x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Festivities on the corniche

Hundreds march down the Al Qawassim Corniche to mark 61 years of rule by Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the world's second longest-serving ruler.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Hundreds marched down the Al Qawassim Corniche yesterday to mark 61 years of rule by Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the world's second longest-serving ruler. At 3pm, schools, expatriate associations and marching bands began to gather at the prayer ground as onlookers assembled on the Corniche. The parade began with 64 members of the tartan-clad police band performing the national anthem on bagpipes and brass.

A cavalry troop of 60 horsemen was preceded by students in starched uniforms who smiled and waved pompoms, balloons and flags of Sheikh Saqr depicting him in his trademark aviator sunglasses. Then, government departments and expatriate organisations marched: the Yemenis flashed small kanjar daggers in a traditional dance, the Jordanian contingent walked calmly behind them in dark suits, while the Sudanese followed in their white kandora. Overhead, helicopters circled the dark waters of the Corniche and the Sheikh Zayed mosque, flying a huge UAE flag and another bearing Sheikh Saqr's portrait.

Onlookers watched from chairs draped in shimmering gold cloth. Four of Sheikh Saqr's sons, Sheikh Saud, Sheikh Talib, Sheikh Faisal and Sheikh Ahmed, watched from their own royal tent as traditional drummers and dancers performed nearby. Finally, Sheikh Saqr was chauffeured past in his white Rolls-Royce Phantom with its number '1' licence plate, his first public appearance in years. The procession continued as the crowds rushed to the edge of the Corniche for the water show. Water skiers appeared from the fog of the creek, flying the portrait of Sheikh Saqr. Behind them, traditional row boats of 11, 15 and 17 men emerged from the mists, followed by dhows and fishing boats carrying huge gargour nets, a nod to Ras al Khaimah's maritime past. .

"It's great," said Sheikh Faisal bin Saqr. "Whatever we do, it's only to express our feelings even though it does not really equal what Sheikh Saqr has done for RAK. "He faced so many new difficulties and obstacles for more than half a century. He survived all of these struggles and put RAK safely in the federation of the UAE." "We follow his example," said Mohammed Saleem al Alowi, 15, a pupil from RAK Secondary School who marched in the parade. "He means everything to us because he loves the people. I've come here to give my love."

Many elderly tribesmen had also attended, including Abdulla al Shehhi from Al Rams. He believes he is around 85 years old, and has witnessed the transformation of Ras al Khaimah. "Before, there was nothing but sea. Government was simple, it was a Sheikh with a group of 10 or 12 bodyguards. The ruler of Ras al Khaimah supported the people and the people supported the Sheikh. We had never tried an apple, never tried an orange, we had only eaten dates and fish.

"But life was good, people were friendly, everybody helped." azacharias@thenational.ae