The curving sandbank of Dubai Creek in the 1950s. Below: The cover of the book, Building a Nation. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Gulf News tells the fascinating history of the making of the UAE in a special book published to mark the 40 years of the founding of the nation.

Many of the 750 historic pictures in the book titled Building a Nation have never been published and they chronicle what life was like in the Gulf before the UAE came into being.

"Personally, I find the pictures amazing," says Najla Al Rostamani, co-editor of the book. Najla says that selecting pictures to show the defining moments in the UAE was challenging. "How do you limit those moments in terms of pictures? You had to balance, not just the materialistic aspect, the roads, buildings, but also tell the story of the people."

She says the pictures show the stark contrast between the past and the present. "It is good to learn from the past and move forward, keeping the past in mind."

Telling the story of the nation in pictures had its own moments of drama as Francis Matthew, co-editor of the book, recounts. "Gulf News is 30 years old and we had the pictures of the UAE's last three decades in our own archives. But finding pictures before 1979, the pre-Federation, that was a challenge," he says.

Matthew says it was difficult to show how fast the development of the UAE has been without pictures. "You don't realize how quickly the country has developed, in just one person's lifetime, with the impact of the oil wealth. You don't believe there was nothing there," he says, pointing to what was the beginning of the Airport Road in Abu Dhabi.

The editors found that getting original pictures of the first two decades was difficult. "We had gone through various archives and we researched what we needed intensely," recalls Matthew.

Early images

He said they then worked out who would have been here in the 1950s and the 1960s, and the answer was oil companies. "We called up oil companies in Houston, Paris, Lisbon. Not a thing. But then we struck lucky with BP, from where the archivist sent back many thumbnails [of pictures]. Those pictures form a large part of the early images in the book."

Some other pictures came from the personal collections of British diplomats who were posted in the UAE during the 1960s, such as the one showing Shaikh Rashid on a hawk hunt with his friends. "Terence Clark, a former British diplomat, released his pictures to us. There are many other significant contributors to the book, such as long established Dubai-based photographer Ramesh Shukla [now in his 70s and known as the ‘Royal Photographer']."

"The book also has a relevance for newcomers [to the UAE]," says Najla. "They are witnesses to the changes still taking place in a short time."

Matthew explained that Building a Nation is in five chapters with the development of the UAE, its people, the economy, infrastructure and its political system as the central themes.

National charter

"We chart how difficult it was to build the political structure, to form the Federation. The pictures record the complicated series of negotiations that took place in the early days and how the shaikhs decided which way to go," he says.

The book tells the interesting story of the 1979 constitutional crisis, and outlines some of the difficulty of bringing together the emirates into one union.

  • Price: Dh200
  • Available at all leading book stores in UAE