The biggest news from this breezy seaside capital on the Arab side of the lower Persian Gulf is that the United Arab Emirates is still united and going stronger than ever expected by even its most optimistic champions 10 years later.

This is being feted here as a major accomplishment not only for the Emirates but also for the entire Arab world, where every other unity plan has ignominiously collapsed, often while still on the drawing board.

When the federation of seven tiny emirates was being fashioned out of the old British Trucial States in December 1971, few outsiders thought it would survive.

Two of the emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, refused to join, and Britain had to scare and cajole the others into sticking together as it withdrew from the territory and left the feuding Arab gulf princes to themselves.

The expression "shaky sheiks" seemed to fit admirably, and even as recently as a year ago, the U.S. Armed Forces Journal was dismissing the United Arab Emirates as "quite literally a royal mess" because of the rulers' constant squabbling over blood feuds, borders and homespun jealousies.

With few people, a huge oil surplus and no defenses to speak of, many U.S. analysts predicted, the Emirates would be the first of the gulf sheikdoms to be toppled.

Today, outsiders here assessing the first decade of independence still stress the highly vulnerable nature of the Emirates, a conglomerate of little more than medieval-style city-states, but they tend to agree with the official thesis that the pluses have outweighed the minuses.

"It's becoming stronger and better organized all the time," one Western diplomat said.

One big step forward has been the absence since 1972 of the tradition of intrafamily feuding and brutal murders to determine who will be the chief sheik. In the past year, two of the ruling sheiks died of natural causes and were quickly replaced by their eldest sons.

The same smooth succession is expected to take place when Dubai's ailing ruler and the Emirates' prime minister, Sheik Rashid, dies.

Another sign of progress was the decision in 1980 by Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the main oil producers and financial pillars of the Emirates, to give up half of their revenues to a federal budget. This has given the federal government between $2 billion and $4 billion--estimates vary--to spend on a total population of 200,000 to 240,000.

Local authorities also cite the adoption of the first joint five-year plan and the creation of a central bank in the past two years as evidence the federal idea is taking root.

Basically, fear of outside predators and the attraction of vast oil wealth--$18.5 billion in revenues in 1980--seem to have acted as powerful magnets to bring the seven slowly closer together.

With a still expanding oil industry ensuring at least 60 more years of production at the current rate and a surplus of income that grew from $5 billion in 1980 to probably $10 billion last year, the Emirates have been able to afford even the waste of its money on extravaganzas like 23 five-star hotels and five international airports.

In addition, the accord struck in 1979 between Dubai's Sheik Rashid and Abu Dhabi's Sheik Zayed, under which Rashid became prime minister and Zayed remained president, has brought an added, essential degree of political stability.

That the United Arab Emirates has survived intact seems in some ways a miracle. Consider, for example, these startling realities about its demography:

Only one out of five inhabitants is a native Arab, and more than 50 percent of the 1 million population are Asians.

Only one out of 10 in the work force is an Emirates citizen.

Seventy percent of the population is male, because of the many single guest-workers, mostly Indians, Pakistanis and Omanis.

Foreigners constitute 80 percent of the Emirates 30,000-man Army, and the officer corps includes 29 nationalities whose only common denominator is the English language.

Details of the 1980 census have been kept a secret, principally, it is widely believed, because they are a sore reminder that local Arabs form such a minority.

Basically, citizens of the Emirates are members of an exclusive club, entrance to which is jealously guarded in an uphill struggle to maintain the Arab and local character, not to mention control of the government. Rarely now is an outsider, even another fellow Arab, allowed in.

Membership in the club ensures wealth and opportunity in several ways. One is a very special social security system that provides every head of a family a generous income and rewards the prolific. A father with eight dependents, for example, gets $1,240 a month.

Until a new law excluding civil servants from the system was passed in July, there were 24,000 heads of family on the list, according to one Western embassy. This meant that about half of all Emirates citizens were getting money from the government.

Other ways the Emirates club takes care of its members are through laws declaring that only citizens can own land and requiring foreigners who wish to go into business here to have a local partner.

Known as the "mister five percenters," these partners are sometimes illiterate Bedouins whose only role is to serve as front men, provide the land or legalize a business. Since business is booming here, so are the five percenters, according to the tales of local residents.

The way of doing business here has resulted in enormous wealth for many people, but it also has produced vast extremes. The official per capita income, based on the entire population including guest-workers, is now $25,800, one of the world's highest. But if only citizens are counted, as one diplomat suggested was a better gauge of the extremes, the per capita income is closer to $100,000.

Yet not only Emirates citizens strike it rich. With only one out of 10 in the labor force a national, many foreigners also are cashing in on the Emirates' oil bonanza, particularly those in business but also professionals, skilled workers and even foreign women.

For example, a second lieutenant in the Army officer corps earns $4,500 tax free monthly while a starting professor at the new university here in Abu Dhabi gets $5,000. Furthermore, unlike its bigger neighbor, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates allow women, even foreign wives, to work in offices and public places such as hotels.

But the relatively squalid quarters of crowded cinder-block huts scattered about this clean and amazingly green city of modern design apartment buildings and lavish walled villas of the "petro-princes" are a constant reminder that most guest-workers live in a different world.

That there is some resentment seems evident. Asian taxi drivers can be heard muttering about the life and driving style of "these Arabs." Still, most immigrants seem to be ready to accept the poor living conditions in order to make their own small fortunes before going home.

"They have real problems throwing people out of here," one diplomat remarked.

On the other hand, there is obviously resentment among Emirates citizens at changes foreigners are making in the country. The biggest complaint, made clear through daily newspaper stories and letters to the editor, is that they are the main source of the growing number of crimes.

"Crime has become a problem," said the same diplomat. "But the rate is still not that high compared to that in the United States or Europe. They don't have the problem we do."

No matter whether they like each other, Emirates nationals and guest-workers can hardly do without each other. The only question is whether the two societies and cultures coexisting on a temporary basis here are going to become a permanent part of the strange Emirates landscape.