Country Listing

United Arab Emirates Table of Contents

United Arab Emirates

United Arab Emirates -- Government and Politics

Executive and Legislative Branches


Figure 12. United Arab Emirates: Government Structure, 1992

On July 18, 1971, rulers of six amirates from those known as the Trucial Coast states, ratified the provisional constitution of the UAE. A product of more than three years of discussion and debate among the rulers, the document was promulgated on December 2, 1971, on the UAE's independence. (Ras al Khaymah joined the union in February 1972.) Originally, the provisional constitution was to be replaced after five years with a permanent document, pending the resolution of issues standing in the way of full integration among the federation's amirates. These issues included individual amirates' contributions to the federal budget and defense integration. Reflecting a lack of progress in resolving these matters and a grudging preference for the status quo, however, the provisional constitution was extended for fiveyear periods in 1976, 1981, 1986, and 1991.

The provisional constitution of the UAE provides for the separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Additionally, it separates legislative and executive powers into federal and amirate jurisdictions. Certain powers are expressly reserved for the central government, including foreign policy, defense, security, immigration, and communications. The individual amirates exercise residual powers.

The separation of powers remained nominal in 1993. The Supreme Council of the Union (SCU), also seen as the Federal Supreme Council, functions as the highest federal authority in executive and legislative capacities. Narrowly, the executive branch consists of the SCU, the Council of Ministers (the cabinet), and the presidency (see fig. 12). The SCU consists of the rulers of the seven amirates; it elects from among its members a chairman and a vice chairman, who serve for a term of five years. Article 150 of the provisional constitution defines the powers of the SCU as formulation of general policy; legislation on all matters of state; ratification of federal laws and decrees, including those relating to the annual budget and fiscal matters; ratification of international treaties and agreements; and assent to the appointment of the prime minister and Supreme Court of the Union judges.

The rulers make decisions by a simple majority vote, except on substantive issues. Substantive issues require a two-thirds majority (five of seven rulers), including the votes of both Abu Dhabi and Dubayy. The SCU carries out its work through a secretariat and whatever ad hoc committees it chooses to appoint.

The president serves as chairman of the SCU, head of state, and commander of the Union Defense Force (UDF). The president convenes the SCU and appoints the prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers, the cabinet ministers, and other senior civil and military officials. He has the power to proclaim martial law and to carry out a variety of functions usually associated with the chief executive.

The Council of Ministers administers federal affairs. In 1992 there were twenty-five ministers, including the prime minister and deputy prime minister. UAE citizenship is a requirement for appointment as a minister. All ministers are individually and collectively answerable to the president and the SCU. In addition to its executive duties, the Council of Ministers is responsible for drafting bills for formal enactment.

Under the provisional constitution, the Federal National Council (FNC) is the principal legislative authority, but its actual role in the governmental process is limited to consultation. Its forty members are appointed for two-year terms by the respective amirate rulers, in accordance with a constitutionally fixed quota that allots proportionately more members to the wealthiest and most populous amirates. Thus, Abu Dhabi and Dubayy each appoint eight members to the FNC; Ras al Khaymah and Sharjah each appoint six members; and Ajman, Al Fujayrah, and Umm al Qaywayn each appoint four members. Members of the FNC must be citizens of the amirates they represent, twenty-one years of age or older, and literate. They may not hold any other public office.

The FNC meets in regular session for a minimum of six months, beginning in November. The UAE president may call a special session if necessary. The president opens the regular session with a speech on the state of the union. The FNC can reply to the state of the union address in the form of "observations and wishes," but the reply has no legal effect. The FNC also makes recommendations on legislative matters to the Council of Ministers, the president, and the SCU. The FNC can discuss any government bills drafted by the Council of Ministers; it can agree with, amend, or reject such bills, but it cannot veto them.

The laws of the UAE are divided into two main categories: union laws and decrees. A bill drafted by the Council of Ministers for nonbinding deliberation by the FNC and then submitted to the president for his assent and the SCU for ratification becomes a union law when promulgated by the president. Decrees are issued jointly by the president and the Council of Ministers between sessions of the SCU; a decree must be confirmed by the SCU to remain valid.

Data as of January 1993

Country Listing

United Arab Emirates Table of Contents