Queen Elizabeth II returns after 31 years

The British ambassador to the UAE says the upcoming autumn visit demonstrates the two nations' commitment to the "highest level" of diplomatic ties.

ABU DHABI // Britain's Queen Elizabeth II will make a state visit to the UAE in the autumn, her first trip to the country in 31 years.

Buckingham Palace issued a statement yesterday confirming the visit, after the British monarch accepted an invitation from Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi. The dates and itinerary of her trip are being withheld for security reasons but it is expected the Queen and her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, will come some time after Ramadan. From the UAE, the Queen, 84, will fly to Oman, where she will join celebrations to mark the 40th year of Sultan Qaboos bin Said's rule.

It will be her second trip to the UAE. In 1979 she visited and met with Sheikh Zayed in Abu Dhabi before flying to Dubai for two days, officially opening a number of projects including the Dubai Municipality building. Dominic Jermey, the new British ambassador to the UAE, said he was delighted by the prospect of welcoming the UK monarch. "The UK and the UAE have a long history together and strong ties. This visit demonstrates our commitment to maintain and strengthen those ties at the highest level.

"I am sure the visit will generate a great deal of excitement in the UAE." The announcement follows a flurry of diplomacy under the UK's new coalition government, which wants stronger diplomatic and trading ties with the Emirates. David Cameron, the British prime minister, visited the UAE in June barely a month after taking power. Mr Cameron met Sheikh Khalifa, and the initiative was followed up with a recent trip to London by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister.

That trip came just days after Dr Liam Fox, the British defence secretary, travelled to the UAE on his way back from visiting troops in Afghanistan, where Emirati and British soldiers are serving side by side. In an interview with The National last week, Mr Jermey said that his government was keen to revitalise a relationship that has been neglected and should be closer given the historic ties between the two nations.

During a speech last week at the Foreign Office in London, William Hague, the foreign minister, announced a joint UK-UAE "diplomatic task force" which he said was part of Mr Cameron's "efforts to elevate links with the Gulf". Trade between the two nations has declined in the last decade, Mr Cameron noted in a speech in London. The UK's exports to the Emirates have been dropping for a decade, with much of that business being lost to China.

Theodore Karasik, director of research and development at the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said the visit was bound to carry economic implications. "The Queen is not a policy maker," he said. "But there has been a big shift in the region in terms of trade in recent years and royal visits always have some kind of economic connections. "The British monarch is coming at a time of permanent and robust cooperation between Britain and the UAE. Plus as the Queen will be visiting the Emirati royals, the visit will be full of pomp and circumstance."

Dr Claire Spencer, head of the Middle East and North Africa programme at the London-based think-tank Chatham House, said the visit is a sign of "ratcheting up and consolidating existing relations." The Queen's tours are generally decided at the behest of the UK's foreign office. However, with the Queen's diary scheduled well in advance, the trip was probably planned under the prior government. The Queen reportedly cancelled a Gulf tour last year which would have included Dubai and Abu Dhabi, though the trip was never formally announced.

Dr Spencer said the latest round of shuttle diplomacy was probably spurred by "healthy competition" over business and defence interests. "This government is very business focused," he said of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition that Mr Cameron leads. "I think there's certainly an awareness that there's a lot of investment opportunities and business opportunities that the British economy shouldn't be missing out on."

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh recently completed a nine-day tour of Canada and yesterday she made her first visit to New York in 34 years. She was due to visit the World Trade Center site for the first time and address the UN General Assembly, which she had not done for more than 50 years. Last month, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, met the Queen at Epsom Racecourse during the Derby.

lmorris@thenational.ae aseaman@thenational.ae Were you in the UAE when Queen Elizabeth last visited in 1979? E-mail us with your memories at online@thenational.ae

The Queen arrived on her first official visit to the UAE on February 24, 1979, as part of a three-week tour of the Gulf. She had flown to Kuwait by Concorde and arrived in the UAE at the "new" Dubai International Airport. During the visit she met Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the nation, in Abu Dhabi before undertaking a busy schedule in Dubai. Accompanied by Prince Philip, she was met by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, the Ruler of the emirate, with whom she had struck up a friendship during his first visit to London in 1961. The Queen stayed on the royal yacht Britannia, which was docked in Port Rashid, receiving a stream of dignitaries during her two-day stay. Her official engagements included the opening of the Dubai Municipality building and the Dubai World Trade Centre building, then the tallest structure in the city, and turning on the tap at a Dubal desalination plant. She unveiled a plaque officially opening Jebel Ali Port, and was taken by car around the port and surrounding industrial area. A visit to an aluminium smelter was also on the itinerary. On the final day of her visit the Queen enjoyed a dhow trip on Dubai Creek accompanied by the Ruler, ending at the British Embassy, where she met local schoolchildren. Later, 4,500 people gathered to mark her last night in the country before she set sail for Oman. - The National