Thursday, 29 November 2007

National Day

Everyone's going crazy about National Day. Not me. I'm going camping. But I'm still generally happy for them all and do derive a great deal of enjoyment from their frenetic (and often quite insane - I mean who, in their right mind, PAINTS their car with a flag for national day?) celebration of nationhood.

I love the story of the formation of the Emirates: the transition from the Trucial States (the Brits made them all sign up to stop bashing each other and raiding unsuspecting passing dhows, hence 'trucial') to the UAE was accomplished in less than three years after a Brit in a bowler hat landed at Sharjah Airport with the news that Her Majesty's Government had (finally) realised the game was up, the Empire was no more and we were generally doing a Pontius Pilate on every obligation East of Suez.

This gave these guys a couple of years to define the constitution, acceptable system of governance, administration and identity of a modern nation state. They hadn't really been, errr, trained for it. The remarkable figures of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed were to play a critical role in forging the United Arab Emirates out of the messy and time consuming negotiations that at one time or another involved Oman, Qatar and Bahrain too.

It was all made worse by the fact that the dirty deed had been done by a Labour government - and the Tories had hinted strongly that they'd undo it. So the Trucial chappies didn't get down to it as seriously as they might right up until it became clear that the Tories were as full of it as the average backed-up septic tank.

The result has been the Federation of states that make up the UAE - clockwise: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qawain Ras Al Khaimah (which didn't sign up 'till a year after the others) and Fujairah. All have coastal and inland holdings, all have territory nested in each other (Go to Hatta, the inland town of Dubai, and you'll likely cross Sharjah, Ajman and Oman on your way) because the territorial division was done along the lines of tribal affiliations and all have totally separate police forces, municipalities and, in the main, public services. The result is often quixotic at best - but it works, somehow. Eventually. Mostly.

So what if they struggle at times to get things like the legal system to work properly (or even... sharp intake of breath... Salik). They defined a nation in three years and built it in 30 - an infrastructure that is still, of course, being built out in breathtaking, if sometimes slightly crass, style. The Brits were decimalising and worrying about Europe when the UAE was being born. I was personally involved in making my first ginger beer plants and hating girls at the time. I have since, by the way, continued to like ginger beer and considerably improved my opinion of girls. But I can't claim to have built a nation...

So here's a National Day toast: good luck to them, warts and all. We're here because it's better than there, after all.

Aren't we?

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