'An Arab state is born': how the world reacted to the creation of the UAE

The foundation of the Emirates was covered by newspapers across the world from the 'Financial Times' to 'The New York Times'

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The winds of change blow through the faded newsprint of 1971. Reports of coups in Uganda, unrest in Northern Ireland and war between Indian and Pakistan sit alongside “confusing” new technological developments called home video cassettes.

The emergence of the United Arab Emirates in December that year was also covered by local and international newspapers. In the US, the new state’s oil riches were set against the backdrop of regional tension, while in the UK, newspapers such as the Financial Times and The Times covered the story and ran special reports detailing the new spirit on the southern shores of the Arabian Gulf.

An Arab state is born, bringing to 18 the number of independent Arab countries
The New York Times

“The United Arab Emirates has been created,” ran the concise and understated headline in Arabic newspaper Al Ittihad, based in Abu Dhabi, on December 3. “An Arab state is born, bringing to 18 the number of independent Arab countries,” reported The New York Times on the same day.

“Political structure in the Gulf complete,” said The Times from London on December 7. Alec Douglas-Home, Britain’s then-secretary of state for commonwealth and foreign affairs, said the UK had signed a treaty of friendship with this new federation.

“We welcome this new relationship,” he said. “We hope the union will shortly be accepted into the United Nations.”

A few days later, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to admit the UAE as its 132nd member. The New York Times, in its edition on December 9, reported that acceptance by the General Assembly was a mere formality.

The front page from 'Al Ittihad', December 3, 1971. The main headline reads: 'The United Arab Emirates has been created.' More coverage of the day (R). Photos: Al Ittihad

“The union is composed of six of the seven former Trucial States, small Arab sheikdoms along the southern shore of the … Gulf. Their total population is about 200,000, with oil deposits giving them ‘possibly the highest per capita income in the world’, as Sir Colin Crowe of Britain remarked,” The New York Times said.

The Washington Post, in its edition on December 10, included the General Assembly’s vote on the UAE in a news wrap that featured American actress Jane Fonda and a theatre group being allowed entry to Japan for anti-Vietnam War performances.

“The UN General Assembly has voted by 93 to one to admit [the United Arab Emirates] as the 132 member of the world organisation. [It is] a new independent state comprising six former … gulf sheikhdoms,” the report said.

The UAE had now entered the global community but, in the West, much was still unknown. For many, “Arabia” was still a mysterious place of abaya-clad women and white-robed men. The fact the UAE had evidence of ancient civilisations stretching back thousands of years had been lost in a narrative in the West that sometimes seemed to suggest history in Arabia started with oil.

The Times ran an eight-page special report on the UAE on December 21. Across the black and white pages was a colourful portrait of the UAE that assessed the “problems and prospects” for the young federation set side-by-side with adverts for new hotels, banks and companies operating in the UAE. But it was clear the modernisation efforts on the shores of Gulf had left an impression.

“It is in communications that the most spectacular developments have been carried out,” it said.

“Abu Dhabi town is lined to the mainland by a bridge (replacing the old causeway) and from there to Al Ain by a four-lane highway. Extensions to the airport are due to be completed by 1972 and by about the same time a four-mile deep water channel will have been dredged to allow ocean-going ships to unload at the new port.

“What will have been achieved by the end of 1972 are the basic requirements of the modern state.”

Fifty years on, the newsprint may be faded and video cassettes already consigned to history but Mr Douglas-Home’s immediate assessment has endured.

“Most important of all [was] the emergence of the United Arab Emirates,” he said in The Times, about developments in the Gulf that year.

“The situation now achieved represents a reasonable and acceptable basis for the security and future stability of the area.”

Updated: December 01, 2021, 4:36 AM