x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

'How can we go out and celebrate?'

Many Dubai residents stayed home last night while others attended events to mark the violence in Gaza, as New Year's Eve took on a sombre tone.

Dubai // Many people chose to stay at home last night while some attended events to mark the violence in Gaza, as New Year's Eve took on a sombre tone this year. A firework display meant to match the Atlantis resort launch party extravaganza was scrapped after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, ordered the cancellation of all of New Year's celebrations to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.

More than 1,000 people were expected to take part late last night in a silent vigil at Jumeriah Beach Residence for the second night in a row. "How can we go out and celebrate when our brothers and sisters are being killed in Palestine," said Anjali Ahmed, who was attending the event. In Sharjah another vigil ended in a tense stand-off with police as the authorities tried to break up the event. Police said organisers had not obtained the proper permission.

The vigil was due to take place next to Al Nour Mosque in Sharjah yesterday afternoon, but supporters said they were confronted by police who dispersed them. Witnesses said there were a number of arrests. Majidah Hafez, a Palestinian schoolteacher, had planned to attend the Sharjah vigil with her three children but was turned away. "I am extremely angry with what is going on in Palestine and wanted to vent my frustrations but got turned around, so now I will just go home," she said.

"I am depressed and angry with the authorities in Sharjah because they should have allowed this demonstration to go on." Some high-profile celebrations in Dubai, including at the Chi Club at Al Nasr Leisure Land and the 360 club at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, as well as events at Wafi City, were cancelled. Barasti at Le Méridien Mina Seyahi, whose Dh1,000-a-head party was a sell-out, called off its firework display and toned down its festivities.

"It's pretty empty and we are nowhere near capacity as most Arabs who have purchased tickets stayed at home or went to demonstrations. "It's only the westerners who have shown up," said one of the Barasti party organisers. Many expatriates also held muted celebrations. "We will have a meal and head home as it feels inappropriate to go out when the Ruler has banned public celebrations," said Margaret Conner, from Ireland, while having lunch with her German husband at the Media Rotana hotel in Al Barsha. "There will be another time to celebrate, and hopefully what is going on in Gaza will end soon."

In Abu Dhabi many people also chose to mark New Year's with quiet reflection. "How can we celebrate when our brothers in Palestine are being massacred," said Sara Saleh, 33, a UAE national. "It's really shameful." * With reporting by Essam al Ghalib, Zoi Constantine and Nour Samaha