One of seven shaykhdoms making up the United Arab Emirates.
Sharjah is the third largest emirate in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), with an area of 1,000 square miles. Seventy-five percent of its 400,000 inhabitants (2001 estimate) live in the capital city of the same name on the Persian Gulf coast, just north of Dubai. Three exclaves on the Gulf of Oman coast—Dibba, Kalba, and Khor Fakkan—belong to Sharjah and make it the only one of the seven emirates to share borders with all the others. It has the extreme summer heat and aridity of its neighbors, but agriculture is possible in the Dhayd Oasis and in the exclave territories.
In the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Sharjah and its northern neighbor, Raʾs al-Khayma, formed the most powerful state of the lower Gulf under the al-Qasimi family, which is still the ruling clan in each emirate. The al-Qasimi state was defeated by Britain in an 1819 naval battle. Subsequently, the al-Qasimi ruler signed the General Treaty of Peace (1820), which began the process by which the area became a protectorate of Britain. During the 1840s and 1850s the al-Qasimi gradually were eclipsed by the Banu Yas tribal confederation of Abu Dhabi—then, as now, led by the Al Nahayyan family. Following the death of Shaykh Sultan bin Saqr al-Qasimi, one of his sons set up an "independent" state at Raʾs al-Khayma; this state formally split from Sharjah in 1869, but it did not gain formal British recognition as a separate emi-rate until 1921.
Sharjah enjoyed moderate prosperity in the early twentieth century, boosted by the presence of a Royal Air Force base from the 1930s until 1955. In the early 1950s Sharjah's creek became silted, and with the decline of maritime commerce, it lost its position of importance in the lower Gulf. In 1971, on the eve of independence, Britain pressured Sharjah to agree to shared sovereignty with Iran of the island of Abu Musa. This agreement precipitated a coup attempt in Sharjah (1972) during which the ruler, Shaykh Khalid ibn Muhammad, was killed.
Oil and gas discoveries in 1973 and 1980 brought prosperity, as did the development of several factories in a specially created industrial zone in the western part of Sharjah city. Sharjah also has developed a successful tourist industry. Reflecting the academic bent of the ruler, who holds a doctorate from Exeter University, Sharjah leads the U.A.E. in the development of arts, literature, and museums.
see also abu musa island; qasimi family of sharjah, al-; united arab emirates.
Peck, Malcolm C. The United Arab Emirates: A Venture in Unity. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986.
malcolm c. peck
updated by eric hooglund