In Ras Al Khaimah, the days of raucous and impromptu National Day parades are over. It was once the fashion to spend days or weeks decorating cars with the national colours and spend several nights cruising up and down Al Qawasim Corniche with pop music pumping.
Those days are no more, as National Day celebrations in the public sphere have matured into a series of formal events, more focused on the Emirati community than spontaneous parades that were perhaps as popular with the South-Asian community and longterm Arab residents as Emiratis.
This year, the government organised a free family concert downtown on December 1 with Emirati singers Balqees, Hussain Al Jassmi, Aida Al Manhali and Mehad Hamad.
The UAE’s history was detailed through the decades, from palms and pearls to an series of songs and poetry about war and Armed Forces. A short play about the military began with images of helicopters in the sunset and a child actor running on stage to tell his mother, “Now I will be a soldier just like my father and defend my country.”
The mother replies, “With your blood you should protect the nation and when it calls upon you, you must answer with your soul before your body.”
The play flashed forward to a few years when the son is grown. He tells his mother, “When my nation calls, I come running. Sons of Zayed are always up front.”
She replies, “National Service is an honour that can only be got by faithful men.”
It was a fitting theme. The majority of children in the audience wore military attire, a new fixture of National Day celebrations. The concert was open to the public but had an almost exclusively Emirati audience. It was attended by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ruler of RAK, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Saud, Crown Prince of RAK.
Fireworks lit up the downtown after the concert.
Otherwise, it was an unusually quiet for a National Day weekend. In years past, the art district in Ras Al Khaimah’s old town was gridlocked for three days before National Day as youngsters from RAK, Dubai and Abu Dhabi had their cars painted by expatriate artists. This year, those streets were empty.
National Day car decorations have been reduced to a few lines of poetry on back windscreens beside decal photographs of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Few drivers bothered to decorate at all.
“Four years ago there were laws but we enjoyed ourselves,” said Hassan Ahmed, who had ordered a decal of poetry dedicated to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed for his back windscreen. “Now, there are so many rules.” Authorities have brought in rules over the past few years for National Day that put an end to participating in a motorcade without a permit, driving a noisy vehicle and exceeding the permitted level of vehicle window tinting.
It was a busier scene on Jebel Jais and in the Hajjar mountains, where hundreds had travelled to sleep under the stars. Samood Baig, 40, came from Sharjah to camp on Jebel Jais with his parents, wife and three children. “Because it was cold,” he said. “We heard it gets down to eight or nine degrees so the kids were excited.”
Ali Al Hamri and his family had come by convoy from Baniyas, Al Ain, Shahama and Mohammed Bin Zayed City in Abu Dhabi to the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah. “On National Day, everyone travels to another emirate,” said Ali Al Hamri, 60.
While Ali relaxed with the men of his family, the women prepared a lunch of stewed goat under the shade of an acacia tree.
“Every year National Day becomes bigger because more people know the Emirates around the world,” said Khawla Al Breiki, 29, one of his relatives. “If you look on Instagram you’ll see a lot of countries celebrate with us because it’s a beautiful country and it supports peace. We’re helping others.”