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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven states formed in 1971 by the then Trucial States after independence from Britain.
Although each state - Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Qaiwain - maintains a large degree of independence, the UAE is governed by a Supreme Council of Rulers made up of the seven emirs, who appoint the prime minister and the cabinet.
Before oil was discovered in the 1950s the UAE's economy was dependent on fishing and a declining pearling industry. But since 1962, when Abu Dhabi became the first of the emirates to begin exporting oil, the country's society and economy have been transformed.
Politics: The UAE is one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf, with other cultures and beliefs generally tolerated. It held its first national elections - for an advisory body - in December 2006
Economy: The people of the UAE generally enjoy a high standard of living because of oil wealth; diversification has dampened the shocks of oil price fluctuations; the UAE is a regional trading and tourism hub
International: There has been tension between the UAE and Iran over disputed Gulf islands; the US treats the UAE as an ally in its "war on terror"
The late Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the UAE at its inception, was quick to seize on the potential of the oil industry.
He oversaw the development of all the emirates and directed oil revenues into healthcare, education and the national infrastructure.
The oil industry has attracted a large influx of foreign workers who, together with expatriates, now make up more than three quarters of the population.
The country's growing business sector and its tourist industry have helped to fuel a construction boom, with billions of dollars being pumped into showpiece schemes. Chic hotels and skyscrapers are emblematic of cities such as Abu Dhabi and cosmopolitan Dubai.
The UAE is one of the most liberal countries in the Gulf, with other cultures and beliefs generally tolerated. Until December 2006 it was the only state in the region not to have elected bodies.
President, ruler of Abu Dhabi: Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed
Sheikh Khalifa was named as president by the UAE Federal Council shortly after the death of his father, Sheikh Zayed Bin-Sultan Al Nahyan, in November 2004. The former president, who was 86, had been in poor health.
Sheikh Khalifa succeeded his father
Sheikh Khalifa, crown prince of Abu Dhabi since 1969, is said to be a pro-Western moderniser.
Often referred to as the father of the nation, Sheikh Zayed succeeded his brother as ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966 and, because of his strong leadership and commitment to forming the federation, he was elected as the first president of the United Arab Emirates in 1971.
Reelected every five years since 1971, Sheikh Zayed instilled the values of religious tolerance and equality, especially for women, into his policies, which greatly enhanced the stability of the UAE.
Dubai aspires to be a regional and international centre for television and media, alongside Egypt and Lebanon. An Electronic Commerce and Media Zone Authority was created in 2000 to attract regional and international media outlets.
It allows 100% foreign ownership and offers tax breaks.
Major media organisations - including Reuters and Sony - have moved in. Established satellite broadcaster MBC relocated to Dubai Media City from London.
In 2008 Abu Dhabi announced plans to set up a media zone.
The constitution provides for freedom of speech but there is strong regulatory and political control of media content.
A 1988 law requires that publications be licensed and outlines acceptable subjects of reporting. Foreign publications are censored before distribution. Journalists tend to practise self-censorship when reporting on such matters as government policy and ruling families.
Internet use is extensive; by 2007 there were 1.7 million users (InternetWorldStats.com). According to Reporters Without Borders, the authorities filter websites for religious, political and sexual content.
Emirates News Agency (WAM) - official
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