Dubai: To the sound of a traditional Emirati band resonating outside Dubai World Trade Centre, a steady stream of white dishdashas emerged from their endless convoy of blacked-out SUVs, and filtered into the exhibition halls on Thursday.
National flags flickered at the slightest semblance of breeze that blew between the buildings, but the sweltering heat and oppressive humidity that hung in the air couldn’t dampen the spirits of those filing in, who entered only after the briefest of traditional nose-touched greetings and the hurried donning of black and gold-lined cloaks outside.
Band leader Awadh Al Azani had been here since 7am — it was now 3.30pm — and although weary, he seemed buoyed by the atmosphere building ahead of the historic Al Maktoum triple wedding reception’s looming 4pm start.
We will go inside and say hello to Shaikh Mohammad and congratulate him on the wedding of his three sons. Later on we will participate in traditional dances and attend a meal. This is a great day for the UAE and everyone is happy because we are part of them [the Shaikhs] and they are part of us.
“I wanted to do this for the Shaikhs because I am for the Shaikhs and all my people are for the Shaikhs,” he said of his band of 75 people, who had travelled down from Al Ain by bus at dawn. “Everybody is happy and today Inshallah all will go well,” he added.
The three sons of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had wed their respective partners in a religious ceremony on May 15. However, it was only on Thursday — after Ramadan and during the Eid holiday celebrations that the nation could finally take the opportunity to rejoice with a full blown reception in the presence of the Shaikhs.
Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, 36, married Shaikha Shaikha Bint Saeed Bin Thani Al Maktoum. On the same day Shaikh Hamdan’s brothers also wed, with Shaikh Maktoum Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, 35, marrying Shaikha Maryam Bint Butti Al Maktoum; and Shaikh Ahmad Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation, 32, marrying Shaikha Midya Bint Dalmouj Al Maktoum.
At the reception on Thursday, some had gathered outside to catch a glimpse of the Shaikhs and their guests, perhaps even hoping to enter the building, but this was a private, invite and male only affair. Italian expat Manuela Bollea wasn’t disappointed despite not getting to see more from her vantage point outside the venue however, prominent businessmen and delegates could still be spotted streaming through in their hundreds and breaking the sea of white with an occasional black suit.
“I’m here to see this great event, the wedding of the three Shaikhs, and I’m very happy and excited to be here,” said Bollea, standing outside the coffee shop opposite with a similar hoard of mesmerised onlookers. “I’ve only lived in Dubai one year and it’s very exciting to see all the traditions.”
As the reception got underway, some of those filing in through one entrance could be seen coming out of another shortly after.
One of those fortunate enough to have got an invite was Nasser Al Dhaheri — an Emirati author, poet and journalist — who explained that this part of the reception was always quite fleeting.
“We go inside and say hello to Shaikh Mohammad and congratulate him on the wedding of his three sons,” he said. “Later on we will participate in traditional dances and attend a meal.”
“This is a great day for the UAE and everyone is happy because we are part of them [the Shaikhs] and they are part of us,” he added.
For Al Dhaheri, this had been his second regal wedding after having first attended Shaikh Mohammad’s reception in 1979, with one of his first film cameras.
“That day I took some great pictures,” he said. “But today I was just here to congratulate them.
“They are normal weddings,” he said in terms of procedure in line with Emirati tradition. “But fantastic,” he added, in reference to their significance and grandiosity.
The tireless band was still dancing joyously as the guests filed out and sought their lifts onto the next location, many visibly excited at the enormity of what they had just been privy to. After all, it’s not every day that you get to celebrate the wedding of three Shaikhs, and just as Nasser could recall his first experience of Shaikh Mohammad’s wedding in 1979, many would have been left with indelible memories of the day.