The history of the United Arab Emirates had its beginnings many thousands of years ago: numerous stone finds which have come to light recently have, in effect, revealed an age which is even in the range of 100,000. Thanks to significant archaeological evidence, we know today that already in the early phases of social life there was contact with the outside world, in particular with the peoples of the north. As time passed, these intensified, thanks above all to trade (prevalently of copper, obtained from the internal mountain areas).
As always happens, the coastal areas were, however, the first to be populated, since nearness to the sea guaranteed survival, thanks to the food and, at the same time, the opportunity of trade with the populations on the coasts nearby. In effect, trade has always been the main pillar of the UAE economy, and even today it maintains its primary role, enriched by the infinite nuances offered by multimediality. Alongside this, agriculture also plays an important part, above all in the internal areas of the country and with particular importance following the invention of new irrigation techniques, which enabled the exploitation of territories which had been arid beforehand. Further progress took place with the taming of the camel, which in time became the indispensable work companion of all the populations of this latitude. Moreover, in the course of time, sea trade acquired ever greater importance, opening up routes and reaching new markets in Africa, Europe and Asia.
A highly important period from all points of view was that of the life of the Prophet Mohammad in the 7th century A.D.:, since many of his disciples reached the area which today corresponds to that of the UAE and converted a large part of the population to Islam. Together with religion, wars also greatly influenced the destiny of the Country. On the one hand, in effect, some cities were strategic military junctions, precious for the conquest of new territories, while on the other, the ports made it possible for invaders to land, often attracted not so much by military objectives as by the extremely rich market for pearls and other precious materials, which was highly developed in the area.
The centuries that followed were no less bloody. The flourishing economy in the area constantly attracted colonising groups, among these the Portuguese who distinguished themselves in the negative sense for their extreme violence and the vulgar and cruel spirit of their domination.
As time passed, the local populations learned, however, to strengthen their identity , their fleets, and their social organisation in general, to the point at which, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the fleet of Qawasim was attacked by the English in an attempt to gain control of the routes in the Middle and Far East (this was an evident sign of the danger that it represented for the Europeans). After a series of long and bloody battles, however the local fleet was defeated and several Sheiks were left with no choice but to underwrite numerous agreements followed by numerous non-aggression naval treaties which, among other things, favoured further development of the cultivation and sale of pearls.
Yet the First World War and above all the Great Depression at world level between the 1920s and the 1930s had grave consequences also for this market, which suffered a lethal blow with the coming of the Second World War and subsequently with the heavy taxation imposed by the Indian government on pearls imported from the Gulf.
The populations of the various sheikdoms thus found themselves obliged to face grave social and economic difficulties, with little chance of education and the absence of infrastructure. Yet fortunately, the end of the Second World War corresponded also with the beginning of the exploitation of the UAE subsurface for the extraction of oil, exportation of which began in the early 1960s.
Lastly, it was thanks to the withdrawal of the English from the Gulf that on 2 December 1971 (since then a National Holiday) that the Federation of the six United Arab Emirates came into being, and to which the seventh Emirate was soon added.
Great merit in the genesis of the UAE is due to he who would then become the first President, Sheik Zayed flanked by Vice President Sheik Rashid. Sheik Zayed governed the country until 2 November 2004 (the date of his death), while the following day, his successor, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was elected.
The first great sovereign has left an indelible impression in the history and on the population of the UAE, and he is remembered on the one hand for his great political gifts and on the other for his human, humanitarian and religious quality. Ever a bearer of messages of peace, he always sought and found dialogue among religions, constantly condemning terrorism and affirming that this was not just simply a perversion of the message of Islam, but rather its direct contradiction, since extremism had no sense in the Muslim faith. For these reasons, his politics was always distinguished by dialogue, by tolerance, by the constant maintenance of peace and by the greatest possible support for humanitarian aid for areas in difficulty.
Even today, however, the history of the UAE reserves many surprises: there are, in fact, many archaeological sites active in the area, since scholars are highly aware of the great heritage which has yet to be discovered in the subsurface, thanks to finds which have gradually come to light and which trace a course of history rich in meaning and of content which is fresh, the knowledge of which still is far from its completion.
Photograph provided courtesy of Ajman Chamber of Commerce & Industry