The ruler of one of the seven United Arab Emirates left his throne Wednesday, and there were conflicting reports as to whether he was overthrown or abdicated in favor of his brother after mismanaging oil revenues.
The departure of Sheik Sultan ibn Mohammed al Kasimi, ruler of Sharjah and a member of the seven-member ruling council of the Emirates, plunged the 16-year-old federation into its worst political crisis, Arab and Western sources said.
Sharjah is the third largest among the seven sheikdoms that form the United Arab Emirates federation, established after their independence from Britain in 1971. The others are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras al Khaima, Fujaira, Ajmaan and Umm al Qaiwain.
3rd Largest Producer
Sharjah is also the third largest oil producer among the seven United Arab Emirates sheikdoms, after Abu Dhabi and Dubai. But its output is so small that it has virtually no impact on world prices or supplies.
The official Emirates News Agency here in Abu Dhabi, the federation capital, quoted a statement purportedly issued by Sheik Sultan as saying he was abdicating in favor of his brother, Sheik Abdulaziz, after admitting that he mismanaged oil revenues.
Abdulaziz has been Sultan's deputy since the latter took over as ruler in 1972 after the death of his older brother Khaled. As chief of the national guard, Abdulaziz has been the emirate's strongman.
But the official media in the neighboring emirate of Dubai said that Abdulaziz "seized power by force," and the media urged the federal Emirates government to "move quickly and restore matters to their correct path."
Dubai, the second largest and wealthiest emirate after Abu Dhabi, said it still considers Sultan the "legitimate ruler of the emirate of Sharjah" and described the move as a "reckless act."
Arab diplomatic sources told United Press International that Sultan, 48, was in London at the time of the announcement and that his removal was prompted by a financial crisis between Sharjah and oil companies and bankers operating there.
A British Foreign Office source in London said Sultan had been in London on a private visit and left for an unknown destination early Wednesday.
"We have no idea where he flew to, but it was in a private jet," the source said.
Buoyed by a major oil and gas find in 1980, Sharjah embarked on an ambitious development plan to match the wealthier emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where oil was discovered some 20 years ago.
But a dramatic drop in world oil prices in 1986 nearly halved Sharjah's revenues, plunging it into a financial crisis and forcing it to borrow heavily from local and foreign banks.
Bankers estimate Sharjah's debts at around $400 million--a massive amount for a state with a population of 220,000.
The United Arab Emirates are shaped roughly like a scimitar the size of Maine and point northeastward from the east coast of Saudi Arabia to form the 400-mile-long southern coast of the Persian Gulf between Qatar and Oman.
Rulers of the separate states form a Supreme Council, which elects the president and vice president for five-year terms. The president appoints a prime minister.