UAE looks back (Part 1): Triumphs and tragedies of 2012

Country moved from strength to strength this year

January – A royal baby

The year started off on a joyous note, with the birth of a royal baby two days after His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, marked the sixth anniversary of his accession on January 5.

Baby Zayed was born to Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya bint Al Hussein on January 7, which was confirmed on his Twitter account.

A few pictures also surfaced shortly after that saw Sheikh Mohammed seated alongside Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council, cradling the newest member of the royal family.

Family came into focus this year, with Sheikh Mohammed dedicating 2012 to the year of the mother, even renaming Al Wasl Hospital to Latifa Hospital, as a tribute to his own.

The Dubai Shopping Festival continued its family theme with the ‘One World, One Family, One Festival’ slogan, turning the 32-day extravaganza into its biggest yet.

The focus was on the future of Dubai this year, with the emirate forging ahead in its vision for an Expo 2020 master plan.

On January 9, a Dh12 billion solar power project was announced to meet Dubai’s growing energy needs, which, when completed in 2030, will have the capacity to generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

However, triumphs also came with tragedies, with Sharjah hit with one of the biggest high rise fires of the year, which few knew would make headlines throughout 2012.

Many of the 125 families that lived in the Al Bakar ‘A’ Tower in the Al Tawoun area of Sharjah spent two nights in their cars or with friends and relatives, when the building went up in flames on January 24.

About 50 flats on one side of Tower A were affected by the fire and 25 families lost almost everything – household appliances, electronic goods, clothes, documents and other valuables in their homes.

His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, announced a compensation of Dh50,000 for each family.


February – New world records; dhow fire

The momentum kicked off in the beginning of the year continued with bigger and better hurdles to conquer.

Emaar Properties announced the Dubai Mall will add more than 1 million square feet to the existing 12 million square feet development.

This new era in retailing and entertainment ushered in additions to include the introduction of new hotel rooms, as well lifestyle choices.

Meanwhile, another record was in the works with the announcement of the world’s tallest hotel with the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, at 355-metre hotel.

Developed and owned by the Emirates Group, the 1,608-room JW Marriott Marquis Dubai replaced the 72-storey Rose Reyhaan Rotana hotel on the Sheikh Zayed Road as the tallest.

The good mood continued through the month when the Emirates ID office gave a welcome relief to the thousands of expatriates working with private companies in free zones in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, who had until March 31 and May 31, respectively, to register for or renew their national ID cards without paying fines.

But incidences of fire damage continued to plague through the month, first when a fire broke out on a yacht in Jumeirah Beach Residence marina, following which, another broke out in a furniture warehouse in Sharjah and took out three in the industrial area.

Later, an Al Quoz paint and thinner factory went up in smoke.

With the spate of blaze, a BlackBerry rumour placed Burj Khalifa in the line of fire too, but Dubai Police shot it down as a rumour.

But shortly after, two cargo boats in Dubai Creek turned into an inferno that raged on well over 24 hours, which even saw one sailor injured. One of the two dhows was loaded with 17 cars and petroleum.


March – Of matches and memories

March saw two of the biggest sporting events of the year, with Dubai World Cup and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Open.

The surprise win at this year’s World Cup was Monterosso, ridden by Mickael Barzalona, trained by Mahmoud Al Zarooni and owned by Godolphin.

The win was sweeter considering fellow Godolphin horse Capponi and Planteur came second and third, respectively.

Meanwhile, fans favourite Roger Federer emerged as the comeback king to win a record fifth title here when he took on the UK’s Andy Murray in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Men's Open at a packed Dubai Tennis Stadium.

And while the sporting arena flourished, Dubai’s culture vultures broke out in smiles with the announcement of a stylish cultural destination called ‘Dubai Modern Art Museum and Opera House District’, which is scheduled to be built in Downtown Dubai.

Yet through the cheers was a moment of gloom for Dubai’s old timers who bid adieu to the Metropolitan Hotel after 32 long years.

The Sheikh Zayed Road institution is being replaced by a Dh4.9 billion, four-year luxury hotel project.

Things, however, did get exciting in neighboring Al Ain, when a cheetah fleeing its owner wreaked havoc and triggered panic in the eastern oasis town before it was captured by zoo experts and police.

The cheetah was finally captured and taken to Al Ain Zoo.


April – Fire, fire burning bright

Incidences of fire continued to blaze with Dubai Creek witnessing yet another cargo dhow fire early in the month.

The dhow contained car tyres, diesel and plastic equipment. It was docked on the Deira side of the Creek opposite Dubai Municipality.

Meanwhile, later in the month, Sharjah was truck by another high-rise blaze when the residential Al Tayer Tower near Al Nahda Park in Sharjah fire displaced hundreds of families.

The incident occurred 95 days after a fire ravaged a 25-storey residential high-rise, also in Sharjah.

However, it was not doom and gloom, with the Government of Dubai announcing that it has raised $1.25 billion across five and 10-year tranches in a bond issue.

The Department of Finance said “the well planned and swift execution took advantage of a positive market environment and priced at the tight end of guidance at 4.9 per cent and 6.45 per cent all in yield for a $600 million five-year and $650 million 10-year respectively.”


May – Community focus

Who can forget the infamous incident of two years ago when a British woman was arrested in a Dubai mall for stripping down to a bikini following an argument with an Emirati woman who accused the expat of not being respectful of the UAE culture and wearing ‘revealing’ clothes in a public area.

The hot debate that snowballed in its aftermath snuffed out shortly after even as Dubai malls continued their vigilance by posting a number of signs to wear ‘respectful clothing’ in the shopping centres.

However, it took another 21 months for a few concerned Emiratis and local expats to revisit the debate and give rise to the ‘UAE Dress Code’ movement that united concerned residents.

Supporters of the cause are saying, if social media can topple governments and give rise to the Arab Spring, then why can’t it bring about reforms and laws that protect a country’s culture and values?

Meanwhile, mid-month the rumour mill reared its head once again when it was reported The Dubai Mall was evacuated over a gas leak.

However, a spokesperson from the mall rubbished the BlackBerry generated rumour.

Towards the end of May, the community united as one to lend a helping hand in the search for a British sailor who went missing in Dubai on May 27.

However, the search for Timmy Andrew MacColl still continues.

Theories are abounding to his whereabouts on the night, with many volunteers joining the public awareness campaign to help his cause.

The month also ended with yet another incident of a cheetah taking a stroll in downtown Abu Dhabi brought the focus back on endangered animals made into pets in the country.

The emirate’s municipality, along with some workers of a pest control company, managed to trap the injured animal.


June – Travel, deals, happiness

The Happiness survey kicked off the month on a joyous note, with results of  a study indicating that the emirate’s happiness average smiled back at 7.9, one a scale from one to 10.

Organised by the Community Development Authority (CDA) and held in cooperation with the Dubai Statistic Center, the Social Study Results 2011 included 19,924 individuals, which was further categorised in 3,995 families, 1,992 UAE families, 1,701 expatriate families, 302 grouped families, and 500 individuals from labour communities.

According to the survey, the happiness average among Emiratis was 8.3 on the scale, with western expatriates coming in at 8, followed by 7.9 for Arab expatriates and 7.8 for Asian expatriates.

The figures probably received a healthy boost, especially with the Asian expat population of Dubai, when Indian budget carrier SpiceJet announced flights to Delhi and Mumbai from the emirate, adding to the growing list of Air Arabia, Flydubai, IndiGo and Air India Express.

Mid-month, the 15th Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) kicked off once again bringing to the forefront some great retail discounts, entertainment, raffle draws and Modhesh.


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