UAE is all set for a royal welcome

When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II comes to UAE, she will see a completely different country to what she saw 31 years ago when she first visited the Emirates.

By Jamila Qadir (

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Published: Wed 24 Nov 2010, 12:00 PM

Last updated: Wed 25 Oct 2023, 11:56 AM

The UAE’s economic development in the last 31 yearshas been phenomenal. If you look at Dubai’s picture in 1979, it stopped at the World Trade Centre. The UAE now is a service, education and healthcare centre in the Middle East. It has busy airports, ports and every sector is thriving and showing the way for the rest of the region.

“What hasn’t changed is that the UAE and UK have very long historical relationships, we were good friends then, we are good friends now. Trade and economic relationships were very important then and now,” said Guy Warrington, the British Consul General in Dubai.

The Queen herself maintained close relationships with both ruling families of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, particularly sharing interests in horse racing, Warrington said.

“The visit was long overdue. Her Majesty felt it was good time to come to the UAE. Her visit is a reflection of overall importance the UK gives to the Emirates. The visit will give new dimensions and boost to bilateral relations,” he said.

The Consul General said there would be four documents signed during the visit, adding that there would be some “actual substantive output in that sense” without revealing any details.

‘‘The UAE is still by far the largest market (for UK) in the Middle East., much bigger than that of Saudi Arabia. It is our 13th biggest market in the world. That is quite a high number. The UAE is always in our top 20 markets in the world.’’

Most British companies set their base in the UAE to cover the whole region, as well as in Africa since infrastructure and logistics are better here than anywhere else in Africa.

Some companies are using this place to do business in Caucasia or elsewhere. The whole region is called Menasa, which includes the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

“That is where we are in terms of trade relations, but we are more ambitious. Currently our bilateral trade stands at £7.5 billion and we want to increase it to £12.5 by 2015. We are still very strong trading partners,” he revealed.

Some 100,000 British citizens are based in the UAE, while the British Business Group has 1,500 members, making it one of the biggest in the world.

There is a very large British footprint here in UAE not only in trade, but also in investments. They build their regional headquarters here, for instance. Despite the crisis, British companies are still coming to the UAE and depending on the character of business they are doing they set up base in Abu Dhabi, where construction is still booming or Dubai, where the services sector is strong.

On the other hand, there are two particularly large UAE investments in UK, including the London Gateway by DP World, the biggest at £1.5 billion foreign investment in the UK and London Array, the biggest wind power project by Abu Dhabi in addition to some other investments. There are a lot of investments both ways.

‘‘The real core of why the two countries have good relations has to do with human exchange. In addition to a huge British population here we also have one million British tourists visiting the UAE every year, which is a huge number. That is a very positive sign.’’

‘‘There are a lot of Brits who know about the UAE. A large number of Emiratis travel to UK as tourists, for business and education purposes. Over 2,800 UAE students studied in the UK last year. Emiratis often refer to London as the “eighth Emirate,” he revealed.

“We have two very big embassies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and combined they are one of our biggest diplomatic presences in the world, with some 400 staff, reflecting the importance of this country for UK,” he said.

Brits like their Queen and the vast majority of the population is still in favour of the monarchy. Especially now, when the plans of Prince William’s wedding have been announced, he said.

“As a British man I feel very delighted and excited about the visit. The Queen is incredibly popular in the UK and has been doing a commendable job for long time,” he said.

The future of the British monarchy in good hands, he said, referring to Prince William and Prince Harry, while their mother Princess Diana still has a special place in people’s hearts in UK, he added.

Turning back the pages to 1979

Dubai’s civic body has a unique relationship with Queen Elizabeth II. The main headquarters of Dubai Municipality that houses most of its major departments and over 1500 officials and employees was inaugurated by the Queen during her first visit to the UAE in 1979.

The inauguration of the Municipality building was one of the major events in the agenda of the state visit of the British Monarch. The eight-storey building off Dubai Creek in Deira is now bigger with a modern annexe getting attached to it during the last decade.

Though everyone working in the building is proud of the fact that their office was officially opened by the Queen of UK, only a handful of Municipal officials can proudly cherish the memories of being present at the time when she actually did it.

The oldest among the lot are the ones who witnessed the Queen unveiling the plaque under the flagpoles outside the building complex. The inscription on the plaque carrying the date February 25, 1979 reads “This plaque commemorates the presentation of the key of Dubai, United Arab Emirates to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”

Hundreds of residents had crowded the area to get a glimpse of Her Majesty as she was received by the then Ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, his sons Shaikh Hamdan and Shaikh Mohammed, Director of Dubai Municipality Kamal Hamza, and other senior government officials.

Humaid Saeed Al Gaith, assistant director of Finance Dept. for Compensation Affairs in Dubai Municipality recalls how excited everyone was to welcome the Queen. “Elaborate preparations were made by the Ruler’s office and the police to welcome her. For Dubai, her visit was a sign of growth as well,” said Al Ghais who was the head of the section at that time. He said the photo of her visit in which he is also seen is a valuable asset .

Director of Knowledge Management Department Khalil Ali Hussain, who was heading the Personnel Section during the Queen’s visit, said the inaugural ceremony of the Municipality office was the biggest celebration of those years. “It was a big thing for Dubai and the UAE. Dubai was the first place she visited in the Gulf,” he recollected.

When officials like them managed to see the Queen very close, other municipal employees waited on the way to have a glimpse of the Queen passing by. Among them was Mohammed Rafiq Ali Mohammed, who last month retired as a senior building inspector from the Building Permits Section of the Buildings Department.

“Dubai was not much populated at that time. Still there were hundreds of people who gathered on the roadside to see the Queen,” said Mohammed who took his wife and three children along with him to see the Queen. “My neighbour also came along with his family. Students of Indian and Pakistani schools also were there,” he said.

Mohammed, who considers watching the British Monarch from a distance of some 10feet away as one of the proud moments of his life, vividly remembers how the crowd applauded on the arrival of the Queen and her entourage. “When she passed by, we waved at her and she waved back,” he said.

Though all of them are delighted about the Queen’s second visit to the country, they are not sure if they can see her this time. “I will definitely be watching her on TV,” said Mohammed who had longed to see the Queen again when the news about her visit broke earlier this year.

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