x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The Making of a Deal

Those who observed Sheikh Zayed in these days knew just how hard he worked to persuade the emirates to unite as one. His daughter later said: "I remember how he used to be really tired and sometimes the problems of solving the conflicts between the tribes would affect his health. It was not easy."

"His cloak always seemed to be filled with the wind of heaven." - A British official recalling Sheikh Zayed
"His cloak always seemed to be filled with the wind of heaven." - A British official recalling Sheikh Zayed RAMESH SHUKLA

Those who observed Sheikh Zayed in these days knew just how hard he worked to persuade the emirates to unite as one. One of the people close to him was Abduljalil al Fahim, the father of Mohammed al Fahim, a prominent businessman in Abu Dhabi. As his son remembers: "When my father spoke of that time near unification, he spoke of the great strain the whole venture had on Sheikh Zayed. There was a deadline and Sheikh Zayed was exerting himself trying to unite everyone and form the UAE." Sheikha Latifa, Sheikh Zayed's daughter, was young at the time. "I remember how he used to be really tired and sometimes the problems of solving the conflicts between the tribes would affect his health. It was not easy," she said in an interview about her father with The National's M magazine last year.


January 27 Julian Walker, a senior British diplomat with considerable experience in the Gulf, arrives in Dubai to join the political agency, as the UK government focuses on achieving a settlement before Britain pulls out in December. "I realised my friends in the emirates were in trouble," he says. Walker is responsible for working with the northern emirates both in winding up existing treaties with Britain and working on the logistics of unification. Britain believes several of the northern emirates are looking at closer ties with either Oman or Saudi Arabia, alliances that would draw on old tribal loyalties. A joint Saudi and Kuwaiti mission visits the Gulf in an attempt to revive a union involving Bahrain and Qatar, but fails to make progress.

March 1 In London, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the UK foreign secretary, confirms that Britain will leave the Gulf as planned, making the following announcement: "The Gulf is an area of outstanding strategic importance, not only to this country but also to Europe and the rest of the world. In January 1968, the former government announced their intention to terminate the treaties with Bahrain, Qatar and the seven Trucial States by the end of 1971 and to withdraw British forces.

"Her Majesty's Government strongly support the development of a Union of Arab Emirates. The Rulers have recently been told what Her Majesty's Government are prepared to offer to a union in the way of continuing links and assistance.

"The Rulers have been told that the Treaty of Friendship and these proposals would replace the existing treaties between the United Kingdom and Bahrain, Qatar and the seven Trucial States. These treaties, which are the present basis of the protected status of these nine states and of Her Majesty's Government's right to conduct their international relations, will cease by the end of 1971."

July 10 Rulers of all seven emirates meet at Sheikh Rashid's majlis in Jumeirah. It is now less than six months until the British departure. Because Qatar has now decided it no longer wants to be part of the proposed Union of Arab Emirates, hopes of a deal are fading.

July 12 The Rulers reconvene for a second meeting. Walker recalls the first day of talks as "very frustrating", but during a break on the second day, Sheikh Zayed is suddenly more positive about the prospects of a union, telling members of the press that Abu Dhabi is willing to form a federation with any of those states still willing to join. It emerges later that Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid have made a binding resolution to see the creation of a union to completion.

Walker describes what happens next as a "minor miracle". In his official report at the time, the political resident, Sir Geoffrey Arthur, hailed the spirit of cooperation between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, describing Ahmed al Suwaidi and Mahdi al Tajir, the two most senior advisers to Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid respectively, as "the two principal architects of the new relationship".

July 18 An announcement is made: six of the seven emirates will join in a federal state to be known as the Union of Arab Emirates and have adopted a provisional constitution. Ras Al Khaimah participates in the talks but is unable to reach agreement on terms of membership. Among the provisions of the new constitution is a new capital to be built within seven years on the border of Abu Dhabi and Dubai from land donated by both emirates and to be called Karama. Abu Dhabi is designated the temporary capital. (Trivia note: the new capital, which never progressed beyond the early stages of planning, was to be given the national telephone code 01, which is why Abu Dhabi numbers still begin with 02.)

In addition, Sheikh Zayed agrees to provide £250,000 for a scheme to build roads that would connect RAK and the east coast to Dubai and thus to Abu Dhabi.

The constitution is moved to the British political agency in Abu Dhabi, where it is stored in the agency's safe.

The statement begins: "By the divine guidance and in response to the desire of our Arab people, we the Rulers of the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah have decided to establish a federal state called the United Arab Emirates and we have signed on this blessed day the temporary constitution for the United Arab Emirates.

