.[25] The requirement is derived from Sharia, and has been federal law since 2005.[25] In all emirates, it is illegal for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims.[26] In the UAE, a marriage union between a Muslim woman and non-Muslim man is punishable by law, since it is considered a form of "fornication".[26]

Homosexuality is illegal: the death penalty is one of the punishments for homosexuality. Article 80 of the Abu Dhabi Penal Code makes sodomy punishable with imprisonment of up to 14 years, while article 177 of the Penal Code of Dubai imposes imprisonment of up to 10 years on consensual sodomy.[27]

Kissing in public is strictly illegal and can result in deportation, kissing in public is a crime punishable by deportation.[28] Expats in Dubai have been deported for kissing in public.[29][30][31]

Article 1 of the Federal Penal Code states that "provisions of the Islamic Law shall apply to the crimes of doctrinal punishment, punitive punishment and blood money."[32] The Federal Penal Code repealed only those provisions within the penal codes of individual emirates which are contradictory to the Federal Penal Code. Hence, both are enforceable simultaneously.[33]

Executive branch

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan November 3, 2004
Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum January 5, 2006

Administratively, the UAE is a federation of seven emirates, each with its own ruler. The pace of local government reform in each emirate is set primarily by the ruler. Under the provisional constitution of 1971, each emirate reserves considerable powers, including control over mineral rights (notably oil) and revenues. In this milieu, federal powers have developed slowly as each Emirate already had its own existing institutions of government prior to the country’s official foundation. The constitution of the United Arab Emirates separates powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Additionally, legislative and executive powers are divided into federal and emirate jurisdictions.[34]

The constitution of the United Arab Emirates established the positions of president (chief of state) and vice president and elected by the rulers of each of the emirates from within (the seven rulers comprise the Federal Supreme Council, which also has an elected chairman and a vice chairman each serving five-year terms); a Council of Ministers (cabinet), led by a prime minister (head of government); a supreme council of rulers; and a 40-member National Assembly (known as the Federal National Council), a consultative body whose members are partially appointed by the emirate rulers and partially elected; and an independent judiciary which includes the Federal Supreme Court. Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was president of the UAE from its foundation until his death on November 2, 2004. His eldest son, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is the current president.

Under federal authority, responsibilities include foreign affairs, security and defence, nationality and immigration issues, education, public health, currency, postal, telephone and other communications services, air traffic control, licensing of aircraft, labour relations, banking, delimitation of territorial waters and extradition of criminals. Issues excluded from Articles 120 and 121 of the Constitution are to be under the jurisdiction of respective Emirates and are reaffirmed by Article 116 which states that: ‘the Emirates shall exercise all powers not assigned to the federation by this Constitution’. This is further reiterated by Article 122, which stated that ‘the Emirates shall have jurisdiction in all matters not assigned to the exclusive jurisdiction of the federation, in accordance with the provision of the preceding two Articles’.[35]

Federal Supreme Council

The Federal Supreme Council consists of the individual rulers of the seven emirates. The President and Vice-President are elected by the Supreme Council every five years. Although unofficial, the Presidency is de facto hereditary to the Al Nahyan clan of Abu Dhabi and the Premiership is hereditary to the Al-Maktoum clan of Dubai. Article 47 of the UAE constitution defines the powers of the Council’s authority in formulation of general policy; legislation on all matters of state; ratification of federal laws and decrees, including those relating to budget and fiscal matters; ratification of international treaties and agreements; and appointment of the prime minister and Supreme Court judges.[36] Decisions are made by majority vote unless relating to substantive issues which require a two-thirds majority vote (five out of seven rulers), which must include Abu Dhabi and Dubai.[37] The Supreme Council also elects the Council of Ministers, while an appointed 40-member Federal National Council, drawn from all the emirates, reviews proposed laws.

Federal Supreme Council members/UAE rulers

Council of Ministers/Cabinet

The Cabinet of United Arab Emirates (also called the Council of Ministers, Arabic: مجلس الوزراء‎) is a collegial body presided over by the Prime Minister. It consists of 22 members and is also headed by a Prime Minister (chosen by the President with consultation). The federal cabinet is the executive authority for the federation. Under the supreme control of the President and supreme council, it manages all internal and foreign affairs of the federation under its constitutional and federal laws. The cabinet consists of cabinet's President(Prime Minister of UAE) and two deputies and ministers. The general secretariat shall be handled by the secretary general of the cabinet[38]

Local politics

The relative putang ina mo and financial influence of each emirate is reflected in the allocation of positions in the federal government. The ruler of Abu Dhabi, whose emirate is the UAE's major oil producer, is president of the UAE. The ruler of Dubai, which is the UAE's commercial center and a former oil producer, is vice president and prime minister.

