There are no elections or legal political parties in the UAE. Power rests with the seven hereditary sheikhs -- also known as emirs, and hence the area ruled by an emir is known as an emirate -- who control the seven traditional sheikhdoms Dubai, Sharjah ,Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah -- each emirate is named after its principal town) and choose a president from among themselves. Since 1971, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zaid bin Sultan al-Nahayan, has been president.
He was re-elected to his fourth consecutive term in late 1991 by his colleagues on the Supreme Council of Rulers -- the highest body in the country -- which usually meets informally. The Vice President and Prime Minister is the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al Maktoum. The Deputy Prime Minister is Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan. There is also a Cabinet, and its posts are distributed among the seven emirates. (The members of the Cabinet are the government ministers, such as Minister of the Interior, etc.)
The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces is the President while the second in command (Deputy Supreme Commander) is Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. The Minister of Defence is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The parliament is known as the Federal National Council (FNC). It was established on 13th February 1972 and is considered a landmark in the country's constitutional and legislative process. The FNC advises the Cabinet and the Supreme Council but cannot overrule them. According to the constitution, the FNC consists of 40 members who are drawn proportionately from each of the seven emirates. Each ruler appoints the members for his emirate.
Distribution of FNC members is as follows:
· Abu Dhabi 8 members
· Dubai 8 members
· Sharjah 6 members
· Ras al Khaimah 6 members
· Umm al Qawain 4 members
· Ajman 4 members
· Fujairah 4 members
The FNC is structured as follows:
· A Speaker and his two deputies and two elected observers
· The Parliamentary Section Executive Committee headed by the speaker, the council's undersecretary, the secretary general and four elected members.
· There are also eight specialized committees dealing with studies regarding draft laws and general issues in addition to the legislative, legal, educational, health, social, planning, labour, oil and mineral resources, agriculture and fisheries and public work sectors.
The FNC has powers to amend and review all legislation and also to summon Ministers to review and criticize the work of their ministries.
Despite the fact that there is a federal government, each ruler is completely sovereign in his domain. Abu Dhabi has a National Consultative Council whose members come from some of the oldest families and tribes making up the population. In fact, most of the UAE government's money comes from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which contribute a share of their oil revenues. As a result, they hold most of the important Cabinet posts.
The UAE was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) created at a summit conference in Abu Dhabi in 1981. The members of the GCC include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the Sultanate of Oman as well as the UAE. The country is also a member of the League of Arab States, the Islamic Conference Organization, the United Nations and most of the UN's affiliate bodies.