Al Karama, the lost capital of the UAE

Abu Dhabi is known as the political capital of the United Arab Emirates, and has held that position for the 39 years that the country has existed. But it wasn’t supposed to be that way. Under Article 9 of the UAE Constitution, signed on 18 July 1971, an Emirate-neutral federal capital (in the spirit of the District of Colombia) was supposed to be established on the border of Abu Dhabi and Dubai:

1. The Capital of the Union shall be established in an area allotted to the Union by the Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the borders between them and it shall be given the name ”Al Karama”.

2. There shall be allocated in the Union budget for the first year the amount necessary to cover the expenses of technical studies and planning for the construction of the Capital. However, construction work shall begin as soon as possible and shall be completed in not more than seven years from the date of entry into force of this Constitution.

3. Until the construction of the Union Capital is complete, Abu Dhabi shall be the provisional headquarters of the Union.

Al Karama was never build, and Abu Dhabi stayed on as the capital of the UAE until 1994, when it was recognized as the permanent capital of the nation. The plan for a federal capital independent of any Emirate has been scrapped, but there are a few relics of the plan still to be found. Take for example the telephone areas codes of the UAE. The 02, 03 and 08 area codes are for Abu Dhabi; 04 is for Dubai; 05 is for mobiles; 06 is for Sharjah and Ajman; 07 for Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah; and 09 is Fujairah. The 01 area code was, and remains, reserved for Al Karama phone numbers.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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7 Responses to Al Karama, the lost capital of the UAE

  1. Khalid says:

    Actually, 06 is for Sharjah, Ajman, and Umm Al Quwain
    07 is only for Ras Alkhaimah
    09 is for the whole eastern region which includes all of Fujairai, parts of Sharjah, and some parts of Ras Alkhaimah.
    Furthermore, the southern towns of Ras Alkhaimah, Almunaiee and Huwailat use the 04 area code as they use the Hatta exchange which is obviously a territory of Dubai, which means that even the area of Masfoot which is a territory of Ajman probably uses the o4 area code.

  2. Curzon says:

    Thank you Khalid!

    For those of you who need guidance on the geography, see my previous post:

  3. Adam says:

    I’m living in Abu Dhabi and I’d never heard that story — in fact, even Emirati nationals I ask don’t really know why the borders of the Emirates are the way they are. So I thank you for sharing this all with us — the sad and beautiful story of the “neutral” city that never was.

  4. Curzon says:

    Al Karama means “Dignity” in Arabic and is a common place/organisation name in the Middle East.

  5. Bin Homood says:

    Hi Curzon,

    The temporarily constitution of UAE was holding the article of “Al Karama Capital” until it become permanent.
    I remember an official story about how was Shaikh Zayed strongly urging the federal council members to finalize the temporarily constitution and speed up the process. So, they abandoned the idea of Al Karma Capital

    Today, You can find a town called “Al Karama” in Dubai and Abu Dhabi also.

  6. Gubbi says:

    How interesting – great post! Any details on where the mythical Karama would have been – I’m picturing Jebel Ali-ish?