The Etihad Museum, an impressive grand structure that opened in Dubai in January, tells the story of the founding of the United Arab E mirates through interactive exhibits and learning programmes. The guiding perspective is that of the country’s founding leaders, with a key emphasis on the period 1968-74.
The external façade of the museum is in the form of a folded manuscript supported internally by golden columns, representing fountain pens symbolising the seven Emirates — Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah — that make up the federation.
The museum complex is next to the distinctive oval-shaped Union House where the treaty establishing the UAE and bringing into effect a temporary constitution was signed in 1971. The logo is also designed as a representation of the Union House and the UAE flag.
As part of the museum initiative, the original Union House, and internal fixtures, curtains, carpets, table and chairs that the founding leaders used were restored.
While the famous flagpole at the end of 2nd of December Street was replaced with a slightly taller 123-metre pole, the grounds were redesigned and a symbolic shoreline was added, recreating the seascape of the UAE.
Another important structure that has been preserved exactly as it was in 1971 is then Dubai ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum’s majlis, consisting of an elegant office, meeting hall and dining hall.
The impression that any visitor will take away is the simplicity and elegance of the presentation through eight permanent galleries in addition to a temporary gallery to exhibit items from international museums. In addition, there are a theatre and educational and recreational areas.
The pride of place is taken by the constitution; the crucial meeting between the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai on February 18th, 1968, which led to the formation of the UAE, the delays and developments on the way to unity, the lives of the seven rulers, the early development of the economic, social and cultural life of the newly formed nation, its role in strengthening Arab unity and identity and external relations with international organisations.
Museum Director Abdullah Mohammed al-Falasi recalled how the contents of the museum were collected in response to an initiative by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai. In a nationwide campaign launched last October under the motto Let’s Preserve the Legacy, Sheikh Mohammed offered an open invitation to the community to contribute historical items to the museum.
He said: “In response to this call, the crown princes of the seven emirates of the UAE contributed personal belongings of the founding fathers — intimate objects including passports, pocket watches, daggers and official seals that have previously never been on public display.
“Their belongings are a vital part of the museum’s permanent exhibitions and give visitors a human insight into the story of the 1971 Union Agreement.”
Falasi recalled Sheikh Mohammed emphasised that history was the most valuable treasure the country had and said the UAE leadership had been very generous in its support for the museum.
“We have been delighted to see the museum bringing the community together and giving all members of society a real pride and interest in their heritage,” Falasi said. “The museum also connects a young Emirati generation with their history, invites tourists to share in our heritage and will ensure this important piece of our story is preserved for future generations.
“As Etihad Museum is situated at the very place where the 1971 Union Agreement was signed, we also hope that it will become a meaningful meeting place for the nation’s citizens to come together and celebrate occasions like UAE National Day.”
The first exhibition at the museum, titled Emirates to the World: Postal History from 1909 to Unification, is on display at the temporary exhibition hall through April 30th. It showcases stamps, letters, artwork and archives from the private collection of Abdullah Khoory, president of Emirates Philatelic Association.
The exhibitions at the venue are expected to contribute to an active research and publishing programme on the story of the union.
N.P. Krishna Kumar is an Arab Weekly correspondent in Dubai.