Abu Dhabi: With a cast of over 6,900 people coming from 100 nationalities, the 51st UAE National Day official ceremony on Friday was a poignant journey back in time and a forward march to a “promising future that unites everyone who calls the UAE home.”
President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan attended the celebration held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC). His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai; their Highnesses Supreme Council Members and Rulers of the Emirates, Crown Princes, Deputy Rulers and Sheikhs, also attended the celebration.
The big-production and immersive ceremony that used a 108-metre long stage designed as a “time-travel tunnel”, was a fluid flow of live performances – with a group of children serving as witnesses to a storytelling that took inspiration from the country’s rich culture, present-day achievements, and future plans.
Video: UAE National Day official ceremony — as it happened
The one-hour show commenced with the UAE military parade as excerpts from a poem penned by the UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was heard in the background.
It was followed by the Emirati choir and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing the UAE National Anthem then proceeded to a moving tribute to the late Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who was the UAE President from 2004 to 2022.
Archival footages of the young Sheikh Khalifa – who was in his early 20s during the formation of the UAE in 1971 – were projected onstage, followed by a montage of his achievements and positive impact on various fields, including the environment, sustainability, technology, economy, and education.
From 1971 to 2071
The show was a journey through time. At each end of the time-travel tunnel/ stage were portals adorned with 51 lights, representing 51 years of the country’s history. One end of the tunnel was a representation of the past and the other end, the future of the UAE.
The birth of the country was represented by a young baby born in 1971. As highlights of his life were flashed, so were the achievements of the country in each decade, culminating in the future, in 2071.
The UAE’s marine heritage was also celebrated. With projections showing the blue depths of the UAE sea, the video of Noura Al Mansoori, an Emirati marine scientist and conservationist, was shown as she said: “Our sea is our culture, history and future, and together we can keep it safe.”
The rich biodiversity of UAE aquatic life was highlighted with a parade of gigantic sea creatures made and hand- painted by local artisans. The UAE’s efforts to preserve marine life were also projected onstage as well as its marine protected areas.
Sheikh Zayed’s legacy of planting mangroves that are now covering more than 150 square kilometres of the UAE’s coastline, and serving as the country’s “green lungs”, was another highlight of the ceremony.
Around 10,000 mangrove saplings were also part of the show, and, according to the organisers, the mangrove saplings will be planted across the UAE after the national day as part of the UAE’s pledge during COP27 to plant 100 million mangroves by 2030.
Environmental activist Habiba Al Marashi, who is the founder of Emirates Environmental Group, highlighted the importance of preserving the environment, noting that “Each tree we plant shades and shelters our children.”
Ensuring food security was also highlighted during the show. With 20,000 plants used in the scene, the message delivered was to overcome the challenges of an arid climate by employing modern agricultural farming techniques.
Scenes of hydroponic and vertical farming that are now being used in more than 35,000 farms across the UAE were incorporated in the show as Emirati agritech expert Abdulla Al Kaabi noted: “Our land is fertile. In it, we planted our dreams, and from it, we reap its fruit.”
Journey to space
From the land and sea, the time-travel tunnel took on a journey into the cosmos. Where before UAE ancestors looked up at the stars to help them navigate the vast desert and seas, UAE-made satellites – from Khalifasat to Hope Probe – are now in space probing on Earth and other celestial objects.
The epic journey into space was highlighted during the show by Fatema Al Hameli, an aerospace engineer who is part of the historic launch of Hope Probe. She said: “I was seven when I knew my future was in space, as part of the future of our seven Emirates. Then, I witnessed glory here on earth when the Hope Probe reached Mars in seven months”.
Rails of unity
A ‘wow’ part of the show was when a train that will be used for Etihad Rail entered the stage. Where before only camels were used to navigate the vast UAE desert, soon the entire will be connected by Etihad Rail.
Civil engineer Khuloud Al Mazrouei said: “I remember the first steps, the tears of joy and pride, watching a dream come true, and the first rail tracks that came to life.”
The UAE’s quest for developing safe, reliable and renewable energy was also put on the spotlight. Maryam Al Mazrouei, who works in the solar industry, said during this part of the show: “We learn from our environment, from which we take and to which we give, and from this sun, we discover the renewal of our sources of life”.
The pivotal point in the show’s journey was the transfer of knowledge and wisdom to the young generation. The show highlighted the efforts of pioneering Emirati educator Saeed Naseeb Al Mansoori, who taught himself to read and write using the traditional Wusoom – the marks and symbols used by tribes in the UAE to identify their camels. His pursuit to be educated was used to inspire the youth to aspire for more knowledge.
The show ended with children parading through the “tunnel of light and hope” as they were joined by adult male Emiratis performing the traditional Al-Ayyala dance, with the voices and melodies of the live orchestra in the background celebrating the country’s 51 years and journey to the future.
Video: Details of the 51st National Day celebrations
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