By Baron Henri Estramant.
The UAE has celebrated for the 43rd time the creation of a union amongst the emirates of the Gulf formerly known as the Trucial States under a British protectorate.
What many people do not seem to fathom is that the Emirates is composed of much more than Abu Dhabi and Dubai, though the richest emirates in the Union, there are in fact seven emirates as federal entities of the United Arab Emirates. These Emirates and their ruling dynasties are Abu Dhabi (ruled by Al Nahyan), Ajman (ruled by Al Nuaimi), Dubai (Al Maktoum), Fujairah (Al Sharqi), Ras al-Khaimah (Al Qasimi), Sharjah (Al Qasimi), and Umm al-Qaiwain (Al Mu’alla).
According to the country’s constitution the Chief of State (President) is to be elected amongst the hereditary amirs (or rulers as they are also known in English), nevertheless, in practice the position of President of the UAE has gone twice already to the reigning Amir of Abu Dhabi, first with the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1971-2004), then to his eldest son, heir for Abu Dhabi and incumbent, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (2004- today). It is expected that Amir Khalifa will be succeeded as President by the present Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is already Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the President’s half-brother. Hence making the office de facto hereditary for the Amir of Abu Dhabi, albeit the constitution clearly states that the seven amirs in the Federal Supreme Council should vote every five years for a President and a Vice-president. However it is not known whether a symbolic election to ratify the incumbents actually takes place in council.
The President serves as Head of State, Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Rulers and the Supreme Petroleum Council.
The Vice-presidency as well as the Premiership are held in trust by the Al Maktoum, the ruling house of Dubai. The incumbent is likewise The Amir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. His two deputy prime ministers, are two half-brothers of the country’s president and members of Abu Dhabi’s Ruling House, that is since 2009, Sheikh Saif and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (also Minister for Presidential Affairs).
The Prime Minister is Head of Government, chairs the cabinet meetings held weekly in Abu Dhabi. Thus far his deputies always hail from the ranks of Al Nahyan or Al Maktoum, excluding all other five ruling houses from the main political offices of the federation. Yet the amirs enjoy great sovereign powers within their own emirates, since all powers not explicitly given to the federal government by the constitution belong to the endemic amirs.
Some amirs also preside over their own executive councils, and oversee “departments”or “authorities” reflective of federal ministries, particularly in the fields of tourism, culture and heritage, the environment, investment, water supplies, or health.
In addition to the heirs apparent titled “crown princes”, the amirs appoint “deputy rulers” who deputise the monarchs in the exercise of some of their executive, legislative and judicial prerogatives. Sometimes these offices also serve to provide a powerful office to another line of the Ruling House.
The amirs of the UAE
The word Amir in Arabic simply translates to Prince, in this regard it is used as “Sovereign Prince” as those in Monaco or Liechtenstein. Therefore the ruling houses are “princely” or “amirial” rather than “royal” as they lack a king. It is simply a question of ranking.
The amirs are colloquially known by the honorific “Sheikh” followed by their given forename, patronym and name of their house. For instance, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. The title of sheikh is an honorific used by all the members of all seven ruling houses regardless of their own ranking within the dynasties. It is not equal to a princely title.
The amirs, their heirs apparent (crown princes), children and siblings are normally styled “Highness”. Other high-ranking members are entitled to the style “Excellency” whereas the lower ranking (normally those who are not descendants of previous rulers) have no claim to a form of address by birth in addition to their “sheikh/sheikha” honorifics.
The spouse(s) of the amirs may become patrons of different organisations yet are normally not seen in public, or television. They are not styled “Amira of the Emirate of X”, nor are there any official “crown princesses”. The only true publicly known spouse of any Emirati amir, is the second wife of the Amir of Dubai, HRH Princess Haya bint El Hussein of Jordan.
HH The President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed AL NAHYAN, Amir of Abu Dhabi
HH The Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid bin Said AL MAKTOUM, Amir of Dubai
HH Dr Sheikh Sultan III bin Mohammed AL QASIMI, Amir of Sharjah
HH Sheikh Saud bin Saqer AL QASIMI, Amir of Ras Al-Khaimah
HH Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid AL NUAIMI, Amir of Ajman
HH Sheikh Saud bin Rashid AL MU’ALLA, Amir of Umm Al Qaiwain
Al Qawasem control as only dynasty two emirates, Sharjah and Ras Al-Khaimah.
Malaysia has a similar federal system with nine monarchs notwithstanding these enjoy far less powers and prerogatives than in the UAE.