DUBAI // Thousands of patriotic motorists have engaged in an annual ritual of one-upmanship for the past week as they strive to have the most colourful designs for their cars ahead of National Day.
Stickers showing the Ruling Family and national flags adorn the hoods of many cars, while the pressure to go one stage better than last year has pushed some to spend more than ever on their designs.
The vehicle accessory shops that line the Al Satwa Road have reported a roaring trade, with some customers paying up to Dh2,500 to cover their vehicles in patriotic transfers.
"It really means a lot to people," said Yakub Bahar, an employee of Al Satwa Star Auto Accessories, which stocks a wide range of such accessories. "There's even a little competition, which you see."
An annual tradition for patriotic youngsters in Dubai is to parade the length of the beach road in Jumeirah, often with passengers hanging out of the sunroof and with liberal use of their car horns. It also serves to let those who have decorated their vehicles judge how they stack up.
"Everyone likes to see what everyone else has done with their car," said Faris Ismail, a 21-year-old Emirati who had his 4x4 decorated on Monday. "Last year, I only had one window decorated. This year I have done the whole car."
The enthusiasm has spilled over to public transport as well. In an official nod to the largely grass-roots celebration, the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in Dubai has decorated a number of its buses and taxis with National Day flags. Some public buses will be wrapped with large stickers with the red, green, white and black colours of the national flag, dominated with a heart logo.
"We are wrapping these buses that will move all over Dubai, so that this colour will travel across the emirate during National Day," an RTA spokesman said.
About 700 taxis that service the airport will also be decorated with flags. A spokesman for Dubai Taxi said there would be no stickers on the exterior of taxis, but shawls and scarves with the national colours would be used instead to decorate the interiors.
There is a well established infrastructure to supply the demand. One of the largest wholesalers, Al Furan Car Accessory and Design in Ajman, typically prints and sells about a million stickers for saloon cars and a further million for 4x4s and other larger vehicles, said Ihssan Amjad, the general manager.
"The busiest time is the month before National Day," he said. "I send my men daily to supply shops in Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Dubai, Baniyas and Ras al Khaimah. My brother and I have been running the business for eight years. Now people know us well and we get a lot of orders."
However, revellers walk a fine line with traffic police. Last year, an undisclosed number of people received Dh200 fines for covering their car in transfers that obstructed the view out of the windows or covered the number plates.
Police in the capital have urged motorists not to stand on the hoods of their cars or hang out of the windows.
"Abu Dhabi police encourage celebrations on this dear national occasion, [but] motorists must abide by traffic regulations, including those related to car decorations," said Col Hussein Ahmed al Harthi, the head of the Police Traffic and Patrols Directorate.
However, the enthusiasm continues to build apace. One of those especially looking forward to National Day is Zayed Satir Ali, 28, who spent Dh1,000 decorating his car.
"I was named after the Sheikh who united this country," said Mr Ali, referring to Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE. "That makes National Day a very important celebration for me."
* With additional reporting by Ramola Talwar Badam