The celebration of National Day is as much a celebration of the union of the seven emirates as it is about the unification of the people from all over the world.
The nation’s founder turned an ideal into a living reality
Many years before the formation of the United Arab Emirates, the people who lived in this region had one thing in common: the allegiance to the tribe, not to a certain land, as they were mostly Bedouin and nomadic. They would spend several months in a particular area before moving to another at different times of the year.
Faced with this reality, as the historian Frauke Heard-Bey suggests in her book From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates: A Society in Transition, regional politics focused largely on taking control of people and not of land, which at that time had no clear boundaries.
She also notes that, though the British Government of India was present here, it usually avoided interference in tribal politics. One of the reasons is that tribes were too complicated: their allegiances were loose, and it was difficult to organise those various groups under one dominant leader.
The writer identifies three different but interdependent groups in her book. The first is Abu Dhabi, including the settled areas of Liwa and the Buraimi villages, which are located within the country. The second is the north-east known as the Qasimi Empire because of the presence of the dominant and long-term Qawasim tribe that still retains a strong presence there. The third is the western foreland of the mountains, which included the villages of Al Buraimi and Daid that have become part of Oman.
But these main groups had internal conflicts. Most of the tribes switched loyalties, swore allegiance to different sheikhs at different times in exchange for monetary allowance. In return, the sheikhs could rely on the support of those tribes in any dispute. This was important due to the lack of manpower because of the transient life experienced by bedouins at that time.
And so getting these tribes together to form a country was no small feat. And yet, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed, had a vision: first to unite the people of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which happened in his meeting with Dubai Ruler Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum in February 18, 1968; then to invite the rest of the tribes residing in other emirates, as well as Bahrain and Qatar, to join the union.
Six of the Trucial States – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Umm Al-Quwain, Ajman and Fujairah – agreed on a Federal Constitution and formed a union on December 2, 1971. The remaining emirate of Ras Al Khaimah joined a few months later in February 1972.
But even after the union of the seven emirates, Sheikh Zayed continued to carry out his vision. He invited more clans and tribes to the country and worked on uniting them under one umbrella. Many people from the Gulf, Yemen and other countries in the region were naturalised in the second half of the 1970s and then the first half of the 1980s. Sheikh Zayed treated them like his own people and offered them land, houses and farms. He then opened the doors for people from all over the world to come and live in the UAE and participate in its development.
Sheikh Zayed’s vision focused on the concept of diversity. He built a nation based on the idea that people of all tribes, races, ethnicities and nations are united together regardless of their differences. This notion was the essence of Arab-Islamic civilisation and Sheikh Zayed embraced it and turned it into reality.
Today, after more than four decades, the country hosts more than 200 nationalities; many of them call this land home. We all saw last week how Dubai’s victory to host the World Expo 2020 brought everyone together. Emiratis and expats wore the UAE scarf and flag to celebrate the country’s historical achievement. And the celebrations continue until today to mark the national day of the country.
Yes, we celebrate today the union of the seven emirates. But we also celebrate the unification of the people from all over the world and their collective work to build this young nation. Look around you and see how everyone is proud and happy.
On Twitter @AyeshaAlmazroui