This analysis focuses on the concentration of familial power in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The Al Nahyan have been Abu Dhabi’s premier political family for approximately 300 years, although at no point have they governed alone. A merchant elite have sprung up around them, largely in commercial terms, and are among some of the UAE’s most noteworthy power players today.

In addition to the obvious political and economic structures, there is a layer of less open institutions in Abu Dhabi that wield considerable authority. As such, identifying those with economic and political influence may be the difference between gaining access or operating in the peripheries.


  • In Abu Dhabi, political and economic power is devolved to trusted familial blocs, with the approval of the Al Nahyan family who retain ultimate control over the Emirate.
  • This has afforded several well-positioned merchant families space to grow their net worth and take advantage of the fast-developing Abu Dhabi economy to set up lucrative commercial entities.
  • The public and private sector is filled with members from the same 5-10 families in Abu Dhabi, with historical linkages underpinning much of the state-prestige today.