In the UAE, there is a particularly meaningful picture that represents us all, a picture that causes one to stop for moment of contemplation. This picture, taken on a wintry Thursday in Jumeirah Beach, Dubai, has indeed become a source of inspiration and a torch lighting up our path ahead.
In the picture, you can see a white one-floor circular building with so many windows, and a number of photographers standing on the roof of it in preparation for the photo they came for. There was a flag about to be raised for the first time.
When the decisive moment came, men gathered around the pole, some of them said ‘In the name of Allah’, while others said ‘We put our trust in Allah’. As hearts and hands united, a new flag was hoisted. That was Dec. 2, 1971 and the dawn of the UAE began.
Fifty years have passed since then, and a lot has changed, perhaps more than we ever imagined and wished for. Just ask any Emirati in his fifties about it and you will know what I mean!
Our humble beginnings
Let’s tell our young people about the humble beginnings of the UAE, the beginnings that drew our big dreams. As you may know, stories teach us valuable lessons. There is an incident that took place several years ago and is still engraved in my mind.
It happened while screening a video about the period preceding the creation of the UAE inside the country’s embassy in Berlin. There was a shot of a Bedouin walking in the sand in one of the black and white clips. He was holding a camel bridle and placing his shoes under his arm.
At that very moment, one of the foreign attendees asked me, “Why is he not wearing his shoes! Perhaps because he prefers to walk barefoot to enjoy the soft sand.” “No, sir,” I replied. “It was not for fun; rather, it is because of the tough life. He does not want his shoes to wear out.”
Feeling shocked and looking startled upon hearing the answer, the man said: “Never forget this moment. That is your roots and the story of your struggle to live in such harsh conditions, a story that you should remind your children of.”
We will do so and keep reminding our young generations of such stories, telling them about the cruelty of life at that time. His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, said years ago: “Previously one of every two children born on our land died during the first year of their life and out of every three women who give birth, one died during childbirth.”
There were no vaccines or hospitals, and perhaps our situation at the time can be classified as a humanitarian disaster. That is why the first hospitals built in the country were for children and delivery, two of which were in Ras Al-Khaimah and Al Ain, and were built by Christian relief societies.
Lessons for the young
Let young people learn about the reactions of the majority of people in our society back then, especially women, when some technologies began to affect our lives for the first time. When phones were introduced, lots of people were deeply shocked, and some of them thought that it was magic. How could words be transmitted over the wire!
As the young watch the dancing water fountain in front of the tallest tower built by man on earth, let us not forget how expensive water used to be.
During an interview with CNN more than 10 years ago, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said: “Every day there were challenges, even getting water was a challenge for us, but a life without challenges is a boring life.”
Perhaps one of the most beautiful coincidences is this. The UAE’s 50th anniversary comes on a Thursday. It was the same day when the UAE flag was raised for the first time. Let us fill our lives with challenges so that it does not get boring.
Ali Al Ahmad is a UAE diplomat. He has served as the UAE ambassador to France and Germany.