Since achieving independence in 1971, the UAE has worked to strengthen its federal institutions. Nonetheless, each emirate still retains substantial autonomy, and progress toward greater federal integration has slowed in recent years. A basic concept in the UAE Government's development as a federal system is that a significant percentage of each emirate's revenues should be devoted to the UAE central budget.[39]

Although complexity of local government differs depending on size and development of each emirate, most such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman have their own Executive Councils chaired by respective rulers and possessing various departments reflective of federal ministries. Various autonomous agencies also exist such as an Environment Agency, Tourism Authority, Authority for Culture and Heritage, and Health Authority. Some emirates such as Abu Dhabi may also be divided into two municipalities (the Western and Eastern Regions) and its main cities of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain are also administered by own municipalities with a municipal council. Abu Dhabi and Sharjah have own National Consultative Councils with similar local duties and role as the Federal National Council.[40]

It has long been regional tradition for rulers to hold open discussions with their people, be they common, merchants or the elite. Often, this forum is held by the emirate rulers as well as senior family members. This open majlis, or consultation, is held periodically; however, a ruler may also appoint an emir, or wali, to whom concerns may be directed by the general population when necessary. This individual is often considered a leading tribal figure whose trust is placed by his tribe as well as the ruler.


The Federal National Council (al-Majlis al-Watani al-Ittihadi) is the UAE’s legislative body and consists of 40 members. Half are appointed by the rulers of their respective emirates, and hold all of the council's political power. The other half, who have only advisory tasks and serve two-year terms, are elected by a 6,689-member electoral college whose members are appointed by the emirates. Members are required to be citizens of the emirate they represent, a minimum twenty-five years of age, and literate.[41] Members of the Federal National Council are drawn from each emirate based on population and presided over by a speaker who is elected from among the Council’s members. The council carries out the country’s main consultative duties and has both a legislative and supervisory role provided by the Constitution. It has the authority to examine and amend any proposed federal legislation but it cannot veto any proposed bills. It can also question any ministers on ministry performance.

Political parties are officially outlawed, but some do exist, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The FNC is the main consultative body in the UAE and has both a legislative and supervisory role accorded by the Constitution.

Since the Council’s inception, the following have been selected to chair:

  • Thani bin Abdulla
  • Taryam bin Omran Taryam
  • Hilal bin Ahmed bin Lootah
  • Al Haj bin Abdullah Al Muhairbi
  • Mohammed Khalifa Al Habtoor (appointed 1997)
  • Saeed Mohammed Al Kindi (appointed 2003)
  • Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair (appointed 2006)
  • Mohammed Ahmed Al Murr Al Falasi (appointed 2011)
After the succession of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid as ruler of Dubai and election as PM/Vice President of the UAE, the Emirates took their first steps towards indirect elections for the country’s parliament on National Day, December 2, 2005 upon the official announcement by HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The new reforms provided for each ruler to select an Electoral College for his respective emirate based on population and comprised the following: Abu Dhabi & Dubai – 8; Sharjah & Ra’s al Khaimah – 6; Fujairah, Ajman, & Umm al Qaiwain: 4. These colleges were designated the responsibility to elect one half of the Federal National Council’s members for their own emirate. The other half would be appointed by the Emirate’s ruler. A National Electoral Committee was created and the UAE’s first election occurred during mid-December 2006.[42]
  Summary of the 16, 18 and 20 December 2006 UAE Federal National Council election results
Members Seats
Elected 20
Appointed by the rulers of the constituent emirates 20
Total 40
Female membership
Among the twenty members chosen by the Electoral College, one woman was elected. Eight women were appointed by the rulers of the seven emirates and, with the exception of Umm al-Qaiwain, at least one woman was appointed by each emirate. Women therefore constituted 22.5% of the Council's membership, a significant increase.
Three among those appointed were from Dubai.[43]

The objective is for FNC members to be wholly elected. However, in a country with a long monarchical tradition, reform is considered effective when gradual. Further consideration is being given to formulating a local electoral process.

Federal Judiciary

The Federal Judiciary is a constitutionally completely independent body (under Article 94) and includes the Federal Supreme Court and Courts of First Instance. Supreme Council of Rulers appoints the five judges headed by a president to the Supreme Court. The judges are responsible for deciding if federal laws are constitutional, mediating between inter-emirate disputes.[44] It also possesses the authority to try cases involving cabinet and senior federal officials. Although secular law is applied, the basis of legislation is Sharia (Islamic Law) and involves three of the four schools including (mainly) Maliki, but also the Hanbali and Shafi'i schools.[45]

Political reform

In early 2007, the United Arab Emirates launched the 'UAE Government Strategy' for the years ahead, which covered twenty-one topics in six different sectors including social development, economic development, public sector development, justice and safety, infrastructure and rural areas development. The initiative is meant to reevaluate and advance these sectors towards top global standards by facilitating better continuous cooperation between federal and local governments with increased efficiency, training, Emiratisaion, ministry empowerment, upgrading of services, improving civil service and legislation review.

