It’s hard to imagine that in 1971 the UAE was once nothing but dunes rolling in the sand. Today, the UAE boasts skyscrapers and architectural marvels that are a sight to behold. The UAE owes all of its success to its remarkable ruling families! Known for their grace and dignity, hard work, and charity, the UAE’s royal families have built this brilliant country from the ground up. Their union was a turning point in the nation’s history, and from the ashes of the traditional desert, life rose to the modern country known today as the UAE. Today, when you take a glance at the country, you find it impossible to believe that it’s tallest monuments were once sand dunes. This article is a guide to UAE royal families; the great families who turned sand into concrete and built the UAE from the ground up.
UAE’s Ruling System
The country we recognize today as the United Arab Emirates is a union formed by seven emirates: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah (with Ras Al Khaimah joining the union in 1972), governed by six royal families. These emirates were once independent nations, but in 1971, a union was formed, bringing together 6 of the emirates. After the formation of the union, the UAE flag (we have covered the history of the UAE flag in another article) was raised for the first time on December 2nd, 1971, by the country’s founding father and first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Since then, the unification of the emirates and formation of the UAE has been commemorated every year on the UAE National Day, during which the country goes vibrant, and the celebrations attract not only locals but also tourists from all around the world. The UAE’s major cities such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai offer a plethora of fun all year round, but every year things change for the better on December 2nd you’ll find many things to do for the UAE National Day in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as other emirates (we have gathered for you a thorough list of UAE public holidays for 2023 in another article).
Now that the UAE is a unified nation, each emirate is like a separate state and has its own ruler, titled Emir. The seven Emirs come from the UAE’s royal lineage and form the highest legislative and executive authority in the UAE, the Federal Supreme Council. Every five years, the members of the council elect one of the Emirs as the UAE president and one as the deputy or prime minister.
The ruling families of the seven emirates are descendants of different tribes except the royal families of Abu Dhabi and Dubai that descend directly from the same tribe. Furthermore, the seven emirates are actually ruled by 6 royal families. That’s because the emirates of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah are ruled by two branches of a single family. Each of the seven rulers of the emirates is a member of the Federal Supreme Council, which governs the UAE. Prime minister and cabinet are then appointed by the Federal Supreme Council. Now that you’ve got a glimpse of the UAE’s ruling system, let’s review the royal families one by one.
The Royal Families of the UAE
In this section of the article, we are going to provide a brief introduction to each of the UAE’s royal families, starting with the Abu Dhabi royal family and their prominent members. We will also review some of their contributions to the development of the nation.
1. Abu Dhabi Royal Family
- Dynasty: Al Nahyan
- Lineage: Bani Yas Tribe, House of Al Falahi
- Current Ruler: Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
- Crown Prince: Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
The emirate of Abu Dhabi, home to the capital of the UAE, the famous city of Abu Dhabi, is the largest of the seven emirates and has been governed by the Al Nahyan family since 1855. This proud and noble royal family descends from a subsection of the Bani Yas tribe; Al Bu Falah, also known as the House of Al Falahi. Bani Yas was a powerful tribe in ancient Arabia residing in the oasis of Liwa which nowadays is among the best UAE camping spots. The tribe moved from the oasis and settled in Abu Dhabi 1793, residing in Qasr Al Hosn (Al Hosn Palace), a watch tower overlooking the sea built in the same decade with the aim of safeguarding the city. The palace is now the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi and has been serving as a museum since 2018.
The current ruler of the Al Nahyan family is Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The house of Al Nahyan has also bred the previous president of the UAE. Moreover, the Al Nahyan family is the fourth wealthiest royal family in the world, with an estimated worth of 150 billion dollars.
Among the most influential individuals in the UAE are both the former and current king of Abu Dhabi. Read the following paragraphs to know why.
- Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan: As far as Abu Dhabi royals were concerned, the late President of the UAE was, without a doubt, the most influential. The Forbes magazine named HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan the 53rd most influential man in the world. A member of one of the wealthiest royal families in the world, his personal net worth was estimated to be $15 billion. And now you can guess the origin of the name “Burj Khalifa.” The tallest building in the world was named after Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Sadly, Khalifa experienced a stroke in January 2014 and was in good health after surgery. Afterward, he reduced his involvement in state affairs but maintained ceremonial powers. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi was managed by his half-brother Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was in charge of public affairs and day-to-day decision-making. After Khalifa’s passing in 2022, his brother Mohamed took over as king.
