It's been almost nine years since the border between the UAE and Oman was agreed between the late Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Detailed negotiations then carried on, resulting in in a detailed and mapped agreement on the border in May 2005, almost six years to the day from the original agreement.
Over the past couple of years, a green fence has started to snake its way along the frontier between the two countries, slicing through the wadi plains and climbing up into the rocky foothills of the Hajjar mountains. The 'rabbit proof fence' is high and topped with razor wire, set into concrete and relatively serious as fences go. And it was built by the UAE, apparently.
It's no easy task, closing this border. Because of the original tribal affiliations of the people living in these areas, there are enclaves of Oman within the main borders of the UAE, including the Northern tip by the Straits of Hormuz, the Musandam Peninsula; a pocket of land inland from Khor Fakkan on the Indian Ocean near the village of Shis and the wadi plains of Vilayat Madha. So you drive from Dubai through Sharjah, Oman and then a little bit of Ajman to get to Hatta, for instance. What's more, if you drive North of Hatta on the road (used to be track, *sigh*) from just beyond the Hatta Fort Hotel to the desert town of Dhaid, which is part of Sharjah, you'll be driving through Ras Al Khaimah to get there.
It's kind of complex, no?
Now they've shut the border between the UAE's desert oasis town of Al Ain and Omani town Buraimi, which have always lived side by side in the desert, sort of semi-morphed into a single town. What's interesting here is that there are now to be two border crossings between the two towns, a move that was hilariously headlined by Gulf News: "Expatriates get separate border crossing at Al Ain" as if it were some kind of benefit to have to drive 15km out of town to cross the border!
The National had an excellent piece on the effects of the move this week, as residents try to manage a border through a community that in many ways had become a single community made up of two adjacent towns in two adjacent countries. A sort of Siamese City.
The other border crossings, including the road through Vilayat Madha to Hatta, remain open. The question is for how long - and how they can be closed. It's hard to find a reason why the border has been so comprehensively locked down, although smuggling and illegal immigration have both been mentioned as the core reasons behind the massive project.
So now you can't just pop over the border to Buraimi and visit the pools at Kitnah or pop over to the Hanging Gardens and then slip up the track from Al Ain to Hatta, perhaps stopping off for a splash around in some of the wadis on the way. It'll be interesting to see how long it'll be before the Hatta Track itself (now blacktop anyway, so no wadi bashing to be had here) is closed off.