Camel festival

Desert festival looks for the beauty in the beast.

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MADINAT ZAYED // Herds of black Majahim camels adorned with silver harnesses stand in the competition pen as a young boy on the sidelines calls to the animals.

Standing on the back of a light Asayal camel, the Saudi boy speaks through a loudspeaker mounted on the camel’s back, as a row of cars behind him honk their horns.

"He’s calling their names to get their attention, so they can be alert for the judges," says Mohammed, one of his relatives, as other young children played with newborn camels next to the competition area.

Thousands of people were in Madinat Zayed yesterday on the last day of the 2009 Al Dhafra Festival.

The results of the final Mazayina, or beauty contests, were announced yesterday, along with the winners of competitions in date packing, poetry and handicrafts.

Opposite the colossal Majahim herds, dozens of Asayal camels, draped in red and gold harnesses, were inspected by the judges.

Mohammed al Merri, 50, the chief judge from the UAE, said the 2009 festival had attracted the most beautiful camels he had ever seen.

"They are the best camels in the world," Mr al Merri said.

"Everything has gone very well and I am very pleased with the standard."

Towards the end of the festival a new contest was introduced, in which entire herds of camels belonging to one owner were judged en masse.

The judges mingled with the animals, eliminating the least beautiful camels from the herds. The herd with the most camels remaining at the end was declared the winner.

Salem al Ameri, the director general of the Mazayina judging committees, said: "People are really nervous in the crowds right now. This is the toughest competition. So many people didn’t sleep much last night."

Next year’s event will include a contest for herds of 50 camels, the winner of which will receive Dh1 million (US$272,153), it was announced yesterday. Another new competition is planned for 2010, for the camels that produce the most milk.

As Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan arrived at the main spectator stand, the crowd cheered and clapped as an Emirati troupe performed traditional songs.

Sheikh Hazza, accompanied by Mohammed Khalaf al Mazrouei, director general of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), handed out Mazayina prizes, including the keys to Nissan 6x6 and Range Rover cars.

Yesterday’s winners included Ghanem al Khayareen, from Qatar, and Khaled al Menhali, from the UAE.

Many of the 2,000 participants started to pack up yesterday, some in preparation for the long trek back to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain or Oman.

More than 24,000 camels were at the vast desert camp for the festival.

From 1,100 entries, Shamsa Ali Mohammed was among the winners in the handicraft competitions, receiving Dh10,000 (US$2,722).

A competition for the best Nabati poem, extolling the virtues of the camel, attracted 400 participants from 11 countries. Saudi Arabia’s Thali al Outaibi came first, with Emirati poet Mubarak al Mansoori, taking the second prize.

In addition to the daily camel auction, a Majahim camel was sold for Dh5 million (US$1,361,151) on New Year’s Eve, to Sheikh Mohammed bin Sultan Al Nahya.