#IAmEmirati: Meet the keeper of the UAE flag

Afkar Abdullah /Sharjah Filed on November 14, 2020 | Last updated on November 14, 2020 at 01.57 pm

Photo: Ryan Lim/KT

Photo: Ryan Lim/KT

Photo: Ryan Lim/KT

'I worked continuously for several hours, I did not sleep until dawn'

Abdullah Al Maeena has been known in UAE history as the Emirati who designed the national flag. The man who, at 18 years old, had the proudest moment of his life as he watched his creation flutter in the sky, representing his beloved homeland.

But what some did not know was that after his historic achievement, Al Maeena went on to serve the country’s diplomatic corps for 49 years. And with every conference and meeting he attended, checking the flag had become part of his routine. Was it in perfect condition? Was it raised properly? Was it in a proper position? In his own way, he became the keeper of the UAE flag.

There was one instance, during his time at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, when he had to request a break from a media interview to fix the flag.

“I remember in one media interview on a foreign TV channel — on the occasion of the anniversary of the UAE federation — I noticed that the flag of my country was not in the correct position. So, I had to cut off the TV interview and asked them to instal it in the appropriate way,” Al Maeena told Khaleej Times.

Nearly five decades of serving the diplomatic corps was an honour, he said, “but, still, nothing could ever be more precious than the moment I learnt it was my design that had been chosen to represent the UAE”.

Remembering the time he joined the competition

Al Maeena could remember 1971 as if it was yesterday.

He came across newspaper advertisement, calling on all to join a nationwide flag design competition. Armed with simple tools and his talent for drawing, he got to work right away as there were only two days left before the deadline.

“I worked continuously for several hours, I did not sleep until dawn. When I finished, I put six designs in a special album. Then, the next morning, I immediately went to a post office and requested the employee to send the album to the address indicated in the ad,” Al Maeena said.

“That was it, one of my six models won, becoming the sovereign flag of the Emirates until today.”

The UAE flag was first hoisted on December 2, 1971, when the union of the seven emirates was officially formed.

“When I saw the UAE’s Founding Father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan on TV, raising the flag I designed, I was overjoyed. I started running quickly on my feet for half an hour towards the palace in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

“When I arrived, I stood next to the palace wall, and I proudly see the flag flying on the palace pole.”

Al Maeena used to design precious jewels. “But the flag will always be the greatest jewel I have ever designed,” he said.

He got Dh4,000 as a prize

Though he had already seen his flag design flying high in the country, Al Maeena still had to wait for an official announcement that he had actually won the competition.

“It took some time after the announcement of the Unio before a member of the competition’s jury told me that the design that I submitted had been chosen as the flag of the state. On that day, the staff coordinated with the authorities to hand me the award — which is a sum of money amounting to Dh4,000,” he said.

He was grateful for the prize, he said, but it could never be equal to that historical flag-raising moment.

“I consider that the highest honour I have received in my life, as well as the joy of my mother who took me in her arms and hugged me. She was so proud of me.”

Afkar Abdullah

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