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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 December 2006, 01:26 GMT
Back to roots for the UAE's birthday
By Silvia Radan
Abu Dhabi

The United Arab Emirates celebrates its 35th birthday on Saturday 2 December. For weeks the capital has been preparing for a four-day festival.

Dubai skyline
The UAE is now renowned for its construction boom

In 1971, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al-Nahyan had a problem.

Just as Abu Dhabi started to export its recently discovered oil, the British, who controlled the area, decided to pull out.

The sheikh felt that, without British protection, Abu Dhabi could easily become prey to various foreign political and economic interests in the region.

He called upon the seven emirates that were already part of the Trucial States, plus Bahrain and Qatar to unite as an independent country.

After long and hard negotiations, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwan and Fujairah signed the union treaty. Ras al-Khaimah, the seventh emirate, joined a few months later.


Perhaps not so surprisingly, in a time of tower blocks, advanced technologies, five-star hotels and designer clothes, Abu Dhabi, one of the richest cities in the world, has chosen to celebrate the country's National Day by going back to its roots.

Boy dances traditional dance in font at 2006 anniversary celebrations
Celebrating heritage: A boy performing a traditional dance

After almost four decades of intensive construction, of literally building not just castles, but whole cities out of desert sands, the UAE is feeling the need to revisit its traditions.

"Every country has an identity, and heritage is UAE's passport to the world. To survive as a nation we must keep our traditions alive and this is a message we must send to our new generations," says Mohamed Saif al-Neyadi, general manager of Emirates Heritage Club (EHC).

Since its foundation in 1993, the EHC has concentrated on teaching young people in the UAE about the Emirates' customs and cultural patrimony.

More than 100 books about the country's heritage have been published by the club and some of them are now used as academic material at the UAE University.

UAE president
Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates
The EHC also organises two major camps for thousands of students every year.

Students learn to ride horses and camels, to sail, dive and shoot.

"I believe all these efforts have a good impact on our boys and girls, who will grow up taking with them the spirit of their forefathers," said Mr Neyadi.

Remembering the past

As the main organiser of the National Day celebrations, EHC is promising a party to remember.

Along the seafront, the Corniche as it is locally called, all kinds of parades are taking place, meant to be a reminder of the "life before" - camels, horses, dhows (traditional boats) and even classic cars.

Bedouin poetry, local songs and historical lectures are also part of the programme.

Deeper journeys into the past, though, can be taken in the Heritage Village, where veiled and masked women cook typical foods from the Emirates inside their palm frond houses and men chatting in their desert tent prepare very spicy Arabic coffee or take care of their camels, horses and falcons.

Map of United Arab Emirates

There are also a mosque and a souk, where locals make and sell handicrafts like swords, carpets or pottery.

People in the Emirates are proud of their heritage and of their modern achievements.

Abdullah Shehhi, head of the media section of EHC, believes that the federation was that has worked well in practice.

"As a country, we are much stronger and we can all share each other's richness, since every emirate has contributed something to the federation. For example, Abu Dhabi has oil, Dubai had well established trade, Fujairah had stunning landscapes and so on."

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