x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Wider road will cut us off, say RAK residents

Officials say conversion to dual carriageway will soak up increased traffic, but locals fear for the future of their neighbourhood.

Maaridh is one of Ras al Khaimah's oldest residential areas, but a dual carriageway is dividing residents as well as the neighbourhood.
Maaridh is one of Ras al Khaimah's oldest residential areas, but a dual carriageway is dividing residents as well as the neighbourhood.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Residents of the old seafarers' neighbourhood of Maaridh say plans to expand a road running through the area will limit access to popular meeting places. Officials from Ras al Khaimah's Department of Public Works want the road made into a dual carriageway to handle increased traffic. But the residents say an expanded road will only raise the amount of traffic further and will cut them off from the souk and from cafes.

Maaridh, immortalised by the 17th-century poet ibn Dhaher, is one of RAK's oldest residential areas and remains popular with Emirati and Asian families. Its thriving souk includes carpentry shops, tailors, beauty salons and an extensive variety of stores selling everything from perfume and musical instruments to mountain honey. "When they make the street it should be for us, the people who live in this area," said Fatema Obaid, 32, an Emirati who was born in the neighbourhood. "My mum is old and she cannot use the phone. In the morning, sometimes she needs something from the vegetable store and now she cannot cross the street. The old ladies in my area are afraid to use the street now."

Traders, dependent on the neighbourhood for their customers, are also wary of the expansion plans, especially as parking is at a premium in the nearby area. "For our side the business is closed," said Mouhad Korsehd, 38, a Bangladeshi tailor who works across from the souk. "There's no parking and this is the big problem. There's no way for people to cross. How will they get to the mosque? How will we get to the market?"

The construction and the complaints were described by Abdullah Yousef, the director of public works, as a "teething problem". He dismissed claims that the expansion would make the road more dangerous, saying two pedestrian crossings with lights would be installed near the mosque opposite the souk. "When we finish everything it will be fine," he said. "There will be a dual-lane road with enough parking for the shops and new street lights. It is like this for every project. We give them more facilities to improve their lifestyle."

The road is named after Ahmed bin Majid, a 15th century seafarer and scholar who sailed to Mozambique and is believed to be from Maaridh. Retired seamen meet each evening at the neighbourhood museum that bears his name. "This road was part of the old history, part of the culture," said Amr al Hassan, who runs a door shop in Maaridh that was established by his grandfather. Mr al Hassan's grandfather was a sea captain who survived three shipwrecks on the Indian Ocean, then died crossing Ahmed bin Majid Road, which runs between the family home and the souk.

"I feel that I'm not walking in Maaridh now," he said. "I hoped maybe they would make it only one road. They should do maintenance without changing it. This is OK, but everybody is wondering what is the next step." Opinion was sharply divided between two local residents, one in favour of the new road and one opposed. While Ali Amar, a Yemeni who has lived in Maaridh for 32 years, praised the roadworks as evidence that the municipality was doing a good job on modernisation, an elderly Emirati man beside him hurled curses at the road construction.

A third was more stoic. "Of course, the work isn't finished here yet and we don't know how it will be," said Dr Omar Hajji Mohamed, a specialist in herbal and Islamic medicine, who works in the Maaridh souk. "Life doesn't stay the same. We don't know what comes tomorrow. Maybe it will be better than before." @Email:azacharias@thenational.ae