Dubai: The UAE Passport — now ranked the world’s most powerful — has come a long way since Emiratis first had the document nearly five decades ago, a retired Emirati statesman, who has been collecting old documents through the years, said.
The UAE passport grabbed the top spot as the world’s most powerful on December 1, 2018, on the eve of the country’s 47th National Day celebrations. Emiratis may now travel visa-free to 167 countries worldwide, based on the Passport Index.
Back in the day, before the UAE became a federation of seven emirates, then called Trucial States, passports were issued as a piece of document to residents, said Mohammad Al Hadi, a former banker and manager of the then Currency Board.
“I collect passports issued in the emirates before the federation. I have one of the first passports issued in Dubai. It was more of a ‘permission’ to travel issued by the government,” Al Hadi, 75, told Gulf News.
“It was a document issued by Dubai which allowed you to travel to Saudi Arabia, but to that country only. Once used, it expires. They called it travel document but it’s only for one-time use. There were no visas then.”
An avid collector of UAE memorabilia, Al Hadi still has that old pre-union document in his residence along with the other passports that came after that.
“The second passport was valid for one year. The third was valid for 10 years. I collected all that.”
It was a document issued by Dubai which allowed you to travel to Saudi Arabia, but to that country only. Once used, it expired. They called it a travel document, but it was only for one-time use. There were no visas.
Al Hadi kept all the documents, along with Dubai’s announcement when oil was discovered in the land that eventually paved the way for its development.
In his study are 20 full albums of currencies, mostly old currencies and rare ones, and old photos. This passion, he said, began when he was 12 that became a profession.
But his prized possessions are the letters he received from the country’s leaders.
“Nowadays you greet people through your phones. Before it was cable and it would take three days to be sent and another three days to receive a reply. It was not easy.”
“During Eid, I would send greetings to all the rulers, some have already passed away like the founding fathers of the UAE, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. They replied to me by mail as well. Whatever I sent, I got a reply back, not only from the shaikhs, but even from the ministers and bank managers,” Al Hadi said proudly.
Browsing through his collections transports him to decades past, which is his favourite past time now that he is in his senior years.
“I can enjoy the past better than now. Now everything is so fast, if I want to go back 60 to 70 years in Dubai, I can go back — I have the circular, I have all these mementos. These things make me happy.”
Al Hadi is now building a new house where a special area will be dedicated to the exhibition of his collections. He also plans to exhibit his personal collection in museums in Dubai.
“The young generation did not see the past. The UAE is only 47 years old. They did not see the kind of Dubai we had. When the young generation was born, everything was ready. But the old generation like my father and grandfather had to think about these things — electricity and water.”
“My message to the youth who did not get to see the past is to plan your future. Have a vision [by learning from the past].”