It's hard not to notice when one of the tallest flagpoles in the world has its flag at half-mast. And when I returned to work I quickly learned the reason was that Sheikh Saqr al-Qasimi had died (he was 90 so it seems of natural causes). He was the ruler of Ras al Khaimah, one of the seven emirates, which we recently drove through for the first time on our way to the Musandam Peninsula. The UAE is now in a seven-day mourning period.
I began reading a bit about Sheikh Saqr and found his life to be pretty inspiring. He was one of the longest-reigning monarchs in the world and saw the UAE through its entire transformation from barren nomadic territories to bustling metropolises.
Reading about his legacy I was struck by the use of words such as “bloodless coup”, “dynasty”, and “line of succession.” These are concepts that don’t affect my daily life in any noticeable way, so it’s somewhat jarring to think about them describing not some far off place once upon a time, but the here and now. It suddenly hit home that I live in a monarchy.
What's more, apparently there has been a bit of royal family drama surrounding the Sheik Saqr’s succession. I won't go into the details here, but it's the kind of stuff you read about in history books or fairy tales (before the happy ending), and include words like "depose" and "exile." With all that is circulating online, and the UAE government's disinclination for divulging its dirty laundry, it's difficult to know the hard facts. Whatever the case, Saqr's fourth son and Crown Prince, Sheikh Saud, has been appointed as the new ruler of Ras-al-Khaimah. Next week the flags will be raised and life in this monarchy will go on.