x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A historic alliance chronicled - frame by stunning frame

The visual images of the UAE's President, walking side by side with the British monarch will be enduring visual representations of our history in the making.

Last week newspapers in the UAE were awash with stories documenting the minute-by-minute details of President Sheikh Khalifa's historic visit to the UK. We read about the business deals and possible visa-rule changes, the lunch menu at Windsor Castle, the laying of flowers at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, and strong and deepening ties between Abu Dhabi and London.

We read at length of how Britain's monarchy treats guests and royalty from one of its closest allies.

But for me it wasn't the paragraphs that captured my attention, but rather the pictures. These priceless frames of the President walking side by side with the British monarch and Prince Philip are visual representations of our history in the making.

Young people in the UAE are a generation that cherishes photos, the often-grainy imagery from our collective past. During the UAE's recent celebration of Qasr Al Hosn in the capital, for instance, it was the black and white photographs of a once-isolated palace that captured how far our nation has come in a few short decades.

A picture really is worth a thousand words. And in the case of the UAE-UK relationship, a thousand pictures are worth much more.

Our two nations have over 200 years of a shared past. And there are some unforgettable photographs that tell the story of this important relationship.

Who could forget the picture of Sheikh Zayed in London in 1969, being escorted to his seat for a ceremonial parade? Or his signing of the Treaty of Friendship with the UK two years later, in July 1971?

We remember and love the photograph of Sheikh Zayed coming out of the royal carriage during his own state visit to London in 1989.

And we remember well the picture of Princess Diana and Prince Charles sitting on the ground in Al Ain for a feast with Sheikh Nahyan that same year. The white and blue outfit the princess wore that day, and her smile, captured perfectly the radiance in her personality.

Queen Elizabeth, during her last visit to the UAE in 2010, had a similar effect on us. She visited the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and one picture in particular - of her walking with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to pay respects to our late father - has stayed with me.

Usually, female tourists are asked to wear an abaya when they enter the mosque, as a matter of modesty. But the Queen was able to combine two traditions, east and west, by tying a scarf around her hat. She also wore white gloves, another sign of respect.

These small details matter to a nation; we take notice when visitors respect our traditions. And when photographs of such class and elegance surface, it's hard not to commit them to memory.

Photographs connect our past and our present. We might not remember all the quotes and sayings of the historic visit. Newsprint fades fast, but film and photos have a way of always inspiring. We can always find joy in trying to read our leaders' facial expressions and body language, which might even say more than official statements.

Last week's journey to London will be remembered by Emiratis for decades, and the trove of video and photographic footage that emerged will delight us as well. Who knows which image will sear its way into our collective memory?

 

balhashemi@thenational.ae