Monday, 2 December 2013

The Bloke In A Pinstripe Suit

Flag of the Trucial Coast (States)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's always tickled me pink, the idea of the bloke in a pinstripe suit. He'd likely have landed in Abu Dhabi, but I've got him landing in Dubai - possibly even Sharjah. He'd probably have walked down the steps of a Vickers VC10 into the warm air of the Gulf, which would have had him in something of a sweat, although he'd have gone to great lengths to avoid that showing.

He would have gone to the consulate in Dubai for his briefing before going on to the meeting he'd flown here for. By the time he got there, his copy of The Times would have been decidedly sweaty and rumpled. But he would have, of course, remained cool and composed. He was to tell the assembled Sheikhs of the Trucial States that Great Britain's Labour government had decided to cede its colonial role in the administration of all territories east of Suez. They were to have two years to found a nation or whatever it was they wanted to do. But regardless of their decision, the people and government of the United Kingdom were to play no further role in the administration or protection of the Sheikdoms of the Trucial Coast. It was undoubtedly a shameful way to end a close relationship that had spanned well over a hundred years.

I can only imagine the consternation that would have greeted our pebble-glassed visitor's news. The British had long governed the Trucial Coast, providing pretty much all of the tools of administration including defence and foreign policy - defence, at the time, being particularly crucial to the tiny Sheikhdoms that clung to the shores of the Gulf. It was called the Trucial Coast simply because the Sheikhs had all been signatory to the Perpetual Maritime Truce of 1853, following a British campaign to eradicate the endemic maritime piracy in the Gulf. By the end of the century, a further treaty had formalised the British protectorate over the Trucial States.

The bloke in a pinstripe suit would have left a chaotic scene behind him as he headed for the airport. Two years to agree a form of government, write a constitution and build the whole administrative apparatus of a nation state. It was an insane task.

It was made worse by the British government's parliamentary opposition - the Conservatives - who promised they'd reverse the move when they won the election. They lost and their promises came to nothing except wasted time.

Two men were to play a crucial role in the coming two years: the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively - Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum. To this day, Zayed is known to Emiratis as 'Baba Zayed' - the father of the UAE. Both were remarkable men who transitioned from being tribal leaders to the heads of a modern nation state. Alongside them, the rulers of the seven Emirates that made up the Trucial States worked to pull together a single country from a tribal map that looked like a giraffe with measles. Constitutional experts were brought in from Egypt, talks held between rulers not only of the seven trucial emirates, but Oman, Qatar and Bahrain about forming a federation of emirates. A whirlwind of activity started that was to see negotiations about borders and the division of rights and responsibilities from healthcare and education through to foreign policy. Zayed's leadership - and, yes, his deep pockets and ready generosity thanks to Abu Dhabi's oil - were to be critical.

It's hard to imagine how dangerous this period was - there were larger forces all around waiting to fill any vacuum the British left. The tiny new fledgling state faced a precarious start.

But as that frenetic rush to meet the insane deadline commenced, my thoughts are with the bloke in a pinstripe suit, sitting in his VC10 as it banked over the dazzling waters of the Gulf, sipping his English Breakfast Tea and thinking what a colourful bunch of chappies those Sheikhs had been as he headed home to write his memo confirming we had drawn a line under our colonial heritage in the Lower Gulf.

It'd be fun to see his reaction if he came back today. A former colleague of my Father's was amazed to hear I lived in Dubai. He'd served there during the war. "Dubai? What'd you want to live there for? It's just a bunch of mud huts on a creek" he'd exploded.


Happy National Day, people. I truly wish you all the very best as you celebrate the 42nd birthday of this nation I have called home for the past twenty years.

PS: If you're interested in exploring the history of the UAE, this here book by Frauke Heard Bey is THE definitive work. It's an expensive buy, but worth every penny.
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Mita Ray said...

Your link to the book gives me an error - could you tell me the name and where was that link headed?

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

This is the link:

Alexander McNabb said...

Argh! It's 'From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates' by Frauke Heard Bey'. I'll fix that link later...

Alexander McNabb said...

Fixed the link! And thanks, Rupert!

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