The UAE is a federation of the following hereditary monarchies or emirates:
- Abu Dhabi
- Ras al-Khaimah
- Sharjah, and
- Umm al-Quwain.
The UAE's constitution was adopted by the rulers of the emirates on 2 Dec 1971. Art 1 describes the Union as "an independent, sovereign, federal state" which "any other independent Arab country may join". Art 6 declares that:
"The Union is a part of the Great Arab Nation to which it is bound by the ties of religion, language, history and common destiny .
The people of the Union are one people, and one part of the Arab Nation."
Art 3 declares that
"The member Emirates shall exercise sovereignty over their own territories and territorial waters in all matters, which are not within the jurisdiction of the Union as assigned in this Constitution."
However, art 2 provides that the Union is to exercise sovereignty in matters assigned to it by the constitution throughout the territories of the emirates. Art 4 precludes the cession of that sovereignty.
Aims of the UAE
The aims of the Union as set out in art 10 are as follows:
- the maintenance of the UAE's independence and sovereignty
- safeguarding its security and stability
- the defence against any aggression upon its existence or the existence of its member states
- the protection of the rights and liabilities of the people of the Union
- the achievement of close co–operation between the emirates for their common benefit in realising these aims and in promoting their prosperity and progress in all fields
- the provision of a better life for all citizens together with respect by each emirate for the independence and sovereignty of the other emirates in their internal affairs within the framework of the constitution.
Art 11 establishes an "economic and customs union" between the emirates with free movement of capital and goods. Free movement of labour is implicit in art 8 which provides that the citizens of the Union shall have a single nationality.
Art 45 establishes the following federal institutions:
- Supreme Council,
- President and his Deputy,
- Council of Ministers,
- Federal National Council, and
- the Union Judiciary.
The Supreme Council consists of the rules of the emirates or their deputies and is the highest authority of the Union (art 46). It exercises executive and legislative powers.
One of its most important functions of the rulers assembled in the Supreme Council is to choose the President and Vice-President from among their number pursuant to art 51. The President and Vice-President hold office for 5 years and exercise wide executive powers under art 54. However, a convention appears to be developing that the ruler of Abu Dhabi is ipso facto the President of the UAE. The incumbent is Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan who inherited that office from his father, the first President of the Union.
Council of Ministers
Art 55 of the constitution establishes a Council of Ministers consisting of a prime minister, a deputy prime minister and a number of ministers chosen from citizens of the UAE known for their competence and experience. The Council has responsibility for such matters as defence, foreign affairs, internal affairs, justice, posts and telecommunications, education and public health.
Federal National Council
Art 68 provides for a Federal National Council consisting of 40 members representing the emirates in rough proportion to their population. The Council constitutes the popular element of government though not necessarily a democratic one since art 69 allows each emirate to choose the method of selection of its representatives.
Art 95 establishes a Union Supreme Court and Union Primary Tribunals.
In addition to the Union Judiciary, each emirate has its own courts. Except for the DIFC (which is a common law enclave) the legal system is based on civil or Roman law though Islamic law remains for family and inheritance matters.