Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

13. Passports owned by Mohammed Al Fahim, 1957 to 1971

To mark the nation's 40th anniversary, we feature 40 historic objects.
One man's collection of Abu Dhabi/UAE passports from the 1950s-1970s.
One man's collection of Abu Dhabi/UAE passports from the 1950s-1970s.
To say that the people of Abu Dhabi suffered from an identity crisis in the decade before the formation of the UAE would be no exaggeration.

Mohammed Al Fahim, the author of Rags to Riches and a prominent local businessman, discovered as much during his early travels abroad.

Over this 10-year period, up to five different passports would be used by citizens of Abu Dhabi who wanted to visit other countries. Taken together, they are a record of the immense political changes during this period.

The earliest was issued by the British Agency to Al Fahim's father in 1957, when the emirate was an imperial protectorate. Citizens of the Trucial States, as the seven emirates were then known, were given British passports, signed by the political agent in Abu Dhabi.

Around 1960, a new document was issued to cover the Trucial States. Each passport carried the flag of the emirate it represented. In 1966, with the accession of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, passports began to be issued by the Government of Abu Dhabi.

Five years later, the federation was formed, and in 1972 the first passports for the United Arab Emirates began to be issued, initially in black but later changed to the current blue and a smaller format more suitable for modern immigration scanners.

"Abu Dhabi went through four changes of name in about 10 years, which is unheard of anywhere in the world," Al Fahim recalls. "We are special."

He has a fifth travel document, though it is one he created himself. "In the early 1960s, all our passports were written only in Arabic," he explains. "If you had to travel outside Arab countries, it was difficult for immigration to read."

This was less of a problem entering the United Kingdom, where it was understood that Abu Dhabi was a British protectorate, but elsewhere in Europe, a passport written entirely in Arabic was viewed with suspicion.

Al Fahim's solution was simplicity itself. He translated his Arabic passport into English and presented this to the immigration officers. In an age before biometric scanners and microchips, it was enough to gain passage.

Updated: December 1, 2011 04:00 AM