"In bringing these glad tidings to the noble Arab people we seek the guidance of Allah that this union may be the nucleus of a complete union including the remainder of our kinsmen from the sister Arab Emirates whose present circumstances have not permitted them to sign this constitution."

It concludes: "We ask Allah the Almighty to take our hand towards what is best for our people, our region and our Arab Nation for He is all hearing and all answering."

The provisional consitution opens with the following declaration: "We, the Rulers of the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah: Whereas it is our desire and the desire of the people of our Emirates to establish a Union between these Emirates, to promote a better life, more enduring stability and a higher international status for the Emirates and their people ." It ends with: "May Allah, our Protector and Defender, grant us success." (See sidebar for a full translation of the preamble.)

Egypt's Al Akhbar newspaper runs the news under the banner headline: "Foundation of the state of the United Arab Emirates resonates all over the world."

The paper reports: "The historical statement announced last Sunday about the foundation of the state of the United Arab Emirates echoed expansively across the Arab world and on the international scene. Arab and western media took a special interest in the news that made headlines everywhere. Political observers and experts in the Arab region's affairs agree that the United Arab Emirates will be an added support to the greater Arab world as it will have a role to play in construction and development."

July 29 In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Sheikh Zayed says the new United of Arab Emirates is ready to take over defence and foreign affairs responsibilities as soon as possible. All six emirates are ready to surrender sovereignty to the Federation and that "all the states are fully prepared to meet their responsibilities and fulfil their duties". He announces that the new UAE has agreed to the formation of a Union Defence Force, using the nucleus of the Trucial Oman Scouts.

August 6 Sheikh Zayed marks the fifth anniversary of his accession with telegrams of congratulations from world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth and the emperor of Japan. Official celebrations are put back until later in the year. Asked why the Accession Anniversary celebrations were called off, Sheikh Zayed says:"There is something more important. There is a decisive matter that relates to our very existence and to our political future. And that is the establishment of the Union, which compels us all to give it all the effort and hard work we can to fulfill the will of the people in this region."

Sheikh Faisal bin Sultan Al Qassimi says he suggested to the ruler that it would be better to move the celebrations to the end of the year. "It was too hot in the summer and more people would come, especially from other countries."

August 15 Bahrain declares independence from Britain.

August 31 British officials brief Ahmed al Suwaidi on negotiations over Abu Musa and the Tunb islands and is told that prospects of a settlement with Iran are "extremely difficult" but "not impossible".

September 3 Qatar becomes an independent, sovereign state. Sheikh Saqr of Ras Al Khaimah is reported by British intelligence sources to have made an indirect approach to the United States looking for support and recognition if the emirate declares independence in December.

September 5 Sheikh Mohammed Mubarak and Ahmed al Suwaidi leave on diplomatic missions to Tehran, Baghdad, Cairo, London, Washington and the United Nations.

Hamid bin Hamad from Abu Dhabi, Ahmed Sulayim from Dubai and a representative of Sharjah leave for Muscat, Bahrain, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Both missions carry a signed message from Sheikh Zayed on behalf of the six signatory emirates.

October Sheikh Zayed makes it known that he wants to form the UAE as soon as possible. He has seen Bahrain, Qatar and Oman already admitted to the United Nations. The delay is caused by continuing negotiations in Tehran between Britain and Iran conducted by Sir William Luce, Britain's special envoy in the Gulf. At issue is Iran's territorial claim to Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs that it claims is non-negotiable.

October 21 The first day of Ramadan.

November Sheikh Saqr's son, Khalid, also approaches the United States, saying RAK has decided on independence and wants recognition and support. US newspaper reports say RAK is offering the Americans a military base.

November 20 Eid al Fitr begins.

November 23-25 The British political agent Sir Geoffrey Arthur and two political agents meet the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai with their advisers Ahmed al Suwaidi, Mana Otaiba and Mohammad Habroush, and Mahdi Tajir and Adi Bitar to fix a date, time and venue of the formation of the UAE. Existing treaties with Britain are to be dissolved the day before the signing. It is decided that "the union will be proclaimed on Thursday 2 December in Dubai". Sheihk Zayed is to be the first president and a Treaty of Friendship will be signed with Britain.

It is agreed that missions will be sent on November 24 to Cairo, Baghdad, Tehran, Kuwait City and Riyadh to inform those governments of the decision.

A public announcement is made the following day.

Abu Dhabi News, an English-language newspaper published by the Ministry of Information, announces that Sheikh Zayed's fifth anniversary will be celebrated the following week "with great pomp and splendour". The newspaper reveals that the Council of Ministers has approved 44,543 Bahraini dinars for the celebrations, which will be under the chairmanship of Sheikh Faisal Al Qassimi.