x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Placing markers in the sand

As oil revenues began to flow in the early 1960s, it became clear that the small community of Abu Dhabi would soon expand into a major city.

As oil revenues began to flow in the early 1960s, it became clear that the small community of Abu Dhabi would soon expand into a major city. In September 1960, British civil servants presented their first plan for naming different districts to the Arabian Department of the British Foreign Office, along with a crude hand-drawn map. Some will be familiar to current residents; many others have vanished.

"I enclose a copy of a list of district names for the map of Abu Dhabi town," an official wrote in this unclassified dispatch. "I am sorry we have been so long in doing this. It was partly due to my being away and partly to the difficultly of getting the ruler (Sheikh Shakhbut) to agree someone give us the official names. "The blue pencil lines are only an approximate guide to the areas. The boundary lines themselves should not be marked, but they give a guide as to the extent of coverage which each name should indicate.

"The Ruler wants names to be written in Arabic only, and not in English." The enclosed list included "three sections of Al Bateen Village," of which "the whole of the three shall carry the general name Al Bateen". "The north-east tip of the island shall be called Ras al Bar. The areas immediately south-west, (near the Emirates Palace) where a solitary house stands, should be called Al Damiyah. "The Westerly corner of the island west of Bateen village is called Al Khahaira."

Other areas listed in the dispatch included the Ruler's Palace and the quarters of Gamzan, Al Hamamel, Ajam, Gbeisat, Al Sudan, Al Suq and Al Sudan. A year later, a second report dated May 5 noted the prospects of the growing city. The author, RA Beaumont, a local official for the British government, noted that at least one major international construction company was quizzing him about prospects for the city.

"Did Her Majesty's Government wish to see Abu Dhabi develop? And if so, did they regard it as desirable that serious British concerns should be associated with that development, thereby channelling back into this country some of the sterling which Abu Dhabi seemed likely to earn from oil? I said 'yes' to both questions." Politically, Mr Beaumont noted with some foresight that: "If oil were to be successfully exploited in Abu Dhabi, one might expect - taking Kuwait as an example - that there would grow up there strong vested interests in the continuance of an independent Abu Dhabi linked with the other Trucial States but not absorbed in Saudi Arabia".

* The National