Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Passing of a Sheikh

The UAE is presently in the midst of a prolonged period of mourning for Sheikh Rashid bin Ahmed Al Mu'alla, the ruler of the Emirate of Umm al Quwain, who passed away last Friday in a London hospital at age 78. All government offices and schools were closed for three days immediately following his death, and flags across the country are flying at half-mast until the end of the week--although the Saudi Arabian flag, which is inscribed with the shahada (the Muslim declaration of faith: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammed is his messenger") and thus can never hang lower than the flags around it, is exempt. Radio stations have discarded their usual generic pop rubbish in favor of somber keyboard renditions of Aaron Copeland and Elton John, and post-New Year's festivities were toned down or canceled.

If this were another country, we might worry about the succession of power in Umm al Quwain, the least populous emirate, which has had only two rulers since joining the UAE in 1971. But instead of political infighting or the threat of a coup by opportunistic Umm al Quwain residents, the crown passed peacefully to Sheikh Rashid's son Saud, while the leaders of the other six emirates looked on with benevolence and sympathy--and no doubt a bit of relief that things had gone so smoothly.

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