Don’t be left flagging behind with UAE customs

Portraits are not compulsory. They are a sign of loyalty, respect and appreciation. So, yes, it’s always a lovely gesture.

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Dear Ali: I run an international company in the UAE and I feel proud to be part of this country. This week, we celebrated raising the UAE flag and we are thinking of hanging the sheikhs’ portraits in our office, but I’m not sure if this is OK. If so, what is the protocol? BN, Abu Dhabi

Dear BN: Flag Day was a special day indeed and I’m proud to hear that everyone in our country celebrated it. First of all, portraits are not compulsory. They are a sign of loyalty, respect and appreciation. So, yes, it’s always a lovely gesture. Emirati customers, partners and potential customers will notice these portraits and understand that you are loyal to the Government and that you respect our leaders. They are also a sign that you follow the same vision and goals as the sheikhs. This respect is part of the country’s social code; we don’t talk about it a lot, but it’s in our DNA. There’s a limit to what hanging a sheikh’s portrait will do, and you should not expect anything in return, but be sure that it will have a positive effect.

There’s no rule about the order, and in different offices you will find different arrangements. As a guideline, if there are two portraits, the most significant one goes on the right. If there are three, the main one is in the middle, with the next most significant person to his left. For instance, in the capital, the order from left to right might be: Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, then Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, then Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. There’s no rule about where the portraits should be hung, but the custom is to place them in the lobby or entrance. Also, they can be hung in the CEO or manager’s office, behind the desk. Size is not an issue: you can just choose what looks appropriate to the size of the office and wall.

Remember that each emirate has its own ruler, so it’s a good idea to hang a picture of the respective emirate’s leader if your office is not in Abu Dhabi. If your company is international or has offices in different emirates, it might be best to only hang portraits of the President and the Vice President, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. Then you can also hang portraits of the respective ruler and crown prince in offices in the individual emirates.

Dear Ali: What is the story behind the UAE Flag and who designed it? DF, Al Ain

Dear DF: The flag has a beautiful story behind it. It all began just after the announcement of the UAE’s birth in 1971, when a young Emirati man called Abdulla Mohammad Al Maainah, who was 18 years old at the time, read an article in the newspaper Al Ittihad that mentioned a competition to design the unity flag. Many artists from around the region were invited to participate. When Abdulla read this news, he ran to the closest bookshop and purchased a colour box, since there were only two days left in the competition. Abdulla stayed up all night designing and painting until he confirmed six design samples of the potential flag. He put them all in an album, sent it to the competition office and waited.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Abdulla telling him that one of his designs had been chosen as one of the top six from 1,030 ­submissions.

The chosen flag was to be raised at the same time in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the rest of the UAE.

From far away, Abdulla could see the flag being raised, but it wasn’t clear to him because of the wind and the sun, so he wasn’t sure if it was his design. The next morning, Abdulla confirmed that it was his design when he read the newspaper and saw the flag. Abdulla received an award of 4,000 riyals. Abdulla’s salary at that time was 650 riyals.

Today, Abdulla is the UAE ambassador to Chile.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.

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