Sheikh Khalifa played a critical role in reforming the Federal Government of the UAE. He succeeded his father and was elected the president of the UAE in 2004. He set out on tours throughout all of the UAE and studied the needs of the country with great passion and precision. Realizing the need for a reform, Sheikh Khalifa appointed a new cabinet in 2006 and with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum as the prime minister, made profound changes to the structure of the government, including establishing new ministries tasked with modernizing the government and overseeing community development.
- Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan: If you have been wondering about the brain behind the UAE’s activist foreign policy, then Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the current president and the brother of late Sheikh Khalifa, is your person of interest. As well as his intellectual success, the king is known for holding one of the most expensive weddings in the world, which cost around $100 million. Sheikh Mohammed is an environmentalist. He puts a great deal of effort into the protection of the country’s flora and fauna and actively takes part in the projects aiming to preserve the natural environment. Sheikh Mohammed is also one of the greatest proponents of utilizing alternative energy sources and green energy. He is the third son of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the United Arab Emirates and the leader of Abu Dhabi. According to The New York Times, he is one of the world’s most powerful men and the most powerful Arab ruler.
2. Dubai Royal Family
As for exploring a bit into the Dubai royal family tree, the Emir of Dubai and his son are both quite popular not only among the UAE citizens, but also among the people of other nations around the world. Emiratis love them and cherish their effort for the development of Dubai and the UAE.
- Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Princess Haya Bin Al Hussein: Dubai’s perfect royal couple, Sheikh Mohammed and his wife, princess Haya, are the public’s constant focus of attention when it comes to the Dubai royal family members. Sheikh Mohammed has proven to be a revered leader and princess Haya is a world-renowned UN Peace Ambassador and social activist. Sheikh Mohammed is also a poet and has many published poets as well as books.
- Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum: The crown prince of Dubai is a well-known poet just like his father and publishes his works under the pen name of Fazza, which means, in the Emirati dialect, a person who rushes to the help and support of others. Unlike other royal families of dubai, he uses his pen name for his Instagram Sheikh Hamdan graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK, and also attended several specialized programs at the London School of Economics and Dubai School of Government. He is quite famous among the residents of the UAE and his Instagram perfectly shows his passion for traveling, extreme sports, and love for animals. He puts a lot of effort into promoting Dubai and the UAE and is also a man of charitable acts. Sheikh Hamdan contributes constantly to the development of Dubai and during the COVID pandemic, he presented a stimulus package with a worth of 1.5 billion UAE dirhams.
3. Sharjah Royal Family
- Dynasty: Al Qasimi
- Lineage: Claimed to be the Descendants of Prophet Mohammed
- Current Ruler: Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi
- Crown Prince: Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed bin Sultan Al Qasimi
Continuing with the United Arab Emirates royal family, It’s time to explore the Al Qasimi family tree. Known also as the capital of Islamic culture, the third largest emirate of the UAE, Sharjah, is governed by the Al Qasimi royal family. The history of this emirate is full of ups and downs. The Al Qasimi dynasty rose as a naval power and emerged from Ras Al Khaimah and Qishm in the 18th century. Sharjah was one of the region’s wealthiest towns back then and featured a critical strategic position as a port. After Sharjah became the hub of spice trade on the eastern coast, it became a target of frequent attacks. With the arrival of the British navy the region started moving into a more stable state. However, because of the several falling outs between the Al Qasimi royal family and the British government, a true peace could not be actualized until 1820, when a peace treaty between the two governments was signed. Sharjah has been constantly growing since then and nowadays, thanks to its strong trade, oil industry, and tourism, is of decisive importance to the UAE. Today, the emirate comprises five major cities and features a great number of educational institutions each capable of offering top-notch and up-to-date academic training to their students. It also possesses the largest number of natural reserves in the UAE.
By now, we’ve gone deep into the list of UAE rulers with names and photos. Now it’s time to take a look at the Emir of Sharjah life and achivments who is known by all as an intellectual. Read more to find out why.
- Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi: Sheikh Sultan is the 15th Emir of Sharjah and began his rule in 1972. He is an academically educated individual and holds two PhDs; one in History from the University of Exeter and another in Political Geography from Durham University. He has also received numerous honorary degrees from renowned around the world. Sheikh Sultan has several publications among which the book “Myth of Arab Piracy in the Gulf” can be named as his most acclaimed published work. Sheikh Sultan’s rule has contributed significantly to the social, cultural, and economic growth of Sharjah.
4. Ras Al Khaimah Royal Family
- Dynasty: Al Qasimi
- Lineage: Claimed to be the Descendants of Prophet Mohammed
- Current Ruler: Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi
- Crown Prince: Sheukh Mohammed bin Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi
The northernmost emirate of the UAE, Ras Al Khaimah, which is famous for its gulf-side beaches and its national museum, is governed by the Al Qasimi royal family, the same dynasty that rules the emirate of Sharjah. Sheikh Saud holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Political Science from the University of Michigan. After completing his higher education and prior to becoming the ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, he was appointed Chief of Ras Al Khaimah Royal Court and then Chairman of Ras Al Khaimah Municipal Council. Sheikh Saud became the Emir of Ras Al Khaimah in 2010, succeeding his late father.
5. Ajman Royal Family
- Dynasty: Al Nuaimi
- Lineage: Al Bu Kharaiban Section
- Current Ruler: Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi
- Crown Prince: Sheikh Ammar bin Humaid Al Nuaimi
Famous for its cultural attractions such as the Dhow Yard, Ajman Museum, and Al Muwayhat, Ajman is located between Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. Despite being the UAE’s smallest emirate, Ajman holds a great deal of cultural and historical significance. Its capital, also named Ajman, is the UAE’s fifth largest city after Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Al Ain.
The royal family of Ajman, Al Nuaimi, is a descendant of an Arabian tribe with connections to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Under the rule of Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, the family gained power and Sheikh Rashid chose Ajman as his seat of power. He was eventually supported by Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah. Sheikh Rashid Passed away in 1981 and was succeeded by his son, Sheikh Humaid, the current Emir of Ajman.
The Emir of Ajman has contributed a lot to the development of the region and is the most influential member of the royal family of Ajman.
- Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi: Sheikh Humaid is Ajman’s tenth ruler and a member of the UAE Supreme Council of the Union. Ajman, the capital of the emirate of Ajman, was once a small coastal fishing village and it was the efforts of Sheikh Humaid that turned it into the large modern city it is today. Sheikh Humaid was initially educated in Dubai and then continued his studies in Cairo. He contributed a lot to the development of Ajman’s economy and education system.
Ajman University of Science and Technology, one of the UAE’s most renowned educational facilities, is the result of Sheikh Humaid’s contributions. Emir of Ajman is also an avid supporter of women’s rights and receives full credit for the establishment of the first supportive center for women’s movement in the region, Umm Al Moumineen Women’s Association.
6. Fujairah Royal Family
- Dynasty: Al Sharqi
- Lineage: Sharqiyin Tribe
- Current Ruler: Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed al Sharqi
- Crown Prince: Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi
Located on the eastern coast of the UAE, Fujairah is the only emirate of the seven with a coastline exclusively along the Gulf of Oman. Fujairah features a critical strategic position being the gateway to Wadi Ham, a region hosting several of the UAE’s most important trade routes. The emirate is also home to one of the UAE’s oldest mosques and has deep Islamic roots. The ancient towers, castles, forts, and mosques are souvenirs of Fujairah’s 500-year-old history and culture.
The emirate of Fujairah is governed by the Al Sharqi family, descendants of an old and powerful tribe that used to reside along the eastern coast. Current ruler, Sheikh Hamad, is also the founding father of the modern Fujairah and has been governing the emirate since 1974.
Although the Al Sharqi family is not the focus of public attention as much as some of the other royal families of the UAE, their achievements and services are still significant and undeniable. Under the rule of Sheikh Hamad, Fujairah has become a popular tourist destination and has seen major developments in its health and education system.
The Emir of Fujairah’s reputation in speechcraft precedes him in both the UAE and the world and this has brought him a broader range of responsibilities.
- Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi: Sheikh Hamad completed his higher education at a military academy in the UK. He then returned to the UAE in 1971 and served as the minister of agriculture and fishery, while also being crowned the successor of his father. After his father passed away in 1974, Sheikh Hamad became the ruler of Fujairah when he was 25 years old.
Known for his power of speech and thanks to his excellent fluency in both English and Arabic, Emir of Fujairah has been handling the responsibility of representing the UAE in diplomatic and international events. In many international conferences and seminars, you’ll find Sheikh Hamad representing the president of the UAE.
7. Umm Al Quwain Royal Family
- Dynasty: Al Mualla
- Lineage: Al Ali Tribe
- Current Ruler: Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla
- Crown Prince: Sheikh Rashid bin Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla
Umm Al Quwain is the second smallest emirate of the UAE after Ajman and accommodates the smallest population. Its capital, the city of Umm Al Quwain, resides on a narrow Arabian Peninsula called Khor Al Bidiyah. This emirate also includes many small islands located on the east of the peninsula. Umm Al Quwain’s economy revolves mostly around fishing. The emirate is a major exporter of seafood to Europe and the rest of the Middle East.
The ruling family of Umm Al Quwain, Al Mualla family, were once the head family of Al Ali tribe, one of the largest tribes in the region with a population of 6750. Al Ali tribe originated in the second Saudi state Nejd and its first chief was Sheikh Rashid bin Majid Al Mualla. In the 19th century, the tribe scattered between Umm Al Quwain, Sharjah, and Ras Al Khaimah. Sheikh Rashid chose Umm Al Quwain as his seat of power and built the famous Umm Al Quwain Fort as his residence. Today, the fort serves as a museum and is located in the center of the city of Umm Al Quwain.
Learn more about the most influential member of Umm Al Quwain royal family in the following section:
- Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla: Sheikh Rashid trained his son, Sheikh Saud, pretty well before crowning him the prince of Umm Al Quwain. Sheikh Saud acquired his degree in economics from the University of Cairo in 1974. He then was appointed third secretary in the UAE Foreign Ministry while also being the Commander of Umm Al Quwain National Guard with the rank of Colonel. In 1979, he became the head of Umm Al Quwain Royal Court and was crowned prince and successor of his father in 1982.
After becoming the crown prince, he started assisting his father in the affairs of the emirate. He performed an excellent job in overseeing a wide range of investment projects and establishing numerous local enterprises. After Sheikh Rashid’s demise in 2009, Sheikh Saud succeeded his father and became the Emir of Umm Al Quwain. Fishing is one of the most favorite hobbies of Sheikh Saud. He is also an avid fan of camel racing, one of the most popular traditional sports in the UAE.
This concludes our guide to UAE royal families.
Every country’s history reflects the progress and struggles it has undergone to reach its current position. Thanks to the efforts of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the seven emirates of the UAE united under one flag in 1971. The UAE royal families, Al Nahyan, Al Maktoum, Al Qasimi, Al Nuaimi, Al Sharqi, and Al Mualla continued to rule each emirate separately while also forming the Federal Supreme Council. Every five years, one of the rulers or Emirs is elected as the president of the UAE and one as the prime minister.
It was decided by the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates (CBUAE) to honor the nation’s founding fathers on the occasion of the 50th UAE National Day by issuing seven commemorative silver coins. Since 1971, the combined efforts of the UAE royal families have turned the UAE from a stretch of sand and a cluster of fishing villages into a world-renowned great nation. Today, the UAE’s major cities such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai have set new urban standards with their ultramodern architecture and immense infrastructure.
The UAE has seen profound social, economic, cultural, and technological development and is now committed to offering its quality of life to the residents of other countries of the world. Thanks to the new UAE nationality law, foreigners can obtain a UAE passport and achieve citizenship rights if they meet certain criteria. Investing in real estate in Dubai or buying property in Abu Dhabi and other emirates of the UAE is a major step towards UAE citizenship. If you intend to make a profitable investment in the UAE, don’t hesitate to contact our team at dxboffplan.com.
frequently asked questions
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan's strong ties to Russia and the United States, along with his influence across both countries, have led The New York Times to name him as the Arab World's "most powerful ruler".
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. First President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed was successively re-elected every five years by his fellow rulers.
As the first monarch to rule for a substantial period of time in Dubai, Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum is considered as one of the city's founding fathers.