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National Days in the Gulf

by Antonino Occhiuto

By Antonino Occhiuto -  Violence in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) is ongoing, yet, the Arab Gulf has, so far, remained largely untouched by regional turmoil. Weak states, porous borders, sectarianism and the absence of a national identity can be identified as key drivers for the spread of regional violence. In such a context, the celebrations for the national days, which have the purpose of boosting unity and defining the national identity—and, recently, took place in several Gulf countries—are more important than ever before.

On 02 December 2018 the United Arab Emirates (UAE) celebrated its 47th National Day commemorating the anniversary of the federal unification of the seven emirates in 1971, which combined to form the modern-day country, headed by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the federation's first president. Additionally, 2018 marked 100 years since the birth of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the Founding Father of the UAE, who passed away in 2004. Abu Dhabi is currently one of the most important strategic partners of the US in the fight against terrorism.

On 16 December 2018, Bahrain celebrated its 47th National Day. The Kingdom declared independence from the British following a United Nations survey of the Bahraini population—an unprecedented event in the Gulf. Bahrain’s population is multi-confessional but there is a strong sense of national pride. As such, manifesting the national identity and bringing people together during the national day is particularly important. The National Day is a time during which people can reflect on the democratic developments fostered by the National Charter, initiated by Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa. While Bahrain is an ancient state, this national day marks its most recent developments.

On 18 December 2018, Qatar celebrated its National Day to celebrate the date in 1878 on which Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al-Thani succeeded his father as emir and started the unification of the Qatari peninsula. This year celebration will be characterised by the largest military parade in the history of the country’s armed forces. For the second consecutive year Qatar will be celebrating its national day by tying it to the Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and UAE boycott. The objective is to create a sense of unity among nationals and residents in the peninsula and to construct a national narrative that is separate from the other Gulf Arab states.

Celebrating national unity in the Gulf can have a number of purposes, remind citizens about the importance of joining forces in a federal state (UAE), advancing towards democracy (Bahrain) or generating cohesion (Qatar). Despite their different nuances, all these celebrations share a strong effort to remark the importance of the national identity. So far, states with defined national identities have been more successful in preventing the formation of the same societal fractures which have often facilitated violence and chaos in the Middle East and beyond.

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