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Sunday, April 21, 2024

25 years of the UAE: A Day to Remember

by Julia Wheeler

One of the first meetings of the Supreme Council

The proclamation of the new state; a decisive and proud moment. A new era begins; the United Arab Emirates starts its life

The occasion, on 2nd December 1971 was marked by a ceremony in Dubai where in then six members of the new Federation came together. The early part of their declaration on that day gives some idea of the great excitement and sense of occasion being felt.

“The rulers of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Qaiwain and Fujairah, as co-signatories of the provisional constitution of the United Arab Emirates, met in an atmosphere in which brotherly sentiments, mutual confidence and profound determination to realize the aspiration of the people of these emirates prevailed…”

Afterwards, getting down to business, the rulers met in their capacity as members of the Supreme Council. They elected His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayhan of Abu Dhabi their President for a five-year term, His Highness Sheikh Rashid Bin Said Al Maktoum of Dubai, the Vice President and his son, His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum as the Prime Minister.

The declaration they made was a proud one

“The Supreme Council hereby conveys this happy news to the people of the United Arab Emirates, all sister Arab states and friendly states the world over declaring the establishment of the state of the United Arab Emirates as an independent and sovereign Arab state and part of the Arab motherland.”

The messages in the ‘Akhbar Dubai’ publication of the time were typical of the feeling among the population at large. The congratulations came from individuals and organisation like the British Bank of the Middle East, the Dubai Bank and the Sperry Sunwell Surveying Company in the city and wished the new country, its rulers and its people all the very best. They pledged their devotion and loyalty as well as congratulating the new union and talking of everyone’s dreams being realized. Some asked for God’s help to allow the rulers to make their new endeavor a success by creating prosperity and goodness in the UAE.

There had been a big celebration in Abu Dhabi on 28th November to mark Sheikh Zayed’s ascension. Lights sparkled from buildings, entertainers like the famous Egyptian singer of the time, Umm Kulthum, came to sing their praises and there was a military parade on the Corniche with marching, a band playing and horses and camels strutting. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nayhan gave a speech praising his father. Four days later it was Dubai’s turn to celebrate.

There was not a hotel room to be had in town – they were full with people coming to help the new country celebrate and others reporting on the world’s freshest state to the rest of the globe.

The streets and squares of the town were strewn with the new national flag, people had adorned their cars with flags, and houses, shops and stores were all trimmed in a similar way. Signs with messages congratulating the rulers on their achievement decorated the streets and a throng of people was out in the open – locals, expatriates, and visitors, men and women – to celebrate.

The organized celebrations in Dubai centered on the creek near the Municipality. The crowds gathered in a huge ring trying to catch a glimpse of the traditional dancing and music being performed. Nearby a tent was erected and a tea party was held for dignitaries and delegates attending the celebrations.

A typically British tea party perhaps, but a new era was beginning. On behalf of his government, the British Political Resident in the Gulf, Sir Geoffrey Arthur, had started an official tour of the seven emirates on the 1st of December 1971. During his visits, he signed a document with each ruler to terminate the old protection treaties between the Sheikhs and Britain.

The new Treaty of Friendship signed by Arthur and Sheikh Zayed, was the first-ever agreement to be entered into by the Union. Queen Elizabeth, the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary were among the first to formally congratulate the President and the new state.

As the outgoing Political Resident, Arthur made a speech during which he talked of 2nd December as being the last one in his service in the region and of the region’s friendship with his country for over a hundred years.

Britain’s Political Agent in Abu Dhabi, Charles Treadwell became the first British Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and his counterpart in Dubai became the first Consul-General in the city.

The new country still had its old friends, but after years of hard work and dedication, the United Arab Emirates was staring life on its own terms and with its own aims and aspirations.

The Union in History

The union of the United Arab Emirates was not the first time moves in that direction had been suggested. The first known time all the rulers of the Trucial States gathered was in 1905 when Sheikh Zayed Bin Khalifa of Abu Dhabi called a meeting to solve outstanding territorial disputes. Although it was a successful summit, that experience was not repeated for almost 50 years.

However, in the 1930’s, the qadi of Ras Al Khaimah lived in Buraimi for a while in an attempt to try to promote some form of union among the rulers on the Trucial Coast.

In 1938, an anti-British article in a Cairo newspaper reported that Britain was planning, the beginnings of a union in the area. As it transpired the rumor was untrue, but its existence indicates the widespread and far-afield discussion of the idea.

The Trucial States Council was established in 1952, at the encouragement of the British. It gave the sheikhs a say in British-run development projects and provided a means for consultation and co-operation between them. The Council met twice a year under the chairmanship of the British Political Agent in Dubai. It has been interpreted as laying the foundations for formation of the United Arab Emirates.

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