DUBAI // When 600 scouts marched in celebration of their country's 39th birthday this week they highlighted a brotherhood that dates back more than 50 years and includes members of the country's ruling families among its ranks.
Wearing signature khakis, topped with a beret, and scarves, scouts are part of a worldwide movement that stretches back more than 100 years.
Established in Sharjah in 1954, the Scouts of the UAE are present in every emirate, with members from all walks of life including Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, Ruler of Sharjah. Today, there are 6,400 scouts of all ages, from four-year-old members to adults.
"I love being a scout," said Mohammed Rafee, a 10-year-old Emirati from Dubai. "I don't have a brother at home, but have hundreds of brother scouts."
Besides activities such as camping, scouts are dedicated volunteers who clean up beaches, run social responsibility awareness campaigns, visit the elderly and participate in national events, such as their National Day march.
When asked what a scout was, Rafee recited the Scout Law without stopping for a breather.
"A scout is loyal to the UAE, a scout is sincere and honest, a scout is useful and helpful, a scout is friendly and a brother to all, a scout is polite, a scout is friends with the environment and animals, a scout obeys orders, a scout is cheerful, a scout is thrifty and clean in thought, word and deed," he said.
Rafee, as with other scouts his age, is disciplined. After a camp meal, for example, each one automatically picks up his plate, discards the leftovers and cleans up his spot at the table.
Senior members of the scouts society are always on the lookout for ways to keep their members busy.
"Scouts are important members of our community, but their work and presence is often taken for granted," said Dr Ahmed al Dosari, the general secretary of the Emirates Scouts Association.
"Scouting is often underrated because people don't see an immediate tangible benefit from it," said the father of three, with one son who is also a scout. "But in fact, it is an education in life, such as self-reliance and respect of others, rules and nature."
Dr al Dosari joined the movement when he was 10. At 57, he is one of the oldest active scouts in the country, with most scouts wrapping up their involvement when they finish university.
"If you love something, you make time for it," said Dr al Dosari. "It is a national brotherhood, where scouts from across the UAE, regardless of their status in life and backgrounds, are brothers for life."
Membership also provided entry to a worldwide fraternity, he said, meaning wherever in the world a scout went, he could head to a club and be immediately welcomed as a brother.
"Why would I leave something I love and one of the few memberships that never expire?" he said.
Arab Scouts will celebrate their 100-year anniversary in 2012. The first Arab Scout Association was established in Lebanon in 1912, and spread to every Arab state despite the region's history of turmoil.
The original Scouts Movement started in England, in 1907, with just 20 boys at an experimental camp at Brownsea Island, near Poole in Dorset.
In the spirit of scouts worldwide, all the UAE scouts wear the World Scouts Emblem, a badge on their shirt with the symbol of a fleur-de-lis.
The three-petalled lily flower signifies the trinity of God, others and self, surrounded by a rope symbolic of the family of the World Scout Movement, and the knot is a testament to the strength of the unity of the organisation.
Scouts seek to earn badges in a variety of pursuits including falconry, sewing, poetry and bravery. They also compete in sports and survival challenges and must do a variety of chores on their outings, which prove a valuable antidote to what they may experience in the home.
"It truly builds character and prevents the child from being spoiled and selfish, as they have to do everything themselves from making their bed to cooking when they go camping," said Dr al Dosari. "No maid to help them with their chores."
With a scouts camp stationed in front of his palace, Dr Sheikh Sultan is one of the movement's biggest supporters. He even wrote a book in 2008 dedicated to the topic.
"Scouts worldwide share the same fraternal ties and the promise to unite and co-operate," wrote the ruler, who was among the first batch of scouts in the 1950s.
"This is what we learnt as youth in our Scout Movement in Sharjah."
He added: "To the leaders of all Scout Movements worldwide, who have kept their promise, we say: 'You are doing one of the noblest and most influential jobs by providing constructive education to the young people'."