Queen Elizabeth was a friend to the world

Britain now opens a new chapter in its history

Queen Elizabeth in 1951. AFP
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After 70 years on the British throne, Queen Elizabeth II has died at the age of 96.

It is fitting that her last public engagement, only a day before her death, was the most important kind a British monarch must partake in.

On Wednesday, she was pictured in the living room at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, shaking hands with Liz Truss and confirming her as the new British Prime Minister, following the resignation of Boris Johnson. It is a ceremony that is at the heart of Britain's constitutional life. The country's governance would not work without it.

It might seem strange that the UK's two most senior politicians, in the middle of all the urgent challenges that Britain is currently going through, would have to travel to the other side of the country to meet the monarch. But the need for this speaks to the complex recipe that makes Britain's unwritten constitutional arrangements work.

It is an arrangement built on huge responsibility, good faith and trust, and while it works now, it took a great deal of history to get there. Today, Britain can be proud of its constitutional monarchy, which has been been the foundation of its democratic politics for so long.

It must also pay a debt of gratitude to the personal sacrifice required to make the process work, embodied perfectly by Queen Elizabeth.

A very special type of person is needed to fulfil the immense vocation that is being a modern British monarch. It combines politics, diplomacy, national identity and even religion. It is important to remember that the many millions of worshippers who follow the Church of England, the original church of the global Anglican communion, have lost their supreme head.

Those who carry out the role effectively win worldwide recognition and respect. But Queen Elizabeth represented something even more extraordinary. Her role, by definition, was grandiose and stately, but in the years after her coronation she quickly became a personally relatable figure for many people, at home and abroad.

That is no different in the UAE, where tens of thousands of British people live and where the Queen visited twice. She maintained a friendship with the leadership of the Emirates for years.

The images at Balmoral of her confirming Ms Truss also reflect this relatability. The room in which the meeting took place is very different from the usual location for the ceremony, Buckingham Palace in the capital. The relative informality this time round could, in many ways, be a symbol of her journey from an unknown young sovereign to one whom many the world over felt an affinity with.

One of the last photographs from the day is of her alone, standing and smiling. It could well go down in history as one of her most famous images, simply for the openness, friendliness and humility that it expresses. A most fitting epitaph.

Published: September 08, 2022, 6:54 PM
Updated: September 11, 2022, 6:17 PM