Abu Dhabi’s claims on three Iranian islands, An instrument of Building a UAE Arab Identity

Document Type : Original Article


- Associate Professor of Political Geography, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran


The United Arab Emirates has been laying claims of sovereignty on three islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa, regardless of the fact that these islands formed parts of Iranian dominion in the Persian Gulf undisputedly up until the beginning of 19th century, when British colonial presence began to grow in the southern shores of the Persian Gulf, whereupon the first germs of the creation of the emirates of those shores were sawn in what was Iranian dependant tribal entities. Soon these emirates emerge as Arab entities of no Iranian dependency, but as British protectorates and/thus British support for their territorial expansion encouraged their territorial claims in a political space that was Iranian to a large extent at the time. There are scores of documents proving that the entire region of the Persian Gulf belonged to Iran since time immemorial.  Nevertheless, the British occupied these three islands in 1903 in the name of British protectorate Qawasim tribes of Sharjah.  
Before withdrawing its protection of Arab emirates in 1971, the British called for the formation of a federation of its protectorate emirates of the region, namely Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm-al-qowin, as well as Bahrain and Qatar, the latter two refusing to join the proposed federation for their own reasons. It was as a result of these said British plans that the United Arab Emirates was formed out of the seven emirates of Musandam Peninsula on December 2, 1971, and the new entity began to call on behalf of two of its member emirates, Sharjah and Ras-al-Khaimah for the three islands in question to be added to its territories. Since territorial claims against other states is an old, and highly effective tactic for a newly formed state to enhance its particular design of nationhood and to assume a definitive national identity, it seems the UAE has opted for territorial disputes with Iran, the only non-Arab state of the Persian Gulf in the hope of attaining its desired national unity and identity. Territorial claims for nation-building purposes has precedence in the region, as Iran claimed Bahrain in 1930s in order to use the old Arab-Iranian conflicts to assist the process of nation-building that Reza Shah had started then. Similarly the Baath regime of Iraq claimed in 1950s and 1960s sovereignty over Khuzestan of Iran, calling it “Arabistan” precisely because it re-awakened historical Arab-Iranian controversy in the hope that it would enhance a pure Arabic identity for Iraq of the semi-Iranian region of Mesopotamia.