My brother was born on October 11, 1971; 52 days before the union of the Emirates. Nine years younger, I was young enough to marvel at his every achievement but old enough to take note of his hurdles.
Fahd was raised by my grandmother and so I only saw him intermittently; every other Friday or so. These intermissions allowed me to see subtle nuances in him; a haircut, a new preference, a posture and various transient pains and gains. In many ways, Fahd was symbolic of what the UAE is to me. A boy of the seventies, a teenager of the eighties, a young man of the nineties and a successful executive and — more importantly — a loving husband and father of the last decade. Fahd isn't perfect. He also didn't always have it easy. But for better or worse, Fahd's reality is his. As far as I know, he doesn't owe existential favours to anyone. His triumphs are his and so are his failures. He chose his major against the objections of our father. He met his wife at work. Even his house, as much as it was delayed, was built the way he and his wife wanted it to be. Fahd is kind, warm and funny. He's a likeable guy. And like the UAE, I didn't get to know him as well as I would've liked to. I wasn't around for the first nine years of his life and I didn't really become conscious of him until I was six. There's a picture of us at my sixth birthday. I still look the same but he looks a lot better than what we both did then.
Fahd didn't get the education that I got. And when I decided to quit law school, the same school he turned down, I transferred to a private college. Like the UAE, those options weren't available to him back then. He made the best of what he had. He rode waves and strolled high shores. And like the UAE, what was remarkable about Fahd is that you could never tell if he was struggling; his eyes always smiled. He took life, not by its horns, but rather by its doors. He was a rolling stone that gathered moss at times, even tumbled at others but rolling nevertheless. I may not have always looked up to Fahd and there were times when I wished he'd do things a little differently, but I always admired his consistency. Spending time with him was always reassuring … that — as we say in Arabic — the world is still OK. And I'm sure that like the UAE, Fahd has some regrets and other imperfections but I cannot tell. Like the UAE, Fahd is beautiful.
As the UAE turns 40, I wonder how I relate to it; like Fahd who I admire, perhaps more than I know. But indiscriminate admiration is only in itself admirable for the first while. Tomorrow I cannot smile at the notion, but only long for it. For all that I celebrate that is the UAE, I must recontextualise myself to its present. Like Fahd, my memories, and those of my father's, of the UAE do not suffice. I must rediscover the UAE. I must redefine what it means to me now. Folkloric nostalgia of a polaroidesque Emirates just won't do. And even if it does for me, it won't do for my children; they too will need me to know Fahd a little better for them to call him uncle and mean it.
This is not to condemn the framing of the relationship so far; the UAE was busy founding (and finding) itself and though I may have wanted a little more than a war chest of photos and a stream of flags, those I am glad to have.
The future is yours, mine, Fahd's and rest of the Emiratis'. Our purpose is not to inherit its earth and bequeath it as is to those who come after us but also to applaud, critique and contribute to the formation of its sands. What it means to be an Emirati has come to have many meanings and it is this tolerance of the other, which the UAE was founded upon, that must drive what it means to be a national today. We are a proud people but we are also many, diverse and different and we often disagree among ourselves on the how, the what and the when but never on the why. Happy National Day, from Fahd and me.
Mishaal Al Gergawi is an Emirati current affairs commentator. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/algergawi