Sunday, December 2, 2012

UAE at 41 makes history young again

Today is my seventh UAE National Day in Dubai.

It is with thanks and joy that I join in celebrating my host country’s 41st anniversary.

I arrived in Dubai just before National Day in 2006. Since, it has since been a day to mark both milestones and an occasion for nationals and residents to count their blessings in a country that is happy, refined, united and supportive of its leaders.

Sunday, December 2, marks the formal independence of the UAE from the United Kingdom and the 1971 unification of its seven component emirates – namely, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Al Fujairah.

The “Spirit of the Union” is derived from the vision and leadership of the father of the nation, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It lives on through UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and their five fellow members of the Federal Supreme Council – Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi (ruler Sharjah), Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammad Al Sharqi (ruler of Al Fujairah), Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi (ruler of Ras Al Khaimah), Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla (ruler of Umm Al Quwain), and Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi (ruler of Ajman).

I landed in Dubai on Friday afternoon after a two-week holiday in Beirut. I was greeted with black skies, thunder, lightning and torrential rain -- all signs of khair and baraka for National Day.

Dubai and the six emirates are set to celebrate National Day after a month-long buildup. Public roads, villas, apartments and office buildings, gardens, parks, cars… practically everything is decked out in the colors of the UAE national flag, under the slogan “Spirit of the Nation.” And, us expatriates, are giving thanks for having a home away from home. This has been profusely expressed on Social Media platforms.

In the words of our beloved Sheikh Mo -- His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai:One main reason behind the success of our Union is the one-team spirit, found in every citizen. The way forward is to strengthen this spirit. We are one nation, with one constitution, one flag, one army, and one president -- Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed. Everyone, everywhere, must work hard as one team, one spirit, with one vision, and unified effort. That is the true Spirit of Union.”

The late Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Rashid
Sheikh Mo says on his Facebook page: “We continue today talking about Spirit of Union. Last year, I spoke about a meeting between Zayed and Rashid that eventually led to the Union. Sheikh Zayed told Sheikh Rashid: ‘We laid the foundation, now we can build the wall.’ I never forgot such words, and later I understood what they meant. Zayed and Rashid were not dreaming of power or positions. They wanted to build a nation, with an army, airports, hospitals and universities. They achieved their vision. This is the Spirit of Union -- to have a vision and the inspired energy to achieve it. This is how history is made.”

Sheikh Mo's post on his Facebook page
“…I would like to share some thoughts and ideas under the banner of Spirit of the Union,” Sheikh Mo added. “First, I say to the youth of our beloved nation, the story of UAE is not limited to 41 years only. Our history stretches back thousands of years. Read about Umm al-Nar Civilization that goes back to more than 2000 BC, Jalfar in the 4th century and the remains in Jumeirah from the Umayyad era. Read about the stories of heroism of our people while facing the foreign invasions in the past few centuries. Knowing our history is a key part of the Spirit that ties us together. The great stories of our people will continue well into the future…”

Sheikh Mo plants a "Union Tree"
Sheikh Mo launched a tree-planting campaign in the Spirit of the Union at Union House, on Jumeirah Beach Road, where the first UAE flag was raised 41 years ago. He said, “I hope we all use National Day to plant a ‘Union Tree,’ taking care of it and maintaining it just like our Union. I also hope you share with me, on Twitter, photos of the ‘Union Trees’ you planted with your families and friends in your homes or workplaces. We will share these images with each other online and show the world, how much we love UAE and our Union.”

On Sheikh Mo’s advice, I went in search of information about Umm al-Nar. I hadn’t heard of it before.

The island of Umm al-Nar, close to the capital, Abu Dhabi, has given its name to one of the major periods in the history of southeastern Arabia -- the Umm al-Nar Civilization.

It turns out the island, first excavated in 1959 by a Danish team and subsequently surveyed by archaeologists from the UAE and Iraq, yielded finds dating back to around 2500-2000 BC when it was involved in fishing and the smelting of copper, exported to the empires of Mesopotamia.

Archaeologists discovered a cemetery of about 50 above-ground tombs. Some are round -- 6-12 meters in diameter, several meters high -- and divided into chambers accessed through small, trapezium-shaped entrances. Each chamber was designed to contain several bodies. The ring walls of the larger buildings were sometimes decorated with carvings of Oryx, ox, snakes and camels. 

Much can be determined about the activities of the islanders from the objects found within the tombs and throughout the settlement area.

One of the tombs at Umm al-Nar
These include personal adornments – necklaces, jewelry, gold hairpins; copper weapons and imported red pottery vessels crafted and decorated with elaborate designs. Fish hooks and net sinkers clearly illustrate the people’s dependence on the sea for food.

Dugongs or sea-cows seem to have been a staple of the diet and the hide and oil were also used. Now a protected species, dugongs must have once been plentiful, for many of their bones have been identified from the organic material found on the site.

It is almost certain the region underwent a significant climate change since there is no archaeological evidence of large stone buildings on the coast and islands off Abu Dhabi after around 2000 BC. The Bronze Age people could maybe not survive in the increasingly arid environment and developed a more nomadic lifestyle, returning to the islands only during the cooler winter season. This is supported by the analysis of the bones of birds no longer native to the region. These include the giant heron (Ardea bennuides), now extinct and known only from this site; the Darter (Anhinga melanogaster), now found no nearer than the marshes of the Tigris/Euphrates Delta; and Bruce’s green pigeon (Treron aff. waalia) which is found no closer than Dhofar in Oman. 

Since the late 1970s, Umm al-Nar has been the site of the UAE's first oil refinery, which refines crude from the onshore fields of the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO), for local consumption. Associated with the refinery is a chlorine plant, while there is also a major water desalination and power generation complex on the island. But the archaeological sites are carefully protected and preserved.

The Umm al-Nar Civilization expanded to settlements on the island of Ghanadha, between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In 1986, two burial sites were uncovered in Al Muwaihat in Ajman as well as evidence of the civilization in the village of Bidya north of Fujairah, Shamal in Ras Al Khaimah, Al Dur in Umm Al Quwain, Al Sofouh in Dubai and Maliha in Sharjah.

Some of the Tweets and Facebook posts
As one of the tens of thousands of expatriates who were lucky to land on the sunny, blissful and safe shores of the United Arab Emirates, I wish the country, its leaders and its people a Happy National Day.