x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

A wall-to-wall tribute to leadership

A Tunisian expatriate has glued a collection of 8,000 pictures of the UAE royals to her walls and furniture.

For five years, Basma Bubaker has cut the pictures from Arabic newspapers and glued them to the walls and furniture in her Al Qusais apartment.
For five years, Basma Bubaker has cut the pictures from Arabic newspapers and glued them to the walls and furniture in her Al Qusais apartment.

DUBAI // Every morning, Basma Bubaker scours the pages of the newspapers on a quest to find pictures of the country’s leaders.

When she finds an image, she carefully cuts out the photograph and glues it to the walls and furniture of her Al Qusais apartment.

Not even her lampshades and pot plants are spared. Since she began her hobby five years ago, she has amassed 8,000 photographs – and counting.

And as the country gets ready to celebrate National Day, Ms Bubaker, 40, a Tunisian expatriate, says it is the love of her adopted country and its rulers that inspires her.

“It has become a daily routine,” says Ms Bubaker, a property broker. “I wake up in the morning, pray fajr, open my door to pick up the newspapers, take out my scissors and start cutting the pictures. Then I go to work.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and the Ruler of Dubai, features most prominently in the collection. Ms Bubaker says her hobby began as a way to give back to the country that welcomed her in 2000.

“I came to the country like any other person: for work and the wealth, and to build a future,” she says. “But the biggest gain wasn’t the money … wealth is in the people you live with.”

Ms Bubaker began showing her appreciation with a transfer of Sheikh Mohammed on her car. But after being repeatedly stopped by police and fined, she decided it was time to take her display indoors.

“There are some people who described me as a crazy person and that’s OK. I admit I’m crazy, just like the Arab [story] of Layla and Majnun,” she says, referring to the tale of a man who goes mad when the father of his true love won’t allow them to wed.

“We’re living in a time when we need crazies and I am one of them. It is my pleasure to be the person who is crazy about the UAE.”

Every morning, Ms Bubaker looks through the pages of Al Ittihad, Al Bayan, Emarat Al Youm and Al Khaleej looking for pictures to add to her collection. If there are two images on opposite sides of the page that she wants, she buys a second copy.

She uses up to two tubes of superglue a day affixing the images to whatever surface is bare.

“When I first saw what she was doing I told her she was going overboard,” says her Tunisian friend Hanan Al Muhail, 34, who has lived in the UAE for eight years. “I thought she would get bored eventually but it has become like an addiction to her.”

Yet whenever Ms Al Muhail visits, she asks to see the most recent pictures because the stories behind each one intrigue her. Ms Bubaker keeps the captions and says every picture on her wall tells a tale.

“This collection has made me develop a passion for reading about the UAE’s history and following the sheikhs’ journeys,” she says. “When my Emirati friends come to visit, they say, ‘Even we would not do something like this’. But if I feel this loyalty, imagine what the Emirati people must feel?”

Ms Bubaker has sent an application to Guinness World Records, and says she hopes to one day have the biggest exhibition in the world dedicated to UAE rulers. “It is my dream to one day open the door and see Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid standing there,” she said, adding her collection was not a ploy to gain citizenship. “I am proud of my Tunisian nationality. Then again, if I deserve the Emirati nationality, why not?

“Just as Sheikh Mohammed wrote in his book, My Vision: ‘The big opportunities don’t knock on doors – he who wants one needs to clinch it and earn it for himself and his people’.”

Another of Ms Bubaker’s friends, Eman Al Tejane, says her friend’s passion was strange but understandable. “What she’s doing is not normal but she is not doing it for fame,” says Ms Al Tejane. “We don’t have someone like Sheikh Mohammed back home, and what the sheikhs are doing affects the expatriates positively. We are proud of her because she realises we live under a great leader.”

aalhaddad@thenational.ae