Year in review 2015: The UAE mourned its martyrs with pride and sadness
It was, as the cliche goes, just another ordinary day. Friday, September 1, 2015 and the lazy start to the weekend in a land still heavy with the heat of summer.
As the sun went down, so the first rumours began of events so terrible they must surely be wrong.
Late in the evening it was confirmed that scores of UAE servicemen had been killed and injured in Yemen.
Those responsible for the attack, the leaders of the Houthi rebellion which has sown so much chaos and death, may have thought they had won some kind of victory, that casualties on this scale would break the resolve of the UAE and the Saudi-led coalition to continue the mission.
They were proved wrong on both counts.
Before the sun had risen again, the first of the fallen returned home, flag-drapped, to an honour guard at Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen Air Base and to a people whose grief was already stiffened with resolve.
What was revealed in the following days and weeks was a collective demonstration of sorrow and pride. Among all the tributes, the words of Mohammed Al Mazroui, who attended one funeral at Bani Yas Cemetery with his two sons, stand out.
“I do not know his name,” he said of the dead solider. “But he is a son of the nation and a brother to everyone of us, so I have come here with my sons to show my support.”
Such a measured, thoughtful response is all the more to be admired, given the scale of loss – more than 50 soldiers. In a single action, the UAE lost more men in warfare than at any time in its history. Given the size of its population, it would be equal to a death toll of many thousands in countries like Britain or the United States.
For three days of mourning, UAE flags were lowered to half mast as radio stations switched to classical music and reading from the Holy Quran. In majlis, the mourning families shared memories of their loved ones.
“I am the wife of a hero,” said one widow, who wept as she spoke. “I am the wife of a martyr. He made us proud in his life and in his death. I will always hold my head up high.”
Ordinary citizens and residents of all nationalities queued at clinics and hospitals across the country to donate blood for the many soldiers who were injured in the explosion at the Marib base. Some of these wounded were well enough to speak from their beds.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” said Saif Al Kaabi, whose leg was badly injured in the explosion that followed the rocket attack. “I feel like I haven’t done enough. There’s more I’d like to do, and I look forward to my return to complete my duty.”
The last day of this November saw the first Commemoration Day to honour the fallen, including all those from the Yemen conflict but others, too – even from the birth of the nation in 1971, when an ordinary policeman from Ras Al Khaimah gave his life to defend the Tunb islands from Iranian invasion.
They will be honoured with squares and monuments, mosques and museums, but above all in words.
“Our sons have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, on that first dark night of loss.
“They are true patriots who demonstrated utmost love and loyalty to their country and nation. Our martyrs of duty are true models in our history.”
James Langton is a senior editor at The National.
Updated: December 26, 2015 04:00 AM