‘What Flag Day means to me’: Perspectives from five Emiratis

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Honour, respect, history and sacrifice – the UAE flag holds dear memories and special significance to some of the nation’s leading cultural personalities. We ask five Emiratis what it means to them.

Ali Al Sayed

Stand-up comedian

Known to many as “The UAE’s King of Comedy”, Ali Al Sayed says he plans to celebrate flag day by flying the flag from the balcony of his Dubai Marina home.

“The cool thing is that flag day comes a month before National Day, so we’re getting the colours a month early,” he says.

“It really gets the community involved and people really get into it; there’s so much creativity with how you do it.”

The comedian, who recently performed a headline show at the Dubai Comedy Festival, added that he is particularly touched when he sees expats choosing to display the UAE Flag.

“[September] was a sad month in the UAE and it’s really important that people participate and come together at this time,” he says.

“I’ve seen a lot of expats with a flag on their cars or in their office. It’s really touching to see the wider community embracing the colours.”

Find out more about Al Sayed’s work at www.alsayedcomedy.com.

* Rob Garratt

Abdullah Al Qassab

TV presenter​

For Abu Dhabi-based Abduallah Al Qassab, the national flag encapsulates the story of the nation and he points at its colour scheme as a representation of the values the UAE holds dear.

“The black represents the spread of early Islam, the red is the colour of sacrifice, green is the colour of the land, and white is the colour of heart and peace. Sheikh Zayed chose a flag that resembled the Palestine flag. This does not only represent our identity, but also our solidarity with the region’s identity and our place in the Muslim world,” he says. “This, in turn, is my identity as well. The flag also signifies the strength of the UAE. When you think back to the first martyr of the country, Salem Suhail bin Khamis, he died defending the flag. This was happening just a day before all the cities were uniting to become the Emirates.

“I remember, even when I was young I would never like to wear the flag because it would touch the ground and that is disrespectful. Once we won a football match and I didn’t want to even put the flag on my shoulders in celebration because I was so sweaty.” He adds: “I can’t stand to see it touch the ground or thrown away in the trash. It’s not a flag but your country’s name in colours. This National flag day, I hope people have a heightened respect for the flag and wave it high. It’s everyone’s flag. If you live in the UAE and call it your home – temporarily or permanently – it is your flag.”

* Afshan Ahmed

Noor Shamma

Creator of The Post Initiative

When the UAE is mentioned anywhere in the region, Noor Shamma recalls, people call it in Arabic, “Emarat Al Khair”.

For Shamma, UAE flag day complements that ideal. “I remember the Arabic slogan associated with our flag day a few years ago: ‘Your work raises your flag.’ So the more good we do, the higher we get to raise our flag, and the more positive and giving we are, the better we can represent our country and show pride in who we are,” she says.

“A country is a reflection of its people and this flag represents us but we, in turn, represent it, too. It’s a matter of being the best version of ourselves as Emiratis and also as residents of this great nation. This is home for all of us, so when we raise our flag high, we want to keep it there and it’s through our actions that we do that.”

Shamma will soon launch series three of her postcards, a charity initiative linking creative personalities around the world to a project that mails postcards in support of the Noor Dubai Foundation, an organisation that helps to restore the gift of sight to children around the world.

* Hala Khalaf

Azza Al Qubaisi

Designer and artist

Abu Dhabi-based Azza Al Qubaisi is proud to fly the UAE flag today.

“While I haven’t necessarily grown up with the tradition, I feel like the day is taking on the same significance as National Day. For me, it focuses minds and builds a feeling of pride for the flag itself.”

“I celebrate the day as an artist – with my family – by painting a flag, made from palm branches, on top of our house.” says Al Qubaisi, who was named the British Council’s most successful UAE Young Design Entrepreneur in Fashion and Design in 2011. “Our flag is all natural and when it fades a little we refresh it. It’s a tradition we’ve had for around four years now.”

As a mother of three, Al Qubaisi has watched the growing awareness of the importance of flag day with keen interest.

“In schools on the day, the focus tends to be mostly on the flag itself and the national anthem, for example,” she says. While National Day hones in more on the UAE’s culture, heritage and food, etc, [flag day] is much more to do with building passion for the country, patriotism and pride in the young ones. Which is interesting because today, the children will say: ‘I’m from the United Arab Emirates,’ whereas in my day we used to say: ‘I’m from Abu Dhabi.’ It’s definitely a different generation and flag day amplifies that – it says: ‘We’re one, united seven emirates.’”

* Rebecca McLaughlin-Duane

Emirati Moza Al Mazrouei

Owner of Gluten-Free Bakery

For many, the UAE national flag is a symbol of power; of citizenship; of the country’s prosperity. For Emirati Moza Al Mazrouei, the flag is a source of pride. “Looking to our precious UAE flag makes me feel overwhelmed,” Al-Mazrouei says. “It brings tears to my eyes. It’s something that is hard to describe.”

Al Mazrouei opened Firin Gluten-Free Bakery in Al Rowdah earlier this year. She credits the UAE with giving women such as her the freedom and support to run their own businesses. “I’m so proud of my country,” she says. “I feel so proud to be Emirati and an empowered female.” For Al Mazrouei, flag day is a bit like the day before a birthday for a child – filled with anticipation and excitement. “I raise the flag in October in my house because I can’t wait for November to arrive,” she says. Last year, she spent Eid in the United States. Before she left, she tucked a few UAE flags in her suitcase. “Whenever I travel, I carry the flag with me,” she says. “I celebrated Eid with my little flag of my lovely country. I’m glad that I was born Emirati. May Allah bless our country, our people and our leaders.”

* Stacie Overton Johnson