x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Sheikh Saqr's unifying influence

The people of Ras al Khaimah reflect on the unifying influence of a leader they knew first hand; who held an open majlis and visited the most remote areas of the emirate.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // As the sun came up over Ras al Khaimah yesterday the news began to spread that the emirate's revered ruler, Sheikh Saqr, had died.

As the sun began to descend over the city in the afternoon, citizens began to prepare for the funeral of the man who led the emirate for more than 60 years. His passing led many to reflect on the legacy of the man they considered the father of the people.

Among them was Ebrahim Ali al Belooshi, 28, who was so stricken by the Ruler's death that he wrote a poem on his BlackBerry before leaving work in Dubai to attend the funeral.

"This is the most famous ruler, he had about 62 years ruling RAK and it's a big loss for the Arab region. When I was born, he was my ruler and he was my grandfather's ruler. My tribe, the Belooshi, they were his bodyguards. Today when I heard, I got the permission from my work to come and be here to pray."

His poem is about his feelings of loss over the leader's death.

"Just now I wrote this poem before I came here and I sent it to all my friends' BlackBerrys. They are in Dubai but they know him well because he was a very strong ruler."

Last year, in an interview before the celebrations of Sheikh Saqr's 61 years of rule, his son Sheikh Saud, who was at the time the Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras al Khaimah, spoke of his father's values: "Hardworking, decent, honest, dedicated, and he valued education. These are the values that make a country prosper."

Sheikh Saqr shared his values with his people, who came to know him firsthand through his open majlis and his visits to remote mountain and desert villages.

Nearly everyone has a story about the influence the sheikh had on their lives. Saeed Abdulla al Hebsi, an elder of the Habus tribe in Wadi al Baih, now in his 80s, remembers when Sheikh Saqr first visited the mountain leaders to unite the RAK tribes. He still keeps a photo of Sheikh Saqr in a gilded frame: a black and white image of the sheikh on a cliff flanked by rifle-bearing tribal leaders.

"We were fighting before he came," said Mr Abdulla. "Now we are together."

Entesar al Za'abi, a teacher in her forties whose name translates as Victoria, was named by the sheikh.

It was an honour that inspires her to lead her life with the same compassion he showed for others, she said.

"When the British came here the sheikh was happy and gave me this name," said Ms al Za'abi.

"He's our sheikh so we love him as a father. We feel as though he's not a sheikh. We feel as though he's a father. Hospitals, schools, he gave a lot of services to make our lives better."

Majid Awwad, a Palestinian who has worked with the RAK Municipality for 40 years, recalls meeting Sheikh Saqr when he first arrived in RAK from Egypt in the 1960s. His words of advice to the young engineer were few but strong.

"He said: 'When 10 people come to talk, do not be the first to speak. You listen to the other nine'."

Mohammed Hassan al Hebsi, in his early 20s, was still young when Sheikh Saqr grew too old to continue his public appearances but knows well the distances the sheikh would travel to meet his tribesmen and honour tradition.

"Sheikh Saqr, he visited our people," said Mr Hassan.

"He visited every village and city in RAK and people like him for that. If someone died, he went to his house, if someone had a wedding, he went to his house. He took care of our religion and our traditions."

Ali Ibrahim Akia, 63, a man born a year before Sheikh Saqr took power, recalls seeing the leader among his people, a habit he continued well into old age. Ever one of the people, at the opening of RAK's first shopping mall, Sheikh Saqr and his entourage climbed the steps of Manar Mall to dine on a hamburger at RAK's first McDonald's. It was a tradition of being among his people that went back decades, said Mr Ibrahim.

"He was in the road, in the market, anytime you could see him sitting in the majlis, anytime you could come and talk to him like a father, without any shame."

Rashid Saeed al Musharab, 38, from Jenas, a mountain village a five-hour climb from the nearest road, said that even in summer Sheikh Saqr would make the journey to reach his people. They shared his values of honesty, education and hard work and it was through this that they were united, said Mr Saeed.

"Sheikh Saqr is the father of RAK's people. Sheikh Saqr took care of RAK's people. He made us one family. He mingled with the people, talked to all the people about their problems. He would bring everyone together."