As the sun set over the Hajar mountains, the darkening skies lit up with the UAE’s birthday celebrations.
December 2 marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the UAE.
The anniversary was celebrated across the seven emirates and by their millions of residents who come from many different faiths, races, cultures and nations.
Broadcast live from Hatta Lake, the 50th National Day Celebration was a fitting extravaganza for a country that often goes above and beyond.
The evening opened with the sound of drums rolling across the waters and reverberating through the peaks. From high in the hills came the sound of the nadba, the ancient cry of greeting of the Shihuh, the tribe whose home is the mountains of the Northern Emirates.
Down below was a wonder that seemed to defy the laws of physics: a lake floating on a lake — the man-made stage for the hour-long show.
Watching in the audience were the UAE's leaders, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, both of whom could be seen at times recording the spectacle on their mobile phones.
And there was plenty to capture, beginning with a huge, circular, rotating stage that also served as a projection screen and was entirely surrounded by water.
The theme of the evening was the progress of the UAE from the earliest days, beginning with the transformation of the stage into a Deirat Al-Duroor Wa Al-Tawala’a, the centuries-old Islamic astronomical calendar used to predict the seasons through the movement of the stars.
As cascades of drones recreated the heavens, the show next paid tribute to some of the women who had played an important role in the UAE's history.
Sheikha Hessa bint Al Murr Al Falasi, grandmother of Sheikh Mohammed, who was famous for her philanthropy, and Hamama bint Obaid Al Teneji, a healer known for her use of tradition herbal medicines.
Sheikh Mohammed seemed to be visibly moved when tribute was also paid to his mother, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the Mother of the Nation.
Technology recreated famous figures of the past, with a hologram of the seven leaders who formed the UAE and footage of an emotional Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, addressing his people with the promise: “I assure you and pledge my sincerity and earnestness in everything I do for our citizens, nation, children and brethren.”
About 140 performers from all over the world were recruited for the show, which had taken around 1.5 million man hours and more than 1,400 people to organise.
After the singing of the national anthem, three young girls read letters to their future selves, expressing their hopes. Today they are Nora Al Matrooshi, the first Arab woman to train to be an astronaut; Maitha Bu Ghunoom, an environmentalist, and Tufool Al Nuami, a data scientist.
The evening concluded with a spectacular display that included dancing fountains on the lake and fireworks, some launched by about 400 pyrotechnic drones.
Across the rest of the emirates, crowds gathered to watch firework displays and take part in celebrations that included a free day at Expo 2020.
In his message to the country, Sheikh Mohamed said that as the UAE prepared to enter its next 50 years that “we face the future with confidence, pride and a shared spirit of unity and determination".
He added: “We continue to draw lessons from the wisdom of our ancestors and take strength and inspiration from the courage and sacrifices of our martyrs.
“Our unity remains our single greatest source of strength and we believe that a secure, stable and robust country is best equipped to enjoy continued progress.”
The excitement and pleasure shown at the UAE’s Golden Jubilee is reflected in the diversity of the country 50 years after its birth, as also noted by Sheikh Mohamed in his National Day message.
“Expatriate residents have been an essential part of our journey and we remain open to all who wish to bring their energy, talent and creativity to our shores to help create a brighter future for all.”
Bob Michael Orok, a worker from Nigeria who was enjoying his first National Day, voiced a similar belief.
“Today we are all Emiratis,” he said.