ABU DHABI // Thousands of people crowded onto the Corniche last night as the celebrations for the 38th National Day culminated in a large fireworks display. Crowds gathered on the beach, on the breakwater and in cars, lined up bumper to bumper, to watch the pyrotechnic display light up the horizon in front of the Emirates Palace.
"I love UAE," screamed eight-year-old Shamsa from the open sun roof of her father's SUV as she waved a large flag. Her brother, Hamed, 11, sprayed onlookers with foam from a can. The family, Emiratis from Abu Dhabi who planned to drive their car around all evening, said this was how they celebrated National Day every year. The streets, lined with decorative lights depicting the figures 38, for the number of years since the founding of the country and 7 for the number of emirates, were full of people. Drivers were sounding their horns, passengers wearing wigs and hats were throwing confetti and other spectators were waving pom-poms and banners bearing the national flag.
Children leaning out of the window of one car were holding a live falcon, and another had a giant teddy bear wearing national colours strapped to the roof. Alaa and Fatima Fadhy, from Egypt, who were in the family area with their children Mahra, six, and Mazin, eight, said they came to celebrate because although they had been in the country for only four years it was like a second home. "We come because we want to see the local people and celebrate with them," Mr Fadhy said. "Also our daughter is learning the UAE history at school so it's good for her to come. It is a very beautiful day." The celebrations began at around 4.30pm with an opening ceremony on a temporary stage set up in the car park of the Federal National Council building next to the Hilton hotel. Groups of tribal dancers from five of the seven emirates gathered for traditional drumming and chanting. In the family area, there was a painting competition for the children and a reading corner.
Next to this, was a larger stage and seating for 10,000 people expected for concerts by Sherine Abdel Wahab, Fadel Shaker and Al Wassmy after the fireworks display. Simultaneous concerts, hosted by Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), were planned for Al Ain and Al Gharbia, with stars including Nancy Ajram, Eidha al Menhali and Abdul Menem al Ameri. Sara and Mohamed Abdul Aziz said they were at the Corniche especially for the concerts. "We came because we love music and songs. It's great to see the traditional Emirati dance, and later we are looking forward to Sherine Abdel Wahab."
Rana Hattar, 23, from Jordan, commented on the diverse crowds. "I loved it today," she said. "I felt like the entire city became one spirit. There was a sense of unity." Imad Nabulsi, 44, also from Jordan, said he enjoyed the gathering of different nationalities. "Hopefully it will make people more united, in the same way that the emirates were united 38 years ago," he said. "National Day is so important to celebrate because many people living here do not know about the history of the UAE and how Sheikh Zayed brought all the tribes together. A ceremony of this kind will encourage people to ask questions and find out."