Emirates country overview

Emirates Government

Emirates information index

Emirates Government

Constitutional framework

The Federal Supreme Council, consisting of the quasi-hereditary rulers of the seven emirates, serves as the highest governmental authority. The president and vice president of the federation are elected by the Supreme Council for five-year terms. The president is responsible for appointing a prime minister and a cabinet. The Federal National Council, a unicameral legislature, acts as an advisory body and is comprised of 40 members appointed by the individual emirates for two-year terms. The Supreme Council ratified a provisional constitution in 1971, which was later made permanent in 1996.

Local government

The United Arab Emirates operates under a federal system of government, where powers not specifically granted to the federal government by the constitution are delegated to the constituent emirates. The distribution of power within this federal system is comparable to other systems of its kind. For instance, the federal government handles foreign policy, establishes general economic policies, and oversees the social welfare system. However, a considerable degree of power is also exercised at the level of individual emirates, particularly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.


The constitution mandates the implementation of Sharīʿah (Islamic law) as the foundation of the legal code. In practice, the judiciary combines Western and Islamic legal principles. At the federal level, the judicial branch comprises the Union Supreme Court and various courts of first instance. The former handles emirate-federal or inter-emirate disputes and crimes against the state, while the latter addresses administrative, commercial, and civil disputes between individuals and the federal government. Local judicial bodies are responsible for other legal matters.

Political process

In general, leadership in each emirate is typically held by the most politically prominent tribe, which is a group of related families known as an agnatic lineage. The emir, who is the paramount leader, is chosen by the influential members of the ruling tribe, often being the son of the previous emir. However, each tribe also has its own leader, known as a sheikh, and a certain level of political diversity is necessary to maintain the ruling family’s position. This is facilitated through the institution of the majlis, which is a council meeting where the leader listens to grievances, resolves disputes, and distributes resources. In theory, anyone under the leader’s rule should have access to the majlis.

Political parties do not exist in the emirates, and until the early 21st century, there were no elections. Every four years, an electoral college convenes to select half of the members of the advisory Federal National Council, while the other half is appointed. Since the 2019 elections, it has been mandated that half of the council members must be women. The electoral college has experienced significant growth over time. In 2006, it comprised less than 7,000 citizens, but by the third election in 2015, it included over 224,000 individuals, accounting for approximately one-third of voting-age citizens. By 2019, the number had further expanded to 337,000, with slightly more women than men participating for the first time.

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