The image of the six Rulers with the flag behind them is well known. Ras Al Khaimah would join the union weeks later, in February 1972, completing the UAE as it is known today.
Here, The National breaks down who was at the birth of the UAE and some of the key people involved in the journey to unification.
Who attended the signing ceremony?
From left to right, the six men in the image:
Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, who was Ruler of Sharjah from 1965 to 1972 and who died in a failed coup by his exiled cousin, Sheikh Saqr bin Sultan. Founder of the emirate’s police force, he was also a leading figure in talks to create the UAE. He was succeeded by the present Ruler Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, his brother.
Founding President of the UAE until his death in 2004, Sheikh Zayed, who became Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, was the driving force behind bringing the seven emirates together. A commanding figure on the international stage, he was much loved by his people.
Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed was Ruler of Dubai from 1958 to 1990. He would become Vice President of the UAE on December 2, 1971, and later Prime Minister. His support for Sheikh Zayed’s vision was crucial to the success of negotiations to create the country.
Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi ruled Ajman between 1928 and 1981. A reformer, he established an educational system in Ajman, created free health care, developed electricity and water supplies and set up the first police force. Under his rule, Ajman became the first emirate to issue passports.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi ruled Fujairah between 1937 and 1974. His efforts led to British recognition of Fujairah as a separate emirate in 1952. Sheikh Mohammed established the first primary school in Fujairah in 1961, and the first dispensary in 1969.
The Ruler of Umm Al Quwain from 1981 to 2009, Sheikh Rashid bin Ahmed Al Mualla, was Crown Prince when the UAE was formed and attended the ceremony at Union House on behalf of his father, Sheikh Ahmed, who was unwell.
Who did not attend the ceremony?
Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Mualla was Ruler of Umm Al Quwain between 1928 and 1981. He was 18 when he became Ruler of the emirate, following the assassination of his cousin, Sheikh Hamad bin Ibrahim. During his long rule, he established the emirate's first school and hospital and the first paved roads.
Ras Al Khaimah initially declined to be part of the new country but formally joined the UAE a few weeks later, on February 11, 1972. Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler at the time, led the emirate from 1948 until October 2010, when he became the last of the founding seven to die. Education was a priority during his rule, with the first girls school opening in 1956.
Who were the diplomats at the signing of the treaty?
Ahmed Al Suwaidi
Reading the Treaty behind Sheikh Zayed is Ahmed Al Suwaidi, the UAE's first Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was one of Sheikh Zayed’s closest advisers and played a major role in international discussions leading to the forming of the UAE. He presented the UAE’s application for membership of the UN at the General Assembly on December 9, 1971. Born in 1937, he lives in Al Ain.
Mahdi Al Tajer
Looking across Mr Al Suwaidi is Mahdi Al Tajer, first UAE ambassador to the UK, and head of Dubai Customs under Sheikh Rashid. Born in 1931, he lives in London.
Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid
Next to Mr Al Tajer is Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid, who was appointed Prime Minister on the formation of the UAE until April 1979, when he was replaced by his father, Sheikh Rashid, Ruler of Dubai. Sheikh Maktoum reassumed the position of Prime Minister on the death of his father, when he also became Ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE until he died in January 2006.
Seated directly at the table are Sheikh Zayed, Sheikh Rashid and Sheikh Khalid.
Sir Geoffrey Arthur
To Sheikh Zayed's right is Sir Geoffrey Arthur, the last Political Resident for Britain in the Arabian Gulf. Arthur was in charge of ending the treaties that formed the Trucial States and establishing a Treaty of Friendship with the UAE. Born in 1920, he served with the British Army in the Middle East in the Second World War before entering diplomatic service in 1947. He later became master of Pembroke College, Oxford, until his death, aged 64, in 1984.
To the right of Arthur is James Treadwell. A Political Agent for the UK in Abu Dhabi in 1968, he became the first British ambassador to the UAE on December 6, 1971. Treadwell worked closely with Sheikh Zayed in the formation of the UAE, and the new President sent his Rolls-Royce to collect the new ambassador to present his credentials at Al Manhal Palace. Born in New Zealand, he was later UK ambassador to Oman. Treadwell died in January 2010, aged 89.
Who were the other key players involved in the unification of the UAE?
Born in Baghdad, he rose to become Iraq’s representative at the UN until the coup that brought the Baath party to power in 1968 forced him into exile in Abu Dhabi.
Sheikh Zayed was quick to make use of his diplomatic skills, with Pachachi flying to New York in December 1971 to prepare the UAE application for UN membership. After a long career in the service of the UAE, he returned to Iraq in 2003 and was elected to the new National Assembly. He died in Abu Dhabi in November 2019, age 96.
A Palestinian lawyer, Bitar was appointed legal adviser for the Dubai government in 1965 and later Secretary General of the Trucial States Council in 1967. His greatest achievement was to draft the UAE Constitution, approved on December 2, 1971.
Bitar’s life was marked by tragedy. In 1947, he was buried alive and badly injured in the terrorist attack by the Zionist Irgun group on Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. In 1973, his 10-year-old son died of leukaemia. Bitar died in Dubai three months later from colon cancer at the age of 48.