Subsequently, Abu Dhabi announced implementation of its own policy to modernize public administration practices and government performance in 2007–2008. Plans for reevaluation were laid out in areas including economy, energy, tourism, health, education, labour, civil services, culture and heritage, good control, urban planning, transport, environment, health and safety, municipal affairs, police and emergency services, electronic government, women and legislative reform. Abu Dhabi hopes advancements towards exceptional global standards in these areas will improve the quality of services for its residents as well as attract future investment towards further modernizing the Emirate.[46]

International organization affiliations



  1. ^ "Human Rights Watch warns expat women about the UAE". 
  2. ^ a b "Torture and flogging". Fanack. 
  3. ^ "UAE: Judicial corporal punishment by flogging". World Corporal Punishment Research. 
  4. ^ "United Arab Emirates". Crime and Society. 
  5. ^ "Pregnant maid to get 100 lashes after being found guilty of illegal affair". 
  6. ^ "Teenager to be lashed for adultery". 
  7. ^ "Illicit lovers sentenced to 100 lashes each". 
  8. ^ a b "Two women sentenced to death for adultery". 
  9. ^ "Prison for couple who conceived outside of wedlock". KA, 19, Emirati, was sentenced to six months in prison. Her would-be husband, AM, Omani, was sentenced to 100 lashes and one year in prison. 
  10. ^ "Adulterer to be lashed, jailed in Sharjah". 
  11. ^ "DUBAI: Alleged victim of gang rape sentenced to one year in prison". At that point, she was facing a penalty for extramarital sex, which is 100 lashes and a minimum of three years in prison. 
  12. ^ "Man to get 80 lashes for drinking alcohol". 2010. 
  13. ^ "Man appeals 80 lashes for drinking alcohol in Abu Dhabi". 2012. 
  14. ^ "Woman denies affair after hearing she faces stoning". Under the same law, premarital sex is punishable by 100 lashes. 
  15. ^ "UAE: Death by stoning/ flogging".  
  16. ^ "Man faces stoning in UAE for incest". 
  17. ^ "Woman denies affair after hearing she faces stoning". 
  18. ^ "Woman Sentenced to Death by Stoning in UAE". 
  19. ^ "Asian housemaid gets death for adultery in Abu Dhabi". 
  20. ^ "Expat faces death by stoning after admitting in court to cheating on husband". 
  21. ^ a b "Britons 'liable to Sharia divorces' in UAE". BBC. 
  22. ^ "The UAE Court System". Consulate General of the United States Dubai, UAE. 
  23. ^ a b Butti Sultan Butti Ali Al-Muhairi (1996), The Islamisation of Laws in the UAE: The Case of the Penal Code, Arab Law Quarterly, Vol. 11, No. 4 (1996), pp. 350-371
  24. ^ Al-Muhairi (1997), Conclusion to the Series of Articles on the UAE Penal Law. Arab Law Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 4
  25. ^ a b "Divorcees, widows concerned about receiving ‘permission’ before remarrying". 
  26. ^ a b United Arab Emirates International Religious Freedom Report, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2009)
  27. ^ "Federal criminal statute In UAE". Sodomylaws.Org. Archived from the original on 14 June 2006. 
  28. ^ "Public kissing can lead to deportation". 
  29. ^ "Women get jail and deportation for kissing on Dubai public beach". gulfnews. 25 May 2008. 
  30. ^ "Jailed Dubai kissing pair lose appeal over conviction". 
  31. ^ "London man tells of 'shock' jailing in Dubai over kiss". 
  32. ^ "Federal Law No (3) of 1987 on Issuance of the Penal Code". United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 
  33. ^ "Measures Against Corruptibility, Gifts and Gratification – Bribery in the Middle East". Arab Law Quarterly. 
  34. ^ Library of Congress
  35. ^ UAE Constitution text: Accessed February 24, 2009
  36. ^
  37. ^ Library of Congress
  38. ^
  39. ^ National Media Council, “United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2008,” Trident Press Ltd. London, (Government section)
  40. ^ National Media Council, “United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2008,” Trident Press Ltd. London, (Government section)
  41. ^ Library of Congress
  42. ^ First UAE election
  43. ^
  44. ^ National Media Council, “United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2008,” Trident Press Ltd. London, (Government section)
  45. ^ Library of Congress, Accessed February 24, 2008:
  46. ^ National Media Council, “United Arab Emirates Yearbook 2008,” Trident Press Ltd. London, (Government section)

External links

  • Dubai Government Information and Services Portal
  • United Arab Emirates Government at DMOZ
  • UAE at Adam Carr's Election Archive
  • Human Rights problems about UAE
  • Politics & Government at
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