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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

25 years of the United Arab Emirates: Coming of Age Together

by Julia Wheeler

Just as the Arab Emirates became united, so a whole generation of Emiratis came of age. In the December 1971, Obaid Ali bin Butti was just thinking about leaving high school and deciding what his future might hold. The prospect and realization of a brand new country was vital to his way of thinking.

“I can remember sitting and planning with my class mates around that time. For us, the prospect of a new country meant that all of a sudden it was possible to dream about our futures – before the Federation was inaugurated. Even the dream was absent. Then the UAE’s formation means we knew our new dreams could become a reality.”

“For me, at that time the new country meant I could continue my education. Like many of my compatriots – as many as half my class in fact – I went into political science. I remember thinking that it would be a subject that would be needed for our new state.”

Bin Butti remembers the day itself as a time for great patriotism. He was out on the streets of Deira and Bur Dubai with his friends, taking part in the celebrations, waving the new flag and generally welcoming the new country to life.

“There were flags everywhere,” says bin Butti, remembers the day itself as a time for great patriotism. He was out on the streets of Deira and Bur Dubai with his friends, taking part in the celebrations, waving the new flag and generally welcoming the new country to life.

“There were flags everywhere,” says bin Butti, “Hanging a flag on a house indicates a pilgrim’s return from the Hajj and his sense of achievement, so to do that on our first National Day symbolized a feeling of great national accomplishment as well as a sense of patriotic pride.”

This patriotism had a place well beyond the initial jubilation and celebration. For many Emiratis, it signified a sense of belonging for the first time.

“For one thing, meant we were part of recognized state,” says Ali Maihad Ali, who was at school in Kuwait at the time of federation. “At that time, Emirati expatriate workers went to the other more wealthy Gulf states to find employment and we were often known there as Omanis. Suddenly, we had a state of our own. That feeling of belonging was so important for me, all of a sudden I had an identity.”

At that time Maihad Ali had two passports, one from Sharjah and one from Umm Al Qaiwain. Now he and his family were able to come home to collect his United Arab Emirates document, only adding to his sense of being a part of something.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the new union was that many Emiratis who had gone overseas for work or study were able to return to their homes and their wider families. The formation of the UAE brought opportunities.

“The pearl diving industry had wound up for the most part during the 1950’s and along with it many people’s livelihoods,” says Bin Butti. “Many men, from say Ajman and Fujairah, had traveled to Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to find work, leaving just the older men, the sick, the women and children behind. The founding of the union gave them the chance to return to their homelands, and subsidization from the centre encouraged that from the start.”

This move home was partially economically motivated, partially the result of wanting to be involved at the start of a new country – to help it on its way – and no doubt partially emotional.

“People all over the world wan tot return home,” explains Maihad Ali. “They suffer from being away from their countries and perhaps most of all want their children to be raised in their own homeland, to foster that sense of belonging.”

“There was a feeling that something was happening in this part if the world in 1971. To start with there were rumours that it would not succeed and that there would be problems, but that was just the politics of the day,” says Maihad Ali.

Politics appears to have had little to do with the way people actually thought about their new country.

“People of my age at that time probably would not have expected to experience the depth of feelings I found myself having,” remembers Maihad Ali. “It was just such a sensation of amazing excitement.”

The members of the generation that came of age at the same time as their country are among those who have gone on to make it such a success 25 years later. Luckily for both the country and the individuals, that sense of excitement has prevailed – and continues to thrive in the year of the silver jubilee.

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