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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

And then there were seven

40 years of the UAE: Sheikh Saqr of RAK agreed to a provisional constitution that gave the UAE the borders it holds today.
Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed, the former Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah. Courtesy RAK Government
Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed, the former Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah. Courtesy RAK Government

RAS AL KHAIMAH //On the morning of February 11, 1972, the Ruler of RAK travelled across hundreds of kilometres of desert in his Mercedes-Benz, escorted by two military pickups and armed guards, to meet the sheikhs awaiting him at Al Manhal Palace in Abu Dhabi.

There, Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed agreed to the provisional constitution of July 18, 1972, and the UAE took the borders it holds today.

"Achieving such Federation was one of our most cherished aspirations and keen interests, as we strive to promote and develop our country and its people," Sheikh Saqr said in a document dated February 10 that declared RAK would join the UAE.

Although RAK had participated in talks for the Federation, Sheikh Saqr disagreed with the July 1971 proposal abandoning unanimity in the Supreme Council in favour of a majority of five emirates that must include Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which would pay most state finances.

While the six emirates signed a provisional constitution that adopted this measure and created a 40-member National Consultative Council, the membership of which was allocated according to the size of each emirate, he asked for more time to consider the proposal.

Sheikh Saqr held hope for offshore oil concessions and felt RAK was equal to Abu Dhabi and Dubai as the capital of the Qawasim empire. But outside events changed priorities.

Iran had given up its claim to Bahrain, making it more determined to secure the Gulf islands of Abu Musa, ruled by Sharjah, and Greater and Lesser Tunb, governed by RAK.

On November 29, 1971, it was announced Sharjah would govern Abu Musa with its flag on official buildings. The agreement allowed Iranian troops in limited areas "away from buildings and farms" in return for a yearly payment of £1.5 million.

Oil revenues were to be divided equally between Sharjah and Iran.

"This is a temporary arrangement. It is not a treaty … not a concession. The island is not for sale," said Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed, then Ruler of Sharjah. "Iran was determined to take Abu Musa so we had to protect our citizens' rights and property from being taken by force."

Sheikh Saqr rejected a British-mediated proposal that it accept an agreement similar to Sharjah's.

"Nations are not sold by money," Sheikh Saqr told the British representative Sir William Luce. "If they are taken they are taken by blood and I will not put my signature on a document that gives Arab islands to others. One day the Arab nation will be one … and it will gain back these islands."

On November 30, Iranian troops landed on Abu Musa as agreed but they also seized the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. A small force of RAK police resisted the invaders, three of whom were killed. A newly married RAK policeman also died.

The local population was rounded up and deposited on a beach in RAK that evening, frightened, hungry, thirsty and exhausted. As word of what happened reached the mainland, growing anger began to spread across the seven emirates.

Sheikh Saqr wrote a letter to Sheikh Zayed, the founding President, that made protection of the islands his only condition for joining the UAE.

In its first statement, the Supreme Council expressed its deep regret at the forcible actions of Iran. Sheikh Zayed condemned the use of force and pledged to raise the issue at an international level and adhere to an Arab League decision on the islands.

Meanwhile, tribal support for RAK to join the union grew stronger.

"They wanted to join the Federation because there were financial benefits, there was schooling, there were roads," said Dr Saif Al Bedwawi, a UAE historian.

On the night of February 11, Sheikh Saqr returned to RAK to meet tribal rulers ready to congratulate him.

"I believe he felt happy," said Khalid Saffarini, a legal adviser and chief justice to Sheikh Saqr for 37 years, and who rode with him to Al Manhal Palace. "Most of the people, if I dare say all the people, wanted to join.

"When the people of RAK saw that all the emirates joined the Federation and they were excluded, they felt themselves lost, including the Ruler himself."

The legal fight for the islands continues.

 

azacharias@thenational.ae

rghazal@thenational.ae