x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

The writing is on the wall for Fujairah’s graffiti artists

Permits will be required in Fujairah over paintings and graffiti on exterior walls, writes Peter Hellyer. A violation will draw fines of between Dh2,000 and Dh20,000

One week ago, on January 1, a new rule came into effect throughout Fujairah to which all residents and visitors to the emirate will, I hope, pay heed. Based upon a decision issued by the Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi, it’s designed to regulate paintings, graffiti and other decorations on the exterior walls of houses and buildings and, of more interest to me, on mountains, hillsides and historic sites throughout the emirate.

From now on, permits will be required from the Municipality or the Fujairah Natural Resources Authority for any such decorations, with fines of between Dh2,000 and Dh20,000 being applicable to offenders, who will also be responsible for paying the cost of removing any unauthorised works of art. Naturally, the Crown Prince’s decision also stipulates that no abusive writing will be permitted – quite right too.

My poor command of written Arabic means that I can’t understand all of the graffiti that appear on walls, although I gather that, on some occasions, they’re far from being complimentary. Insults written on walls are usually intended to offend, and generally do, and it’s perfectly reasonable that those who write them should not only be fined, but also that they should pay for the cost of their removal. Some other impromptu decorations are far from being aesthetically pleasing. In Fujairah city, and in the emirate’s smaller townships, there are too many of them – and the same goes for much of the rest of the country too. Provided that applications for permits are handled sensibly in such a way as to allow for the expression of genuine, but inoffensive, artistic endeavour, then this could make a useful contribution to making Fujairah look more attractive.

I hope, though, that the heavier fines are meted out to offenders who scrawl on hillsides and historic monuments. In popular beauty spots, such as the Wadi Wurrayah, no sooner has one lot of graffiti been removed, at considerable expense, than another appears. It despoils the local environment, just as much as litter does, and is harder to remove. It’s time that there was a crackdown. The same is true of some of Fujairah’s old castles and forts, as insensitive visitors, of all nationalities, carve or spray-paint their names to record the fact of their presence – not that anyone but themselves is interested.

I wouldn’t mind if this independent exercise of artistic inspiration was done in a less obtrusive way and if it was in keeping with the traditions of local petroglyphic art. I, like many others, rather like looking at rocks to see if I can find an ancient, weather-worn carving of animals or people and it would be nice to see that this time-honoured tradition was being continued. All that one seems to find these days, though, is a statement that someone felt like painting or carving their name, perhaps with when they were there. We can do without that – and the rocks or ancient buildings look much better without such decoration, too.

It’s not the first time that the Crown Prince has demonstrated his commitment to dealing with those who damage Fujairah’s environment. In a previous column a few months ago, I paid tribute to him for his initiative to crack down on the owners of quarries who pay insufficient attention to the need to prevent their operations having an adverse effect, through the dispersal of dust, for example, on the neighbouring countryside. Several have been closed down, and others have been hit with heavy fines; more enforcement, I suspect, will follow.

Fujairah lacks the resources of some other emirates and its quarrying industry is an important part of its economy. At the same time, however, its mountains and wadis, and the evidence of its cultural and natural heritage to be found within them, are also a major factor in the development of another key part of its economy, tourism. Their preservation is of importance, both for today and for the future.

The latest initiative by the Crown Prince won’t be the most important decision taken in the UAE over the course of the next year, but it’s of significance, nonetheless, and one which will benefit residents and visitors alike.

Now, Your Highness, can we please have a campaign to crack down on those who leave piles of litter every year throughout Fujairah? Years ago, I wrote a book on the emirate, dubbing it “the Arabian Jewel”. It’s time that jewel received a fresh polish – and this latest decision makes a good start.

Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE’s history and culture